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The Most Popular Lies on Résumés

Vivia Chen

June 5, 2013

Skeptical_by_auremar_FotoliaWhen you are young and inexperienced, you might be tempted to inflate your résumé a bit to get your foot in the door. You might claim to speak Mandarin because you can order Ma Po Tofu convincingly at your neighborhood Chinese restaurant. Some purists might say you're lying. But I won't judge you. I know you're just trying to stand out.

Compared to, say, those in the financial world, folks in the legal field are honest Abes. I think law attracts a conservative, rule-fearing bunch. There are also more checks in place—like the state bar—to ferret out those who lie.

But given the competitive job market, even lawyers might be stretching the truth more than usual. Recently, eFinancialCareers.com listed CV lies that often don't get caught. These are popular lies in the banking world, but some might be applicable to J.D.s too:

1. The academic/GPA lie. This is the most common fib. This includes bumping up your GPA, "but more often than not it involves candidates stating that they have a qualification that they never actually attained."

I can't imagine you can get away with lying about where you went to law school. I can imagine, however, that you can get away with claiming to have a master's degree from the University of Rotterdam in medieval sign language. Hey, who's going to investigate that?

2. The "I did amazing things between jobs" lie. "Those with an extended career break often feel the need to embellish how they spent their time." One example, says eFinancialCareers, is someone who called himself "head of gardening." Personally, I think you can milk this one. Why not say you acted as a bread baking consultant or a middle-aged crisis shopping aide if those are conversation points?

3. The "I left my job willingly" lie. Given the shaky economy in recent years, being laid off is no longer a stigma, says eFinancialCareers. So you might as well be up-front about it.

But if you've been fired, that's a different story. For starters, make sure you know what your previous employer will say about you (see "You're Fired—The Five Things You Must Do Right Away"). In any case, you better "have a strategy in place when questions are asked about why you left your previous employer." Yup, you better be convincing on this one.

4. The "I am a super-jock" lie. Apparently, banks are keen on "personal interests" to ensure a cultural fit. "Banks are increasingly hiring elite athletes with little or no financial experience. . . Simply saying that you enjoy reading and movies is unlikely to cut it." (Yup, the jock advantage is real.)

I think law firms are much too focused on grades to care about the athletic prowess of their applicants. At the same time, though, I'm always amazed how impressed male partners tend to be when there's a former varsity athlete applying for a job. So if you have the physique to pass it off, go to town on this one!

5. The "I am an expert at __" lie.  “One candidate has Agile, Scrum, Waterfall, SixSigma all packed into her CV, but on closer examination it was clear she had little to no experience with most of them," a hiring manager told eFinancialCareers.

Thankfully, lawyers don't have to claim to know that stuff. But you better sound like you know something. So beef up on those arguments you made in your moot court brief, make mention of that paper you're writing on banking regulations, and talk about your fascination with compliance, etc. The point is to sound engrossed in something that few normal people could give a hoot about.

Any other lies that lawyers love to put on their résumés? Please share.

Related post: To Lie, Or Not to Lie.

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"Sex sells". Whether you are an alpha male jock or a stunning model, you will have advantages over others.

I wonder if the equivalent for male athletes applies to beautiful women like models or actresses. Has anyone researched that?

Keeping in real! Very grateful for continuing ed. and no experience with Six Sigma (although the non-athletic manager I had briefly sure could have used some time at the gym)...

I once worked, as a recruiter, with a world class athlete who became a lawyer after a pro career. It was shockingly easy to get this person interviews; every man in New York seemed to want to be in his presence. (And his presence was impressive; I believe he was the most physically powerful person I have ever been near.) He ended up without a single offer from a firm of the caliber he wanted. The major law firms wanted more. This person went into a profession of strategy and fundraising, where it is likely shaking his hand made checkbooks appear.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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