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Good Resumes Truthfully Tout Accomplishments

Kate Traynor

When crafting a resume, telling the truth in a bland way may cause an employer to overlook you. But stretching the truth can cost you both the job and your professional reputation.

"It's a small world," said William Puckett, M.S., M.B.A., administrative director of pharmacy and patient care supply at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in Houston. "People move around, and so it's important always to be honest, always having the highest integrity. If you don't, you will be discovered."

Resume fabrication entered the public spotlight last year when George O'Leary, newly hired head football coach for the University of Notre Dame, was discovered to have lied about his education and qualifications. O'Leary resigned from his position at Notre Dame five days after he had started the job.

Edward Andler, in his book The Complete Reference Checking Handbook: Smart, Fast, Legal Ways To Check Out Job Applicants, estimated that about one third of resumes contain some sort of fabrication. Andler described as "probably a fairly normal occurrence" the tendency of job applicants to exaggerate their accomplishments to make them look better to an employer.

Puckett, who sees "many, many resumes" from job and residency-program applicants, said he believes that pharmacists are unlikely to misrepresent their qualifications to employers.

"I would think that type of thing would occur perhaps in occupations that are not quite at the level of professionalism as pharmacy is," he said.

Elizabeth Shepherd, M.B.A., a clerkship coordinator and assistant professor of pharmacy practice at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., also said pharmacists' resumes are generally honest.

"It's kind of hard to embellish with another pharmacist," she said. "You couldn't hide that much from them."

But a resume does need to express the job applicant's qualifications in a way that makes the person stand out from the crowd. Puckett said the way to do this is to use "action words" that depict the job applicant as "a doer, an accomplisher, a person who could be depended upon."

He described how action words can add life to the honest description of a job applicant's involvement in student government.

"I think 'member of P3 class council' would be boring [on a resume]," Puckett said. "An action term would be, 'coordinated fundraising activities as part of the junior class pediatric drug-information project." Such phrasing would show Puckett that "you didn't just exist—you actually accomplished something that you were at least partly responsible for."

Not everything on a resume must relate to pharmacy, Puckett said. He described a question from a student who had been a cadet platoon leader in her high school ROTC program but was unsure whether to include that information on her resume.

Puckett's answer to the student: "Absolutely."

"Even though it's high school, that is a very responsible position. You were selected from among others. You were picked from a group because you excel," he said. "This demonstrates to me that you've got the potential to be very effective as part of my team."

Although creating a good resume is important, it is only one part of the job-seeking process.

"Something that students often fail to understand is that the major purpose of a resume is to get them an interview, not a job," Puckett said. "It's the interview that's going to determine whether the right fit is there between that individual and that institution."

"The resume is really more of a marketing thing, advertising, to put your best foot forward for that potential position," he added.