In a past life, I worked in internal talent acquisition at a large internet media company. By that, I mean I was a lowly recruiter who bullshitted his way through pretending to understand anything that software developers talked about when I discussed their qualifications with them. There’s a reason I don’t have that job anymore. Anyway, the point is, when you spend as much time as I did around résumés and the world of human resources and hiring managers, you get a really good look at how companies go about the hiring process. One of the lovely lessons I learned in my time there was what parts of your résumé you can get away with bullshitting, and what parts you can’t.
Terms Of Dismissal
I never understood why anyone would put a reason for leaving a certain job on his or her résumé. It does nothing but hurt you. If you quit because of dissatisfaction, it can make you look like you’re not a team player. If you were laid off, it can make you look like other employers viewed you as disposable. If you were fired, that basically blackballs you forever, because no recruiter in his or her right mind will go to bat for you to his or her bosses unless you’re a fucking rockstar. If the application asks if you were ever terminated, LIE. If you get caught in the lie, the worst thing that can happen is you won’t be considered for the job, which is what would happen anyway if you were honest. But you won’t get caught, because companies are notoriously bad at being able to find stuff out about you from other companies. If someone calls your former employer to check your previous employment, he or she will be routed to someone in HR, who will ONLY confirm that you, indeed, worked there. This person will almost never share anything else beyond that, because there is always the potential for liability when talking out of school about former employees, and he or she has no vested interest in another company’s business.
Bachelor’s degrees don’t matter a whole hell of a lot, especially the further into your career you go. However, adding a nonexistent minor or two can show that you have a history of overachievement. It’s also almost impossible to get caught for. Even if your potential employer bothers with pulling your transcript (which is becoming less and less common) schools are notoriously bad about showing sub-degrees properly. Personally, I have three minors on my résumé. One (business) is actually reflected on my transcript. Another (English) I took enough hours for, but didn’t bother making it “official.” The third (film) is there because I did a six-month-long film program, so I fucking added it for shits and gigs. Interviewers have always loved that about my résumé, and they never once have questioned me. If you get a call about how your fake minor isn’t showing up on your transcript, feign confusion. People’s real minors don’t show up on their school records half the time, and your future employers know that. Just don’t lie about having a Ph.D., an MBA, or an actual bachelor’s degree, and you’re in like flint. Don’t have your degree? Just pop “undergraduate studies in [insert degree field here]” and no one will bat an eyelash. Just get yourself in a room with a decision maker.
Everyone does this, so I’m not even going to bother going into depth with it. Just don’t let it get out of hand. Put in a few things that make you sound fancy and get the fuck out. If you get too carried away with it, trust me, the recruiter will know.
References are really just a formalized part of the recruiting process. Unless there is significant competition of finalist candidates for a job, the references portion of the hiring isn’t all that important. For 90 percent of the positions I filled, we had already decided we wanted to hire the person and we just needed to get the references done to complete the package. A lot of times, references are used to convince the higher ups in the company. They don’t spend a lot of time reviewing the candidates, other than maybe a half hour interview with them, so references are more of a way for them to cover their asses about their involvement. Good references from solid people are a decent substitute for hands-on scrutiny. I’ll say this, too: we cared a lot more about who was giving the recommendation than we did how highly he or she spoke of the candidate. It’s pretty much assumed that anyone put down as a reference is there because the candidate knows that person will say good things about him or her. You’d be stupid to put down someone you’re not confident will speak highly of you. So when your references are lower level managers or even coworkers, it doesn’t inspire confidence. In this scenario, you’d be much better served by choosing a friend you worked with, embellishing his or her title, and then informing this person he or she will need to put on a bit of an act for the person calling. This tends to work much better than putting down your direct supervisor, who may have a weenie-ass job title. Unless you’re interviewing for upper management, no one is going to put in the legwork to make sure the reference holds the position you say he or she does.
Disclaimer: I’m putting this at the end so that it’s the last thing you read. Only fudge your résumé if you think you absolutely have to. There are so, so many ways you can embellish or bend the truth in terms of your experience before you ever have to even consider lying. Also remember, you might be able to get the job by bullshitting your qualifications, but it’s pretty fucking shortsighted to say you have experience with something (especially technology) if it’s something you’ll be interacting with as a core part of your job. You aren’t just going to learn advanced Excel techniques in the week it takes to do your training. And yes, Excel is much more complicated than you think. Staggeringly so..