Does Scott Thompson have anyone scurrying to edit their LinkedIn profile?
Okay, okay, I didn’t really get a Masters from Harvard. It was a certificate program. And I didn’t “consult” from 2002-2003 so much as I waited out the crappy economy in Bali.
As the CEO at Yahoo steps down this week, what’s the takeaway? Don’t fib on your resume? Well yes, pretending to have a college degree that you don’t does call your integrity into question. But what about more benign forms of embellishment in the name of salesmanship? Is it wrong, for example, to trump up your digital acumen a bit?
I was chatting about this topic with a few colleagues and here’s what we concluded:
Promote yourself, but don’t misrepresent your credentials.
Here’s the litmus test: Can you speak to everything on your resume or public profile? Because you may be asked about it in an interview and you don’t want to hedge when you’re trying to make a strong first impression.
College degrees, professional licenses, job history and dates are non-negotiable. Be 100% factual. All it takes is one phone call to verify.
How about the way we talk about our experience? There are words we use to showcase our talents that may be a bit sensational. Visionary. Guru. We’re marketing professionals, after all. We should have an aptitude for positioning ourselves in the best possible light. But can you credibly back up these claims if you’re asked for proof points? E.g. Did you really lead digital marketing for the brand? Meaning, did you come up with the marketing strategy and tactics or did you partner with the digital agency to ensure channel synergy?
Make sure the details don’t detract from your headlines.
If the back story isn’t that great, why call attention to it?
My personal pet peeve is when people reference impressive schools to create the illusion that they have a degree from there. When probed, it turns out they just completed a seminar or a few course credits. Suddenly, I don’t need to read the rest of the resume because I’m thinking, “Why would this guy call attention to a bogus accomplishment? What a yahoo!” I don’t think you’re a loser because you live with your mother. I think you’re one because you tried to pass her off as your secretary.
This applies to professional experiences too. Best to call a spade a spade. If you didn’t get the opportunity to do ground-breaking work, talk about how you would’ve liked to push something further. For example, maybe you helped your client launch a relatively pedestrian Facebook campaign, but it was an important first foray into social by the company. As one of my clients is fond of saying: “Own up to the lameness of your accomplishments.”
If a story’s going to come out, make sure you get the chance to tell it.
I was working with a candidate once that knew he wouldn’t receive a favorable reference from a past colleague. The candidate and I both predicted the employer would solicit that person’s opinion. So we got out in front of it. Listen, here’s what you’re going to hear when you ask Nancy about Paul. This is Paul’s explanation.
Especially if you were laid off, it’s far better to provide the context rather than to let the prospective employer fill in the blanks. The more mysterious or secretive something seems, the more it invites investigation.
The bottom line: Integrity speaks louder than credentials. Scott Thompson isn’t out of a job because he didn’t have a computer science degree. He’s out because he got caught in a lie.