Big Lies Catch Up With (Resume) Writers

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Just because Oprah Winfrey’s O, The Oprah Magazine and now two publishing houses apparently have lax fact checking departments, that doesn’t mean your next employer will be as careless about distinguishing written fact from fiction.

Bigwigs at Riverhead Books (PSO), were duped by author Margaret Seltzer, pen name Margaret B. Jones, who claimed to be a drug-selling, gang-banging, biracial foster child in her memoir, Love and Consequences. But unlike her fictional alter ego, Seltzer, 33, grew up in Sherman Oaks, an upscale Los Angeles suburb, and attended the nearby private Episcopal school, which counts Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen as alums. Seltzer’s ruse ended when her biological sister contacted The New York Times (NYT) after the paper profiled the writer on February 28. Oprah's O, whose March issue went to press before Seltzer came clean, called her work “a startlingly tender memoir." 


This memoir to novel reversal comes two years after author James Frey admitted to embellishing his drug-fueled bestseller, A Million Little Pieces, published by Doubleday Books. Oprah first endorsed the work for her book club, and later withdrew her support. Maybe your tall tales about your past do not include wild drug abuse or gang activity, but even the slightest fib on your resume can be damaging to your career.


“A lie is a lie,” says Michael Worthington, co-founder of ResumeDoctor.com in South Burlington, Vt. According to Worthington, approximately 43% of resumes in circulation have significant inaccuracies. “An error or a typo is much different than trying to hide something.” The most common places where people fudge facts? Education, length and dates of employment, and job titles or duties. “This is the most ironic because these are the parts of the resume HR can check on without difficulty, without doing a background check,” says Worthington. 


Still, most employers will also dig into new job seekers' records and try to authenticate their history. “Background investigation companies call me because many of our students apply for government related jobs,” says Kathleen Overmyer, the registrar at the Art Institute of Washington, in Arlington, Va. After a potential employer supplies a matching name and social security number, Overmyer is authorized to provide when the student enrolled, his or her degree, and graduation date. “A woman recently called and she read information to me about a student that was very different from his transcript,” says Overmyer. “[He] said he had a Bachelor’s degree  when he only had an Associate’s degree. The degree name didn’t match either.” 


One common area of exaggeration, is minimizing time off between jobs. Experts say there is no need. “If you are out of work for six to eight months, we see candidates adding four or five months to cover that gap of employment,” says Worthington. “There’s still a fear from 20 to 30 years ago about the stigma of being laid off. You don’t start and end at the same job anymore. It’s not as much of a stigma.” In reality, says Worthington, an employer isn’t going to penalize you for taking four or five months off. If the gap is longer than six months, he recommends providing an explanation. “It could be for any reason. Maybe you took time off to travel, or to help out a sick parent." A decent employer will understand—as long as you tell the truth.

 

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