There are plenty of candidates for inclusion as the worst resume mistake—after all, resumes are rife with mistakes. But one mistake tops them all. Which one?
Not Being Honest About Dates
I don’t know how it happens, but it seems like otherwise rational, honest people unravel when it’s time to write a resume, and they fill it with lies. One of the definitions of “lie” is:
⁃ something meant to deceive or give a wrong impression.
People use lies of omission, altered dates, skipped jobs, and other lies in an attempt to mislead the people who will be reviewing their resume. Why do they do this? I believe it’s a combination of things:
- Ignorance of the resume screening process.
- Fear of having their resume trashed.
- Body invaded by zombies.
I threw in the zombies option because it seems to be the only explanation for honest people turning deceptive overnight. Even if you don’t label the lesser offenses as deceptive, misleading people about the dates you were employed is at best fudging, sort of like how people fudge on their taxes.
I don’t know where this practice got its start, or how it did, but I suspect at least some of it stems from bad advice dished out by “those in the know.” For future purposes (and for your own reputation), if anyone suggests being less than honest on your resume, or job application, or anything for that matter… run!
How To List Your Dates
In my book, No Mistakes Resumes, I dedicate almost two chapters to dates. Some of it deals with formatting, but the majority deals with the problems that arise when a person isn’t honest about their dates of employment.
I realize that people are frightened to show gaps in their resume, but that’s nonsense. It’s not uncommon for anyone to have a gap between jobs, and every HR representative I know understands this. The problem isn’t the gaps, it’s the people trying to hide them.
When a headhunter or gatekeeper sees dates on your resume that don’t include months, they automatically assume something is wrong. If they suspect you’re hiding a gap in employment, they’ll assume the worst, and, they’ll view you as dishonest for attempting to deceive them. If they’re busy, they’ll trash the resume instead of wondering what the gaps are about.
If you have your employment listed like this:
ABC Company, San Diego, CA 2008–Present XYZ Company, Los Angeles, CA 2003–2008
When a gatekeeper looks at this, the first thought that comes to mind is that you are hiding gaps. You were fired or let go from XYZ Company and it took a while to find another job. They will assume that you could have been unemployed as long as one year—from January 2008 until December 2008.
You can’t make yourself look any worse than the assumption that the gatekeeper will make. Even if the gap is a full year, you’ll make yourself look honest by listing it. No matter what you do, if you don’t list the months you’ll earn a red flag. And once you get one red flag, the gatekeeper starts looking for other things that are wrong with your resume. You’ll be guilty until proven innocent—if you get a chance. So, do yourself a favor, put every month that you were employed on the resume.
Even if you choose to ignore this advice, and you think, “I can explain all that in an interview,” remember, you have to get the interview first.
Think about this the next time you write a resume—you’re not fooling anybody but yourself. There is not a gatekeeper in the world you can fool by leaving the months off your resume. I’m going to repeat that because it’s so important. There isn’t a gatekeeper in the world you can fool by leaving the months off your resume.
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