Question: Hi, Alan, I’m a graduating student with hopes of starting a career. I worked the entire time I was in school in the related field making me appear to be well on my way.
The problem is, my former employer was my former wife and her family. When contacted they are refusing to acknowledge my employment, and even go so far as to tell people I was dishonest about my job title and responsibilities.
How do I go about being up front with this problem when looking for work? Do I simply eliminate it from my resume and attempt to start anew?
Answer: Dear Jim: Your predicament is a tough one. I see it as a choice of two paths, and a sort of “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.” I think that, overall, one of those two paths is preferable.
1. When preparing a resume, I strongly suggest honesty in all respects, with very few exceptions. I believe that “resume dishonesty” can be one of the most foolish things a person can do, because dishonest additions, mischaracterizations and omissions can hurt you for the rest of your life. Just last week, the CEO of Yahoo was in danger of losing his job due to “resume dishonesty” that took place years ago. Resume dishonesty is almost always viewed as “cause” for firing, no matter when it took place, and no matter how minor. All that said, there are times that I believe some degree of “resume dishonesty” is the wisest thing to do, given the circumstances and the options.
2. Personal matters, such as this one, are one of those exceptions. When family, personal or intimate relations are involved in the end of an employment relation, I often suggest a touch of “resume omission.” By that, I mean leaving out details that might be considered “TMI” or “too much information” by some. And sometimes I even suggest omitting the entire relation on a resume, if possible. Other examples of what I view to be permissible “resume omission” are the (i) precise reasons for resignations if the real reason is required to be kept confidential by confidentiality agreement, and (ii) precise reason for employment gaps that happened in order to recuperate from an illness if the nature of the illness may be embarrassing or quite personal. No one wants to hear anyone’s issues, problems or complaints about former spouses, former employers, or former spouses who were former employers, or their issues, problems or complaints about you. Sadly, many people say to themselves “It always takes two to tango,” even if one “side” of a problem is, in fact, entirely right and one “side” of that problem is entirely wrong.
3. I view “deflating” your resume – as opposed to “inflating” it – to be far less objectionable, and sometimes not objectionable at all. To my mind, leaving something off a resume is less objectionable than adding something to a resume that is not correct. I fully acknowledge that others see no difference between “resume inflation” and resume “deflation,” but I would disagree. “Resume inflation” to me connotes the word “dishonest” while “resume deflation” is closer to the word “discrete.” If, for example, you told a prospective employer you were a high school graduate, and you were really a high school graduate and also a college graduate, did you really “pull the wool over the eyes” of that prospective employer? I don’t think so. However, if you claimed to have a college degree and did not in fact have a college degree, I would find that to be clear dishonesty.
4. And, being that you have been in school, dropping your work experience during school is a far easier task. From what you have written, it seems to be the case that the work experience you are considering dropping from your resume took place while you were a student. Thus, if you “drop” it from your resume, you will not have to explain a resume gap. The time in question will be covered by the time you were in school, and studying.
5. It’s just possible that “deflating” your resume may help you in another way, too. I do acknowledge that you may be put at an unfair disadvantage in not being able to put down your relevant experience on your resume. It is a loss; I don’t think it will materially affect your career prospects. In fact, if you’ve ever heard the suggestion “Under-promise and Over-deliver,” you will know that your future employers will be quite surprised – and pleased – that a person with limited experience in your field does such great work. In this way, your inability to put your relevant work experience on your resume may actually end up being a “blessing in disguise.”
6. At the same time, you might consider being entirely “up front” about your experience, and your circumstances, but you will then be asking a prospective employer to take a risk most do not want to take. With all of this in mind, you might also consider the other “path,” that is, complete honesty as to what happened and your present circumstances. However, if you do so, you will be putting your prospective employer in a position to say to himself or herself, “Do I hire a dishonest person?” Gosh, not many people answer that question in the affirmative. It is up front, but I think it is self-defeating, too, and in this circumstance, I do not suggest it.
Jim, the fact that you are approaching this with your “mind wide open,” and considering the alternatives, is a great sign for your success in the future. So much of what we experience each day requires these kinds of analyses, and often in the spur of the moment. I would respect you no matter which “path” you may choose, but I want you to know that I would not at all disrespect you for “resume deflation” if that is the path you end up traveling.
Really good question; I hope the answer is helpful. Thanks for writing in. Please consider mentioning our blogsite to your friends and colleagues
My Very Best,
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