Prove It

I was at a crowded party once, stuck talking with a guy who was quite full of himself. He was bragging about how well he played guitar, and bass, and piano, and added, "and I'm getting pretty good at the harp," putting his hands near his mouth to show that he meant harmonica, not the stringed instrument. After he made the hand gesture, my friend Jeff, a musician himself, silently reached into the front pocket of his jean jacket for a small harmonica, offered it to the big talker and said coldly, "Prove it."

The big talker tried and failed to joke his way out of it. No proof was provided.

I think about Jeff sometimes when I am talking about resumes. There is so much pressure on our resumes to open doors for us, to emphasize our skills in the most positive light. That pressure can lead to seemingly harmless overstatements – not overt lies, like claiming to have a degree that you don't actually have, but little things like:

  • Claiming to have "expertise in Excel" when really you're a typical user who rarely ventures off of the "Home" tab
  • Claiming to have "excellent written communication skills" because you got A's in Freshman English, not because you've been actively communicating in a business role
  • Claiming to have "implemented a new process" when in fact, it was someone else's idea and you simply did the grunt work to get it operational

These are very minor exaggerations, right? Who's going to fact-check an applicant's Excel capabilities?

But I like to imagine my friend Jeff went on to become a hiring manager, and he's ready to interrupt your self-promotional pitch with a simple, "Prove it." You may be expecting to explain, probably with a sheepish grin, that your Excel expertise isn't as comprehensive as you had thought, or you haven't actually had much experience in written communication. You see this as correcting a minor overstatement – but if you can't prove it, the hiring manager sees that as a lie. And if you lied about that, what else will you lie about?

The old adage "honesty is the best policy" is solid advice for resumes. If you think stellar Excel skills will give you an edge, sign up for a class at your local community college; if you had a minor role in the implementation of a new product, emphasize the achievements of the team and accurately describe your role.

It's tempting to embellish the facts, but for best results, plan that the person sitting across the desk is going to ask you to prove it.