Human Resources & Payroll
5 Tips to Make Your Résumé More Noticeable Without Lying
Surveys show that up to 80% of people have lied on their résumés. But you don’t have to do that to look impressive.
Mar. 22, 2023
By Donna Svei, Fast Company (TNS)
Have you ever been tempted to stretch the truth on your résumé? Surveys show that up to 80% of people have lied on their résumés. But I have good news: You don’t have to do that to look impressive.
I was a retained search consultant for more than 25 years and have held C-level corporate executive positions. These days, I write executive and board résumés and I have found that there are many techniques applicants can use to help make their résumés impressive—without lying.
Here are five tactics all applicants should try.
1. Format flatteringly
First, use a simple format. Doing so demonstrates that you can organize information for a user’s benefit. That valuable communication skill will instantly make you more impressive than 99% of the other applicants for most jobs.
Many design executives engage me to write their résumés. They recognize reader-centric design when they see it. And they don’t confuse narrative résumés with visual creative portfolios. They know that narratives and visuals have different design requirements.
2. Less hyperbole, more facts
Next, check your résumé’s headline and branding statement. I have found that when job seekers don’t understand their value, they describe themselves with overused, hyperbolic words. Recruiters immediately recognize these types of claims and aren’t impressed.
Some hyperbolic descriptor nouns include “disruptor,” “expert,” “guru,” “thought leader,” and “visionary.” Check the definitions of those words. If you don’t match up, delete them from your résumé. Then, invest in better understanding your value. Trust me: It’s there, waiting to be discovered.
Beyond nouns, be wary of exaggerated adjectives. Recruiters often aren’t impressed by adjectives because they’re typically opinions, not facts. Some hyperbolic adjectives include “distinguished,” “outstanding,” and “unique.”
These lists aren’t comprehensive. However, these examples demonstrate the types of words that can seem impressive to job seekers but don’t pass recruiters’ scrutiny. Recruiters’ private reactions are often, “Show me, don’t tell me.” If any of your descriptors might make a recruiter think that, delete them.
3. Persuasively frame your experience
Third, look at your experience and frame it to persuade your target employers to talk with you. Applicants can do this by highlighting the elements of your experience that interest potential employers and delete irrelevant (or potentially negative) information but don’t stretch the truth.
Negatives rarely impress on résumés. Because of that, when a fact is described negatively, I ask myself, “Can I reframe this as a positive?” It might be as simple as changing “reduced turnover to 10%” to “increased team retention to 90%.”
Employers want to know about your fit for their job, so it is crucial to address their interests. And no one expects you to describe your biggest failure on your résumé. Beyond that, recruiters and hiring managers don’t want to wade through irrelevant clutter.
You should never lie on your résumé. To make sure you stay true to yourself, ask yourself the following: “Would I be comfortable posting this résumé on LinkedIn?” “How would my colleagues react if they read this on LinkedIn?” “Would I be confident discussing this information in an interview?”
4. Show off who you’ve worked with
Instead of being tempted to resort to hyperbole and lies, share your accomplishments and their impact.
One technique I like to use on résumés is something I call “affiliative branding.” An early-career client I once worked with wanted a specific job but couldn’t land an interview. We analyzed the posting and saw that the job involved working with well-known artists. My client had that impressive experience but hadn’t mentioned it in their résumé. We wrote a bullet that named a few of the top artists they had worked for (affiliative branding) and described my client’s wins. They got the job three weeks later.
5. Eliminate or update outdated information
I once worked with a client who was a top executive in a startup that was acquired by a well-known company—a successful exit. But then the acquirer failed months later in the dot-com crash. We thought that linking my client to that company’s almost-forgotten name would generate age bias, so we eliminated it and consolidated their experience from that point back.
In another case, a client pioneered a billion-dollar product category for their company. The first product became a household name, but newer products have followed it. We featured the product in an earlier version of my client’s résumé. In the current version, we updated their story by focusing on the category because it’s now more impressive than the initial product.
Every résumé benefits from exploring and discovering the truth, deciding which relevant, positive information to present, and crafting compelling framing. When you do that, there should be no temptation—or need—to lie on your résumé.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Donna Svei writes executive and board résumés. She’s a frequent writer and speaker on résumé and LinkedIn topics. Previously, she was a retained search consultant for 25-plus years and a C-level corporate executive.
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