Is Honesty the Best Policy in A Job Search?

How honest do you have to be in your job search? I recently wrote a column about how to plug a resume gap – a growing problem for the long-term unemployed. Between June 2007 and June 2010, the number of people who were unemployed for 27 weeks or more grew more than five-fold, to 6.8 million from 1.2 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The long-term jobless now make up 45 percent of the unemployed.

Experts I interviewed suggested unemployed people could fill a gap in their work history by listing "consulting" – even if that meant giving accounting or IT advice to friends; taking a class and telling a prospective employer they took time off to upgrade their skills; or doing freelance and saying they starting a small business but realized entrepreneurship was not for them and they preferred working with a team.

Some readers who commented on the column were offended by the suggestion that job-seekers color the truth. As one wrote: "So this is what it's come to? I mean, it's always been obvious to climb to the senior management ranks, you have to be a great liar. But now, to get any job in this country, being a creative liar is apparently a requisite skill."

Another suggested it would likely backfire: "Many years ago I went to a resume service that took mundane tasks I had done and blew them up into 'Great Achievements.' Those resumes led to a couple of the most uncomfortable interviews I ever had as they picked apart the resume. Then I got smart and tossed those and made up my own, honest, resumes. Lying is rarely a good strategy."

But others saw it as a practical necessity in a difficult job market: "…the people who do these things are simply doing what they have to in order to survive. … Almost everyone does it to some degree whether they admit it or not. If you are in a job interview, would you answer the question ‘Why do you want to work for us?’ with ‘OH DUH, so I can earn money to buy groceries with you imbecile!’? That might be an honest answer, but it certainly wouldn't be the best answer…"

Career strategist and author Cynthia Shapiro, who I interviewed for the story, agreed that some readers would say the advice constitutes lying. "But it’s really packaging," she says. "When you’re marketing a product, do you put that sales have been falling for last ten years, or that you were voted #1 vacuum by Good Housekeeping? Don’t make something up out of the air – take positive things you can spin and package for marketing purposes."

Have you ever used "spin" in a resume? Is it a bad idea that’s likely to backfire, or a necessary strategy in a jobless recovery?