Whether you’re an honest job seeker or an employer, you’re hurt by dishonest job seekers. The honest job seekers ends up losing jobs to worse candidates who lied. And employers get worse employees, which hurts coworkers, customers, and themselves.
Alas, having been a career counselor to thousands of job seekers and consultants to dozens of employers, I can tell you first-hand that there are a lot of dishonest job seekers who manage to bamboozle employers but not for long...Some are soon back in my office looking for help to find another job, this time with another failure to have to explain.
I consider writing this a bit of penance for occasionally remaining silent, even less often condoning, and even very occasionally, in moments of sympathy for that struggling job seeker sitting in front of me, abetting tactics I wouldn’t be proud to tell my daughter about.
In resumes, cover letters, and interviews, the honest if not saintly job seeker tries to explain away employment gaps honestly or at worst by stretching the truth about how career-related their activities during the gap have been. For example, the stay-at-home parent might exaggerate the work-relevance of being PTA secretary-treasurer. If they were fired, they’d briefly give the most mollifying answer possible without risking a lightning bolt from above, for example, “I made a couple of mistakes and certainly have learned from the experience.”
The dishonest job seeker with a Grand-Canyon-sized employment gap might claim to have worked for a business that’s out of business and doesn't have the boss's contact information. Or if fired for rampant incompetence and thievery, the liar would say, “Our personalities just were a poor match.” Or more dazzling, they get a friend or lover to agree to play the former employer, and in a reference check to verify that all the resume, cover letter, and interview doody is absolutely accurate if not understated, that the miscreant is an exemplary employee. Of course, the begged question is, “Exemplary of what?”
And, of course, dishonest, low-intelligence job seekers are more likely to use a hired gun to write their resume and cover letter to hide their poor thinking, writing, and organizational ability and that despite the wealth of resume-writing advice and software, they couldn't create a decent resume. A resume is far more than a recitation of job history. It is indeed a sample of writing, thinking, and organizational skills. It's no more ethical to hire someone to write your resume and cover letter than for an applicant to college to hire someone to write their application essay.
Foiling the Pinocchian Job Seeker
Let me conclude with a probably inadequate plea for job-seeker honesty. I won’t appeal to lofty ethical values here—If your behavior were governed by that, you wouldn’t be a dishonest job seeker. So I’ll offer a pragmatic reason for honesty. If you dissemble, sure, you boost your chances of landing a job quickly but you also boost your chances of getting let go quickly. Be yourself, yes your best self, but yourself, and you’ll likely soon enough land a job at which you’ll likely succeed. And if deep down, you don’t feel employable, do you need to downscale your job target, gain more skills, or have a change of attitude?