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The Difference Between 'Creative' Writing and Lying on Your Resume

by on January 26, 2015 6:15 AM

As the saying goes, you can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

Or can you?

I met with a student last week to go over his resume as he is beginning the search for an internship. We talked about how best to organize his past employers and job history and his education background.

I encouraged him to use similar terms to describe his duties as those that were used in the agency's job position. We talked about being creative in selling his skills to the potential employer.

"Can't I get in trouble for being dishonest on my resume?" he asked. I smiled. Creative wording on a resume is resourceful and a way to put our best foot forward.

Lying on a resume is another story.

Recent headlines from just over the mountain in Huntingdon are a case study in the dangers of padding one's resume. A long time administrator at Juniata College is under investigation for not only lying on her resume but for convincing a local law firm that she had earned a law degree.

The executive fundraiser is under investigation for not only lying about having a law degree but for her whole professional and educational resume. The local law firm that hired her and eventually promoted her from associate to partner has publicly stated that the incident is under investigation.

Lying on a resume might get you the job but will eventually get you a whole bunch of trouble.

Throughout history, there have been some famous impostors. People who misrepresented their employment history or educational background in writing or in person and were able to slide by unnoticed – for at least a little while.

George O'Leary is currently the head football coach at the University of Central Florida. Several years ago, O'Leary accepted the head coaching position at Notre Dame. He resigned five days later when it came out that his resume had some striking inaccuracies concerning his degrees and his experience as a college football player. He left the position and has been able to land positions in college coaching despite his misrepresentations about his experience. Apparently we can be pretty forgiving about lies and stretching the truth in college coaching.

Vice President Joe Biden allegedly dropped out of the 1988 presidential campaign because of inaccuracies in a campaign speech and in his campaign bio. In what he later attributed as confusion caused by a temper outburst, Biden responded to an audience member at a campaign speech with mistruths about his undergraduate degrees, his "full scholarship" and his class rank at Syracuse law school. It turns out those facts were more than just a little off. He has since, of course, been elected to the office Vice President – twice.

I guess we can be pretty forgiving in politics too.

The greatest imposter of all is said to have been a guy named Ferdinand Waldo Demara. Demara was born in 1921 and was reportedly psychologically impacted by his family's change of status after the stock market crash of 1929. For the next 60 years, he spent his life portraying someone else, under assumed names, in different countries and in a variety of professions including the military, higher education, and even surgery. The sixteen people he operated on (after allegedly reading about how to do the surgery in a textbook) all survived.

Abe Lincoln had it right. You can fool some of the people some of the time.

In this day and age of internet searches and background checks, it's hard to believe that someone like the administrator in Huntingdon could get away with it, let alone try it.

What motivates someone to pose as someone else? Some reportedly do it for money or other financial gain. Others for fame. Some for the thrill. For many, the need to be someone else is indicative of mental illness.

Ironically, what is called the "imposter syndrome" is more common than people actually posing as someone else. Many truly successful or accomplished people doubt themselves and their achievements to the point that they fear being "found out." I remember watching an interview with Sir Paul McCartney of The Beatles fame in which he said that he was sure that someone was going to find out that the whole thing was a fraud.

If the story about the administrator at Juniata is true, I wonder what her days were like. Was she anxious and nervous that she would be found out? Was it about seeing how far she could go and how many people she could fool? How was she able to fake people out for so long?

As we work together to develop resumes, I urge my students every semester to put their best faces forward and to think of their resume as a marketing tool to sell themselves to potential internship agencies and employers.

I encourage them to pull the key words from the agency websites and mission statements and job postings. If an agency is looking for a "creative independent thinker" I urge them to emphasize their creative, independent thinking skills and competencies. I encourage them to be creative in how they describe their past experiences and to proudly identify their education at Penn State.

And I tell them to be honest. Lying on a resume can bring on a whole lot of trouble.


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Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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