Q. I’m looking for a job in web development. My friends advise me to stretch the truth a bit on my resume so as to increase my chances of getting an interview. How far can I go in embellishing my credentials? How can I “sell myself” without being an egotist? MK, US
A. When selling yourself or your product you may – and should – put your best foot forward; but you can’t mislead the other side. Jewish tradition distinguishes among three kinds of exaggeration:
1. A perfectly true statement which may give an exaggerated impression of your capabilities is permissible. If you graduated from Jojoba college, say so even if you were last in your class and majored in basket weaving.
2. Statements which are likely to give a misleading impression are forbidden. If you attended one session of summer school at Jojoba college and then got your BA from a correspondence school, don’t write, “Attended Jojoba college and received a BA” since the clear implication is that the BA is from Jojoba.
3. Actual flaws may not be concealed even passively. For example, if you can’t speak English, you should frankly state this in your resume.
You needn’t reveal a problem if the law protects it. If the law forbids discriminating against the handicapped, you don’t have to tell the prospective employer that you are wheelchair-bound since concealing your status does not harm your chances if the employer complies with the law.
If you have firm evidence that the employer is unfairly biased against you, you may subtly camouflage your status. For instance, if Patricia Smith knows the employer discriminates against women, she can write her name Pat Smith. Don’t do this if the bias is justifiable – for instance, a store wants a man to sell men’s clothes because this makes the customer more comfortable.
Outright lying can never be justified.
Don’t be overly concerned about egotism. Giving a good impression is not only for your own interest; the employer also wants to see you at your best. I’m sure that even if you’re usually a little shlumpy, you neaten up when you go out to show your date (or spouse) you care; by the same token, putting your best foot forward on your resume is a way of showing respect and esteem for the firm.
SOURCES: Shulchan Arukh Choshen Mishpat chapter 228; Talmud Chullin page 94b, Yevamot 45a; Igrot Moshe YD II:61. A detailed analysis can be found in section 2 of Case Studies in Jewish Business Ethics by Rabbi Aaron Levine.