Little White Lies—Upgrading Your Job Title


It’s very tempting for job seekers—especially if they’ve sent out many resumes without receiving positive responses from employers—to re-evaluate their resumes and decide more glamorous job titles would be more appealing to prospective employers.

Isn’t it more appealing to say you were an “associate” at the firm, rather than saying you were a “contract attorney” or “discovery attorney”? Isn’t it more appealing to say you were a “law clerk” for the summer rather than an “office assistant”? Isn’t it better to say you were an “articles editor” rather than a “cite-checker” on your law school journal?

Sure, little white lies like this might be more appealing to prospective employers. They might even work sometimes—increasing your chances of getting an interview and even a job offer. That’s of course why they’re so tempting.

But they aren’t harmless sales-pitches. They’re lies. And those lies are time bombs waiting to go off. Perhaps those lies will be discovered in the hiring process during a background check. Perhaps they’ll be discovered six months from now. Or six years from now. Or never. But they will still be there. The news is full of stories where lies were discovered—years later—and cost the person his job, or cost a candidate an election, or simply caused embarrassment. Remember upgrading your job title is a lie easily uncovered—it only takes one call to the employer’s human resources department or to your former supervisor. And do you think that supervisor will provide you with a stellar reference once she’s learned you lied about your job title?

So what can you do about your job title? Add description. When your job title truly doesn’t reflect the work you did, add description. For example, you might describe your position on your resume as “office assistant with additional responsibilities of a law clerk.” You might add information about the employer’s reporting structure that showed you have more high-level contact than your job title would indicate (for example, “reported directly to the Managing Partner”), or show how you were relied upon (“hand-picked by General Counsel to handle time-sensitive matters”), or recruited (“asked by head of firm’s litigation group to join department to assist in reorganizing war room to prepare for $10M arbitration”).

The key here is not to pretend you had a job title that you didn’t have; the key is to downplay or contextualize the job title, or both. Remember: everything on your resume must be able to pass a background check. That’s the big difference between “presenting things in the best light” and lying.