Annalena Baerbock could probably have guessed that one would take a closer look at her résumé. After all, she’s applying for pretty much the most important job you can have in Germany. Nevertheless, there were numerous inaccuracies in the vita on her website: For example, the Green politician did not initially mention that she had only left the university with an intermediate diploma; an expired membership in an advisory board was presented as current. Your party must now make corrections and absorb the damage as best it can.
Even if Germany doesn’t always notice it right away: The chancellor candidate is definitely not the only one who makes things look better on her résumé than they really are. To what extent does it include glossing over your application – and when does it even endanger your job? Job and application coach Friederike Christiansen provides the answers.
SPIEGEL: Ms. Christiansen, you yourself worked as a HR manager for a long time. Do you have a sense of when you have a dishonest résumé in front of you?
Christiansen: Usually you notice that pretty quickly – namely when contradictions arise. It already starts in the application letter: If someone raves about how much they love mathematics in their cover letter, but their school report only shows four, then of course they prick up their ears. I also find it interesting how often applicants write, school or class representatives: to have been in – there can’t be that many classes at German schools. However, it is more serious if there are discrepancies at key points. Applicants, for example, often state that they have left the company at their own request. The job reference, however, speaks a completely different language.
SPIEGEL: With a contradicting résumé, you can disqualify yourself in the first step. What are the dangers of the job interview?
Christiansen: If you exaggerate skills or activities, unpleasant situations can quickly arise. If an applicant writes that she has fantastic Excel skills, she should answer the specific question about a formula correctly. And those who report leadership experience should credibly describe their own leadership style. By asking questions, HR managers can quickly find out which knowledge is really well-founded. And if they do not match the information in the résumé, it casts a bad light on the applicant. As a HR manager you ask yourself: Where else did the person lie? And how does she deal with it when she makes a mistake at work? This can be interpreted as a character weakness.
Quite apart from that, incorrect information in the application can subsequently constitute a reason for termination. However, it must be a matter of weighty facts, such as a fictional degree, for example.
SPIEGEL: Facts such as university degree and management experience should definitely be correct – after all, they have a direct impact on the job. But what about information on hobbies or engagement?
Christiansen: Here, too, I expressly advise against exaggeration. Because even supposed little things can fall on an applicant’s feet. For example, let’s say you are a member of a tennis club. You can state that in an application. But then you also falsely state that you work as a cashier – after all, that sounds like responsibility, and something about finances is always good. But what if the person you are speaking to is the treasurer himself during the interview? Or even a member of this association? He asks you a seemingly harmless small talk question – and you’re blown up. That too can be your undoing. It is well known that anyone who lies once is not believed.
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SPIEGEL: But some information is almost impossible for HR managers to check, isn’t it?
Christiansen: That’s true. A company in Germany will find it difficult to find out that you ended your au pair year in New Zealand two months earlier. Nevertheless, I advise honesty here too. On the one hand, because there can always be inquiries that will make you swim. On the other hand, because there can always be a chance to talk about moments like this on your résumé – because you can show how you dealt with a difficult situation.
SPIEGEL: So you always advise your clients to be honest?
Christiansen: Yes. You should stand by your résumé, including mistakes, problems or gaps. Above all, it is important that you have reflected and learned something. For example, if you left a job after a short period of time, you can say: Back then I didn’t ask the right questions in the interview – I want to do that differently this time. The same applies to a discontinued degree: What went wrong back then – and what lessons did I learn from it? In this way, supposed weaknesses can also be presented as strengths.