Job seekers: Fine line between sprucing up your CV and lying


Applicants who have only high praise for their skills during the job interview should also be able to deliver when they actually get the job. Photo: Christin Klose/dpa

Whether languages, experience abroad or project management skills: When applying for a job, it’s important to sell yourself as much as possible. People often like to make their experiences and skills sound better than they actually are.

But what is acceptable, and when does it become lying? Ben Dehn from the German careers service Die Bewerbungsschreiber has the answers:

dpa: Is it so bad to exaggerate and lie on your CV? Isn’t that just what everyone does?

Dehn: It’s true that applicants sometimes tend to exaggerate certain things and also gloss over the “patchy” phases in their career. A classic is leaving out the months to cover up longer career breaks.

But this trick is as old as job applications themselves and is easy to see through.

As a general rule, applicants should avoid sugarcoating and making exaggerations, especially when describing their professional skills. In the job interview, the illusion will come crashing down, and if you don’t keep up your confidence, you will have already lost.

Although not advised in every case, applicants can exaggerate their own level of knowledge in the case of skills that still need to be acquired, which are not very specialised and can be self-taught, such as basic language or computer skills. This works well if there is still enough time to learn new things or refresh existing knowledge.

When looking at a job ad, however, you shouldn’t desperately try to cover 100% of the required skills. If you cover about 70% to 75% of the requirements, you can definitely apply. Especially since most jobs involve some elements of learning on the job.

Where’s the line between sprucing up your CV and lying?

The line is crossed when applicants list subject-specific skills they don’t have or cover up periods where they haven’t been working, that can be proven or disproved by job references. No one is allowed to lie outright in a job application.

Exaggerating on your CV will also be noticed sooner or later. Even if applicants are successful and get the job, they’ll fall short in day-to-day working life and stand out – but not in a good way. Exaggerating is therefore a no-go.

However, emphasising your strengths is allowed. Applicants should not sell themselves short or look for excuses, but should cut a confident figure.

When will HR notice that something might be wrong with the CV?

If your application is convincing, you’ll be shortlisted for a job. It’s at this stage that the documents are examined more closely, which includes, of course, your job references.

If there are discrepancies with the information and statements provided in the job application, it becomes clear that something may be wrong. In the worst-case scenario, you could be prematurely removed from the application process.

In the best case, you would still get invited to an interview. However, those conducting the interview would most likely start with a question mark in their minds and scrutinise the interviewee very closely.

For applicants, it’s important to throw cliched phrases in the bin and replace them with personalised, confident and authentic formulations. Someone who has a defined idea of their skills and the added value they can bring to a company will impress the person at the other end more than someone who artificially inflates themselves and their achievements. – dpa/Amelie Breitenhuber

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