The best policy: Staying honest in the job market

March 2, 2010

We recently hired a candidate with a stellar résumé. However, once he started, we realized he didn’t have the experience he claimed.  What is your advice to job candidates when it comes to representing their qualifications?

Right now there is unprecedented competition for fewer PR-related jobs. And if you’re up against a slew of other formidable candidates for a position, it’s natural that you want to do everything you can to gain an advantage.

That can lead to the temptation to beef up your credentials.

But there’s scarcely a bigger mistake than to exaggerate — some would call it lie — when discussing your background.

Mike Marino, a well-known HR consultant to PR firms, says that it’s getting easier for prospective employers to identify dishonest job-seekers.

“Even a cursory background check is going to reveal any inconsistencies in terms of dates or employment and positions held,” Marino says. “In some instances, employers ask for prior pay statements to verify salary history. In smaller markets, lies can sometimes be found out through word-of-mouth.”

Not all job-seeker lies are exaggerations, Marino points out. Less experienced applicants tend to puff up their credentials to make themselves seem more qualified.

However, as many senior-level professionals have lost their jobs in this brutal market, more experienced people may omit certain parts of their history to seem less expensive.

A lie will be found out eventually, whatever form it takes. Once that happens, you’ll not only be fired, but your tainted reputation will follow you as your job search sadly resumes. Such lies are unnecessary, too. What makes you think you need to have supervised a program in order to have gained experience working on it?

There’s a lot to be said for being the one who sent out the news releases, completed the follow-up work and tabulated the results. The people who lead programs today were sending out press releases at the start of their careers.

Experience builds on itself as you move forward. Prospective employers understand that.

Honesty is important today because there are so many methods for people to discover the truth.  When I double-check the facts in résumés, I’m just as likely to do so by asking a friend who knows one of your former colleagues.

In addition, honesty in job-seeking and hiring works both ways. Sometimes employers make a job sound better than it really is. They exaggerate the likely level of responsibility or the potential for advancement to persuade a promising candidate.

But you’re not going to keep employees very long if that’s how you attract them.  And since PR practitioners, of all people, know the value of reputation, you realize that it does you no good to have an army of disappointed former employees running around.

Don’t be scared of honesty. None of us are perfect, and we’re all doing the best we can. People understand that, and handling the truth in a straightforward manner is the best path toward a rewarding PR career.

Copyright © 2010 PRSA. All rights reserved.


Ann Willets
Ann Willets is president and CEO of Utopia Communications, Inc., an ethically focused PR agency. She was the 2010 chair of the Counselors Academy.


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