I ought to send Scott Thompson a thank-you note. The former CEO of Yahoo recently stepped down (or perhaps was gently pushed) after it was revealed that he had been … let’s just say “less than accurate” about his academic credentials. He claimed to hold a degree in computer science from Stonehill College – a major that did not exist at that institution when he graduated in 1979. After a less-than-six-month stint running the search engine, he is now back on the job market where he will need to present a publicly updated version of his resume to potential employers.
I’m eternally grateful to Mr. Thompson for shedding such a glaring light on a topic we recruiters deal with all the time. People constantly ask me about how to finesse less-than-ideal job and school data. Sometimes, you’re only in a position for a short time. Sometimes, there are gaps in your employment history. Sometimes, you’re the CEO of one of the biggest Internet firms in the world and you falsify your academic history.
My answer to this type of question is always the same: all versions of your resume should be honest, complete and consistent. It’s much easier to explain something slightly irregular than it is to back-peddle out of a lie.
If you worry that your background is not what employers are looking for, follow the guidelines below to keep your integrity and your career intact.
Use irregularities to your advantage. If any questions arise about your past positions or their timeframes, those are great discussion points for a cover letter or interview. Make the most of the opportunity to have a conversation with a potential employer about what you’ve learned from imperfect experiences.
Include all positions, regardless of tenure. Don’t characterize a short-term employee position as something it’s not (like a contract gig). There are a million reasons why people leave jobs after a short period of time, and those reasons are not always negative.
Don’t go back and alter resume items. It’s never a good idea to retroactively modify your work or school history (unless it is to correct a falsehood). You may think the current version of your resume is the only one out there, but recruiters and employers hold onto resumes – which means they might have more than one of yours on file. It raises red flags when the details of a person’s resume change over the years - dropped employers, changed employment dates, inflated titles – you get the picture.
List end dates. If you’ve ended a job or a contract assignment, don’t indicate that the position is still “current.” Recruiters and members of your professional network won’t know to consider you an active job candidate if your resume implies that you’re still hard at work someplace else.
Maintain your LinkedIn updates. Keep your status line current and accurate. If you’re looking for a new job, say so by “sharing an update” on your page. LinkedIn is a very effective tool to help you broadcast your search.
Discretely manage your LinkedIn page. It’s great to keep your LinkedIn page up-to-date, but don’t announce to the world every time you modify your profile. Adjust your settings so that your “Activity Broadcasts” are unchecked. That way, you can keep your online resume current without making it seem like you’re constantly playing with the facts. (For more on this, see How to Remove Lies from Your Resume and LinkedIn profile.)
Even though I’m grateful to Scott Thompson, I don’t advise anyone to do what he did. Make your resume authentic and honest, in both print and online versions. Otherwise, you’ll just be that candidate who would have gotten that job had it not been for that thing. And nobody wants to be – or hire – that candidate.