This past week I reconnected with a senior executive I had not spoken to in perhaps seven years. He wanted to meet to discuss his career and in the process provide an updated resume for our files. As I glanced at the document, something seemed askew so later I compared it to the old resume stored in our database. Lo and behold the new resume excluded any reference to his employer of seven years ago. Furthermore, dates were adjusted so that this time period was now distributed between his prior and subsequent employers and presto an entire slice of this executive’s career was expunged like it had never happened.
What exactly was this executive thinking? Did he believe his resume was too long and in need of paring? If so, why selectively remove this one 18 month stint and fudge dates in this manner? Did the executive think the relatively short employment stint was immaterial to his overall career narrative? Was he attempting to smooth out the optics of his career choices or was the chapter in question unflattering in some way and messy to explain?
Tinkering with resumes is increasingly commonplace. Executives will list degrees pursued and educational institutions attended yet leave it vague as to whether they graduated. Executives eliminate reference to months in their resumes in order to give the impression of gap-free transitions between roles. Executives providing details of their employers make note that it was acquired or merged with another firm. The implied message is that the changes in the company were somehow related to, or precipitated the departure of the executive from the firm. Many times they were not. Most of these little tricks (and there are a great many) fall within the category of resume ‘staging’ and they share the objective of enhancing appearance. While there may be minor slight-of-hand involved there remains an overall ‘truthiness’ to the document. It falls on the potential employer to diligently poke and probe and peel the layers of understanding if they want to find out whether the executive in question is the great wizard the resume presents or a little man pulling levers and speaking in a microphone behind a curtain.
The matter of removing entire chapters from one’s career is an altogether different level of editing license and executives who engage in such practices play with fire. As American politicians are learning, Google has made ‘fact-checking’ a one or two-click endeavor with the power to shed light on all manner of fact and fiction. More importantly, there is simply no place to hide and often no coming back when a whiff of funny business wafts over an executive and his candidacy. At least not in my business.
So stage that resume if you must. Distract, deflect, imply or use whatever tricks the resume experts suggest is fair game in making that resume of yours look as good as possible. But be very careful for that de-militarized zone between fact and fiction is filled with very deadly landmines. And they are all over the place.
About the Author
Robert Hebert is the founder and Managing Partner of StoneWood Group Inc., a leading executive search firm in Canada. Since 1981, he has helped firms across a wide range of sectors address their senior recruiting, assessment and leadership development requirements.