At a glance
According to a US ResumeLab survey in mid-2023, from a sample size of 1900, seven out of 10 people admit to lying on their resume.
It can be tempting to embellish a job title, the responsibilities of a role or the length of employment, but experts say it is never a good idea to falsify facts on a CV.
Even the most innocent “white lie” on a CV is an immediate red flag that undermines trust, says Stephen Moir, director of finance recruitment specialist Moir Group.
“Good interviewers will see through a lie and, ultimately, the person won’t get the job,” Moir says.
It is, however, possible to cast skills and experience in the best possible light without misrepresenting the facts.
1. Put your best foot forward
A good CV should “hit people straight between the eyes”, Moir says.
“When I interview people, I ask them, ‘What is it that makes you excellent?’.” A CV’s task is to articulate these strengths.
“Rather than trying to squeeze yourself into a role, in a CV you should say, ‘These are the three or four areas that I excel in. This is the kind of culture that I’m suited to and the kind of leadership that I’m looking for, and if I join your business, this is what you’re going to get’.”
For graduates who are short on experience, “show where you’ve taken initiative, where you’ve demonstrated curiosity, where you’ve taken a lead on something, where you worked in a team, where you’ve demonstrated agility and flexibility – all those things are great”, he adds.
2. Keep your resume short
Too often, people cram too much information into their CVs.
“The resume is not a document that has everything in there,” Moir says. “Realistically, nobody’s going to read four pages of small type which tries to cover everything.”
Instead of trying to summarise an entire career, the CV should highlight key skills, experience and achievements – like a career “Greatest Hits” album.
A concise and tightly written CV will also make a strong impression on a recruiter who has dozens of resumes to review for each job.
“The most impressive people are those who have a clarity and depth of thinking,” Moir says. “That inspires a lot of confidence.”
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3. Showcase your achievements with XYZ
Jacquie Liversidge, managing director of The Resume Writers, advises setting out achievements under each role to offer proof of your excellence in each position.
An achievement can be an outcome, a process improvement or anything that added value to the organisation above and beyond the designated scope of the role.
Highlighting achievements is an easy way to avoid feeling the need to embellish, Liversidge says.
“Achievements demonstrate that you are able to execute your skills in a way that adds value above the other applicants who are applying for the job.”
Liversidge says the best way to frame achievements is using the “XYZ structure”, which outlines what a candidate accomplished, how they did it and the outcome.
She offers an example: “Reduced budget by 15 per cent – your X – by identifying wasted digital subscriptions, for example – that’s your Y – resulting in re-allocation of funds and the hiring of a new staff member – that’s Z.”
The simple three-part structure creates a narrative that brings to life what can otherwise be the dry dot points of your job history.
“That kind of language tells a story without going too far into storytelling, which is better placed in a cover letter and just ends up adding length to your CV that you don’t need,” she says.
4. Make a one-page summary
Moir recommends creating a second shorter document – a one-page summary highlighting essential skills and experience – to complement a more comprehensive CV that runs to three or four pages.
A summary is a useful document for anyone exploring new career opportunities to share among their networks.
“If you are going to have a coffee with someone in your network, there is no point sending a resume, because people are just not going to read it,” Moir says.
“In contrast, a one-page summary stating what you are looking for lets people know how they can help you.”
5. Always spellcheck
An easy win for candidates is to ensure their CV is free from grammatical and spelling mistakes.
Error-free copy reflects good attention to detail – a valuable quality in the recruitment process.
“It’s so obvious, but it’s amazing how many people get it wrong,” Moir says.
“The easiest way to have somebody draw a line through your resume is if you’ve got bad grammar.”