How Embellishment Damages Your Career

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bwilliamsRight now, Brian Williams, NBC Nightly News Anchor is stepping away from the desk for the next several days following reports that he embellished a personal story during his 2003 Iraq invasion coverage. The public is now scrutinizing many of the stories this trusted news anchor reported and his credibility is being questioned. But it isn’t just Williams’ reputation that is taking a hit. His employer, NBC, is also dealing with the fallout.

Exaggeration can be quite commonplace and not just in the newsroom. A recent Harris Poll survey revealed that 58 percent of hiring managers caught embellishments on candidate resumes.

While those little white lies may help you get a new job, they can damage your reputation and credibility, and quite possibly damage your career in the long-term.

Meet 3-Pete: What’s in a name?

Now, 3-Pete may sound like a fun nickname, but the reality is that this individual quit after three days because he fabricated information on his resume and could not fulfill his duties.

Let’s start from the beginning of this story. Pete interviewed for a digital and SEO position at an integrated creative agency – a role for which he seemed like the perfect candidate. His resume boasted countless accolades and certifications, which painted a seemingly impressive picture of his SEO expertise.

When Pete arrived for his first day, his roles and responsibilities were laid out. Panic must have swept over him as he came to the realization that this job wasn’t something he could float his way through. His second day on the job was no different. Alas, on his third (and final day) he went straight to his manager’s office to quit. Because of the few things he embellished on his resume, Pete was unable to live up to his responsibilities for the job.

Employers: How to spot a 3-Pete

“3-Petes” exist in the real world, so it’s critical that employers take the necessary steps to avoid hiring one – both for the stability of the team and protection of the company’s intellectual property.

We should have known Pete was too good to be true. During his interview, he strategically dodged questions that pertained to the role, changed the subject when asked about one of his certifications, and even managed to answer a question with a question. Even his references seemed uncertain about Pete’s previous experience. How did these red flags get overlooked?

Fortunately, today it is much easier to spot a 3-Pete through the use of social media, which can aid in cross-checking applicants. Keep an eye out for any discrepancies between their resume and what appears on social media. If you find something, you have every right to question them about it. After all, their public information is a mild extension of themselves that could potentially come back to haunt your company if they’re hired. In-interview tests are also a great way to weed out 3-Petes. Through this process, you’ll get a better sense of the candidate’s abilities and see whether their skills match the credentials listed on their resume.

Employees: What to do if you already embellished your experience?

There are two options: 1. come clean, or 2. say nothing. Coming clean is the best way to let your employer know that you’ve overstated some items, but let them know you’re willing to take classes, read additional manuals or paperwork and brush up on your skills in order to meet the expectations of the job. This shows you are willing to make it right and dedicated to bettering yourself to fit the job requirements. Saying nothing puts you in a predicament before you even begin your job, and when the truth prevails, (because it always does) your credibility and job will be at risk.

There is never a good reason to embellish your resume. Even if you don’t have all the skills required for a particular position, an employer will recognize your potential and likely hire you with the intention of training or molding you into an ideal fit. Eagerness to learn and train into a position is admirable and shows passion. It makes you a higher quality candidate.

Getting a job based on skills or education you might not have is not only damaging to the company (they’ve wasted time on your interview and possibly on additional training you needed) it’s also damaging to you. It’s important to remember that embellishment can easily cross the line of dishonesty. The news around Brian Williams’ embellishment has stirred up many questions not just about these damaging revelations, but about the media and reporting at large as well.

Embellishment damages the reputation of people and organizations you’re associated with – not just your own. Whether it comes to representing yourself on paper or in an interview, the key is to avoid embellishment on any level.

Readers, what are your thoughts on career embellishment? Is it something that you feel a lot of people do? How have you dealt with it in the past? Tell us in the comments section below!


Mimi Wachholz is a Senior Marketing Specialist with Adecco Group North America and resides in Jacksonville, Florida. She appreciates and understands generational career trends and is always striving to learn more about how to achieve success in the workplace. Mimi also has a background in journalism and welcomes cultivated story telling techniques. She spends her spare time participating in on-camera work, party planning and crafting.

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