Keeping It Real On Your Résumé

A word to the wise on stretching the truth on résumés: Don't.

Many professionals -- especially those who are just starting their careers -- are tempted to pad their résumés in an attempt to look more impressive to potential employers. The frustration of a long job search has also caused more than a few applicants to embellish their résumés.

But being dishonest about previous positions, qualifications or degrees can quickly land you in hot water. It calls into question your integrity and will quickly eliminate you from consideration.

Many companies perform background and reference checks on prospective employees, and just a small white lie is enough to disqualify someone. It takes only one quick call to a previous boss or a university  office of the registrar to uncover a falsehood -- putting an end to your chances of securing the job. If an overstatement is initially overlooked, it could still come back to haunt you, even once you're employed.

So keep your résumé real. Tailor it and your cover letter to the position you seek, clearly explaining how your skill set and previous experience align with the job requirements. Following are some additional tips to help you create an impressive résumé that speaks the truth:

Stick to the facts
Including keywords that match phrases from the job description in your résumé and cover letter is one way to help you catch a hiring manager's eye. For example, if you are applying for an entry-level Web design job that requires "advanced Photoshop skills," include "Photoshop" in your résumé and highlight projects you've worked on that entailed extensive use of this application. Just be sure the keywords you include accurately reflect your background.

Make the connection
Many job candidates assume that if their résumé generates only tepid interest from employers, it must be because their qualifications fall short of the company's requirements. But in many cases, the bigger problem is how their experience is presented. A résumé isn't just a list of facts -- it should paint a portrait of who you are and what you can do for an employer.

Perhaps the most common résumé mistake is not being specific enough about your previous duties and accomplishments. For example, if you are a database administrator, noting that you "manage the company's databases" doesn't tell an employer exactly what you did. Did you troubleshoot problems? Make key business decisions related to the database? Supervise employees?

Put yourself in the employer's shoes. He or she is trying to develop the clearest possible sense of how you can contribute to the business. For every position you've held, list several specific achievements and explain how each benefited the company.

Don't sell yourself short
Every job candidate has weaknesses. But there are ways to turn perceived weaknesses into strengths. If you have only a few years of experience, for example, use your cover letter to highlight how your enthusiasm and ability to learn quickly can be assets.

Your attitude also can have an effect on your job search. If you've become convinced that no one will hire you, you may inadvertently be conveying this pessimism in your cover letter, making it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Demonstrating confidence gives you an immediate edge on the competition.

A truly successful job search isn't about doing whatever it takes to land a job. It's about showing employers who you are and what you can contribute. In doing so, you give yourself the best chance of getting a foot in the door.