In the June 28, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager who has no college degree wonders how crucial a degree is, and asks whether it’s worth stretching the truth on the resume:
In the case of a successful manager, how important is a college degree to a headhunter? I don’t have a degree. With so much emphasis on education nowadays, should I fabricate the truth on my resume or completely eliminate the education section entirely? If I were to stretch the truth and include a degree on my resume, how often at my level of achievement does a search firm investigate?
Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)
Hmmm. I’m really worried about you. Just what kind of achievement is it to lie about your credentials? Can a successful manager believe it’s smart to even consider fabricating a degree?
Don’t lie and don’t stretch the truth. There’s an entire background-checking industry ready to expose you. Search firms investigate, but you don’t know how far, and they’re not going to tell you. If you lie about a degree, you will probably get caught. It could cost you an offer. Worse, because some of these background checks take time, the truth might not turn up until after you’ve been hired—then you’ll lose your new job.
If you think it’s bad to get caught by your employer, realize that once the headhunter finds out you lied, your name will be mud all over your industry.
Even white lies on your resume can blow up in your face. People might say, “Aw, everybody does it. Companies expect some inflation in a resume.” What do you want to bet? Your career? Your reputation? Let me remind you: Your integrity is everything. Protect it.
Now for the good news… (This is where some of my advice is omitted. To get the whole story next week, subscribe to the free newsletter. It’s free! Don’t miss another edition!)
You will of course encounter headhunters who stick to the party line. If the client says it wants a degree, the headhunter will skip candidates that lack one. This is where the truly good headhunters will surface. They will guide and advise their client, and if it’s possible, they will help the client get past the lack of a degree to get to a good candidate that can do the job well. If you’re dealing with a headhunter who refuses to take you to the next step, it will buy you nothing to argue. Unless you have an inside track to the hiring manager, let it go. Move on to the next opportunity.
I discuss ways to effectively portray your value to a headhunter in How to Work With Headhunters. If you’re changing careers, How Can I Change Careers? teaches how to overcome obstacles—like, “You’ve never done this sort of work before!”
In the end, it’s up to you to have a compelling story to tell about how the employer will benefit from hiring you. The headhunter won’t figure it out for herself. You have to explain it.
If in the final analysis the lack of a degree continues to pose a problem, then get one. With all the good distance-learning schools out there nowadays, you will likely be able to skip some courses by testing out of them. Your experience will count for a lot toward the degree. Check with your state’s department of education for a list of accredited distance schools.
Everyone fudges a bit on their resume. It’s like stealing hotel towels. It’s expected.
Tell me where you think the line is, and whether inflating your college degree information is a step too far. (If you’re a manager, would it bother you?) Everyone does it, right?