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Out of Our Minds
Tuesday, November 30, 2004 12:06 PM
How Far Is Too Far?
Kevin Salwen on Ethics

Face it, we all do it (or at least have done it): Resume 'embellishment.' Usually, it's not out and out lying, as in summa cum laude from a university you never actually finished. Instead, it's more of those little I-was-responsible-for, I-managed references. Sometimes, words get omitted: part of the team that ran the IBM relationship becomes ran the IBM relationship, that sort of thing. For those who are in client-service businesses, the stretches are often similar: I was brought in to help hand out brochures for GE becomes managed this program for GE.

At breakfast this morning, Craig Allen, who runs an Atlanta radio show called The Career Doctors, told me that this sort of slight of hand isn't a bad thing. 'You can't lie, of course. And if anyone asks, you have to give them the whole truth. But saying you attended a college is still accurate even if you didn't graduate.' And of course, we agreed, companies don't exactly tell the whole truth when they're courting you either, so it's probably a fair deal.

But how much is too much? Where's the line? Where does puffery become cheating?


g - 12/2/2004 4:33:25 AM

Hurrah! Somebody gets it!

>you will have lost integrity

Truth is truth... right is right... wrong is wrong etc... you make a perfect point. Thanks. It re-affirms my hope that there's real and sensible folk around who know where the line is and aren't afraid to speak out.

I hope you'll go comment on some other posts too - a few of them could use an injection of reality. ;-)
Ole Eichhorn - 12/1/2004 10:09:51 PM
I read resumes for candidates far more often than I submit mine, so this is from the other side of the table.

Any attempt to mislead on a resume is short sighted. If you get a job because you exaggerated on your resume, I would be surprised. More likely nobody will ever know or care, but you will have lost integrity. And there is always tht chance that you'll be found out, even accidentally, and then how embarrasing is that? (Not to mention, you could be terminated.)
Robert - 11/30/2004 11:09:12 PM
Kevin, thanks for responding. I agree sometimes there are significant legal and other barriers to getting objective references, but what separates the superior business person from the average joe often is the ability to find and interpret relatively inaccessible information, and to use it to make qualified decisions. I'd still argue that anyone who accepts a reference such as 'yes, he used to work here ... that's all I can say' -- as legitimate and frequent a response as that may be -- isn't ready to make important hiring decisions in high-risk situations. Yes, it puts a burden on the employer, perhaps an unfair one, but why should recruiting superior, high-performing people be easy?

Anyway, though your question addresses puffery, this economy has also helped encourage cheating out there on the opposite end, 'dumbing down' one's accomplishments so as not too appear too overqualified or senior (i.e., expensive). Technically as dishonest as puffery, but should one find some empathy for those folks? I'd say yes, provided they're willing to put in 100% at the 'lesser' job they're seeking. And I'd still argue the responsible, savvy hirer should be able to identify those situations and make an informed judgment. Interesting, complicated stuff, thanks for raising.
g - 11/30/2004 7:40:35 PM
>Where does puffery become cheating?

From the moment we set out to deceive - either ourselves or others.

Integrity brings considerations beyond commercial expediency... in a risk-averse age in which 'the slightest shadow' is often enough to trigger a 'let's call the whole thing off' reaction... a return to honesty is much needed.

Sure beats a fake alibi and this way at least we don't have to worry about keeping up appearances. If through candor we alienate prospective partners, associates, clients (and employers) then so be it. World'll still spin.
Kevin - 11/30/2004 4:00:04 PM
Robert, good point but one of things I have found is that people won't say what a former (or current) employee actually did. The fear of lawsuits by former employees has grown so great that many companies just say 'yes, he used to work here, from 1998-2003. That's all I can say.'

More to the point though, I find that the people listed as references are the 'soft' ones -- people the job candidate knows will give them a great review. In fact, that might be an extension of the problem I wrote about in the initial post: people getting other people to stretch the truth for them.
Robert - 11/30/2004 1:27:10 PM
I recognize I am hopelessly naive, but I truly believe the most important part of my background isn't the resume itself, but the list of professional references I enclose with it. At the very least, it enables the prospective hirer to ask them, 'One of the reasons we're interested in X is the relationship he described having with IBM -- as his previous supervisor/peer, how would YOU describe that relationship?' Or better still, call IBM. It amazes me how few hirers, at least in my industry, take advantage of this sleuthing. Most if not all of the burden of making the case for a candidate seems to fall on the candidate himself, which is rather foolhardy, as he/she is biased by nature. Am I just ranting, or do others find this as well?


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