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Lie About Your Credentials, Kill Your Career

Lonnie Pacelli -- Do your best to sell yourself on your résumé and dazzle prospective employers with your accomplishments, credentials, and experience. Just make sure that what they see is you and not some figment of your imagination.

Notre Dame football coach George O'Leary resigned five days after being hired, admitting he lied about his academic and athletic background. O'Leary claimed to have a master's degree in education and to have played college football for three years, but checks into his background showed it wasn't true.

Veritas CFO Kenneth Lonchar was fired because he claimed he had a Masters of Business Administration from Stanford University. Further research showed that he did not hold an MBA from any school. Ironically, Veritas in Latin means "truth".

Joseph Ellis, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, was suspended for a year from Mount Holyoke College for lying about serving in the Vietnam War.

Each of these examples, while high-profile and extreme, all fell from the same tree; people lying on their resumes to help influence an employer to hire them. Aside from the fact that each of the above cases resulted in job loss or suspension; they also all endured the humiliation of being publicly labeled as a liar. Not the best way to be remembered.

Resumes by nature are meant to inform, impress, and inspire a potential employer and get the employer to want to talk to you. Most employers only spend about twenty seconds looking at each resume they receive, and worse, most employers view the information contained on resumes as a way to weed out applicants. Putting your best foot forward to present a concise, compelling case for why you should be hired is crucial to getting you invited to the party.

Throughout my career I've interviewed hundreds of candidates for a wide variety of jobs. Many of the candidates that I've interviewed were upstanding, honest, and candid and went on to have successful careers at my company. Of those who didn't get hired, many lost out because of boastful claims made on their resume that they were unable to substantiate during the interview process. As an interviewer, I intentionally focused on claims that were exceptional to truly understand how they did it and to see if the claim was authentic or bogus. Authentic claims went a long way toward recommending a "hire" decision; bogus claims got an automatic "no hire" without further consideration.

Let me put this as plainly as I can. Lies about your credentials can permanently kill your career. Putting bogus, or even mildly aggressive, claims on your resume can hurt you in a couple of ways. The first question that arises pertains to competence. Bogus claims will cause a potential employer to question whether you possess the skills required to perform the job. The second question, which is far more important for me, pertains to integrity. If a candidate is willing to stretch the truth on a single fact on his or her resume, what else is he or she not being truthful about? Having your integrity questioned by the interviewer is pretty much your one-way ticket home.

The lesson learned here is simple; any lie, even the littlest of white lies, has no place on a resume and will come back to bite you. Assume that each and every word on your resume is going to be checked, questioned, and scrutinized during an interview and verification. Be able to substantiate facts, metrics, and credentials with backup information and provide references where necessary.

Having said all this, do your best to sell yourself on your resume and dazzle prospective employers with your accomplishments, credentials, and experience. Wow them during your twenty seconds of fame. Just make sure that what they see is you and not some figment of your imagination.

Courtesy of Lonnie Pacelli

Lonnie Pacelli is an accomplished author and autism advocate with over 30 years experience in leadership and project management at Accenture, Microsoft, and Consetta Group. See books, articles, keynotes, and self-study seminars at

© 2017 Lonnie Pacelli

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