Ask the Ethics Officer: Embellishing Your Résumé

Dear Ethics Officer,

I overheard a colleague saying that she often “embellished” on her résumé about her experience and that it helped her to steadily improve her career.  She said that she could embellish because she could always learn the skill once she started her job.  Is embellishing on your résumé okay and are there any consequences if a lie is discovered?


Not Embellishing

Dear Not Embellishing,

As people look for internships or jobs we try to shine the best possible light on all of our skills and abilities.  Our career coaches help us to clearly articulate the benefit of our past experiences to our future employers.  But when it comes to ‘embellishing’ or stretching the truth, our résumés could end our chances of getting the job.

Companies spend a lot of time and money conducting searches for the best people to hire.  These companies are going to work hard to make sure that all of the candidates are being honest about their experiences.  Your colleague may have gotten the job based on lies before, but chances are they have also lost opportunities.  According to a study conducted in 2004 by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 96% of HR professionals always complete a reference check.  A reference check can include verification of employment dates, job duties, or education.  According to the survey, higher-level positions will be checked more frequently, so as your colleague goes from non-management to management positions, it is more likely that her experience and background will be checked.

Consequences for lying on a résumé are severe.  If a person simply misrepresented their experience, the person could be removed from consideration or fired.  Ronald Zarrella, the former CEO of Bausch + Lomb, lied on his résumé stating that he had an MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business.  He actually left business school early, never receiving the degree.  The stocks of Bausch + Lomb plummeted when the scandal broke.

The fraudulent activity stated here might be more severe than your colleague is alluding to, however, the consequences for her career can be just as devastating.  The business community in the Twin Cities is small and tight-knit.  Embarrassment from not knowing the embellished skill is the least of your colleague’s troubles; her reputation could be permanently damaged.

Your colleague shouldn’t only look at the consequences of her actions on her job search but also on her own character.  Honesty and frankness are often cited as character traits that are coveted.  Small lies can feel insignificant but can accumulate and she could begin to rationalize the use of bigger lies.

We can avoid feeling like we need to lie on our résumés by gaining transferrable skills when you are at UST.  Consider taking on leadership roles in campus organizations.  Improve your public speaking skills by competing in a case competition.  Attend the Masters Pubs and Exchange events and network with the community around you.  Volunteer at local nonprofits or on a nonprofit board and use the skills that you would like to develop.  This will allow you to gain some of the coveted experience that could help you get your next job honestly. Best of luck in your job search!

Disclaimer: The information presented in this article is the viewpoint of the author, not necessarily the viewpoint of the University of St. Thomas.  All situations can be viewed differently, and the above response is one viewpoint to consider, but does not represent the only viewpoint.