Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

The ethical responsibilities of résumé writing or résumé embellishment concern several parties involved in the hiring process, including the employer, the applicants chosen for screening, future applicants, current employees, and the community of people practicing that particular occupation worldwide. Here, I consider two main parties: the employer and the applicant. Employers have the advantage of choice, being able to choose one applicant from any multitude based on qualifications and interview performance, but also the advantage of having something to offer—the job. Employers have the disadvantage of first selecting interviewees based on a verbal résumé. Employers are also subject to being deceived. Applicants, on the other hand, have the advantage of embellishment, using their résumé to withhold or assert certain information, which summons ethical questions. Applicants are also at the disadvantage of not knowing who else is applying for the job, what other applicants’ résumés detail, how the other applicants compare in competency, whether or not the competition is male, female, more male, less female, young, middle-aged, black, white, Hispanic, and so forth. These details affect the competition and applicants must try to gain at an advantage. Applicants have the opportunity to embellish their résumés with assertions and omissions of certain information (Kaplan, Fisher 323). Assertions pertain to claims an applicant may make regarding his or her role in previous organizations. For instance, an applicant may claim leadership over a particular project when they may not have actually been the leader or sole leader. Assertions yield to differing degrees of truth. Omission pertains to a vast range of information that an applicant may not want their potential employer to know or may simply mask something such as gender or ethnicity prior to the face-to-face interview. Sometimes law forbids omission such as failing to list a felony conviction within the past seven years or sex-offender status. Most applicants use omission as a protective device rather than a deceptive device, we can assume with an understanding of omission’s protective nature. This summons us to recognize the difference between protection and deception in résumé embellishment. Is it ethical to hide information from a potential employer? Is it ethical to exaggerate information?

While assertions such as an applicant falsely claiming leadership over a past project may help the said applicant appear well qualified, telling the truth may prove just as effective in the interview or screening process. Informing a potential employer of a lawsuit against oneself or one’s company may negatively affect one’s chances to make it past the screening process. Here, if an applicant omits such information, they may protect their professional impression without shaming their potential employer. Applicants should be honest about information that can and may be verified, but also cautious about how much they embellish. It would be to no one’s advantage to hire the wrong person for the job. The applicant would fail if they were hired and proved disqualified. They would need to resign or wait to be terminated. By the nature of the hiring process though, some would say that embellishment is not merely a strategy but also a necessity. Alexei Marcoux asserts that applicants make choices to embellish two type of information, verifiable and non-verifiable information in their résumés (Marcoux, 183). Marcoux points out that “in the United States…[employers] will verify no more than dates of employment and job titles for prospective employers who contact them seeking background information on a job candidate” (Marcoux, 184).

With those ideas examined, and limits defined, applicants should, and must, embellish their résumés to enhance or even compete with other applicants. Likewise, employers should consider possible embellishments and evaluate them as an applicant’s attempt to conform to their potential employer’s needs and wishes. Since no law requires absolute honesty in assertions of non-verifiable information, applicants should always take advantage of opportunities to enhance their impression on employers. Finally, omission of certain information in a résumé is merely a protective measure to maintain dignity and privacy. Why should an applicant inform a potential employer of something that they were not required to include or disclose?


Kaplan, David, and James Fisher. “A Rose By Any Other Name:     Identity And Impression Management In Résumés.” Employee Responsibilities & Rights Journal 21.4 (2009): 319-332. Business Source Complete. Web. 5 Sept. 2014.

Marcoux, A. M. (2006). A counterintuitive argument for résumé embellishment. Journal of    Business Ethics, 63, 183–194.

3 thoughts on “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”

  1. When it comes to omitting information as a method of protection from discrimination, I find it to be an interesting issue. Obviously, omitting information that would understandably prevent an applicant from being hired (e.g. related criminal record, association with competitors, etc.) is unethical. However, when it comes to omitting information that is unrelated and has the potential to make the applicant the target of discrimination, I have difficultly classifying it as unethical. For example, work experience, volunteering, or association with an organization or group (political, social, or religious) has the potential to be flagged and be the focus of personal prejudice of the employer. Is it immoral to omit information as a method of protection?

    1. As I reflect on that question, is it immoral to omit information, I’d say no, especially in regards to morals. The application or résumé shouldn’t be a moral integrity test. Employers should integrate any concerns in their screening process. If an employer fails to ask/address, the applicant shouldn’t be scrutinized for what he/she chooses not to include.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your blog post about the ethical responsibilities of resume writing and resume embellishment by potential applicants. First off, I like the title because, after reading the blog, I feel your title answers the question in itself. Anything not specifically asked by an employer should not be told by the applicant unless they deem it boosting in credibility or competence. Next, I like how in-depth and thorough the blog was, covering many different aspects and making sure to give a clear responses to your questions. Third, and more specifically, I like how you broke down the role of both the employer and the applicant. I think this was very effective because it gives insight into the hiring process from both perspectives, employer and applicant, and from this insight, your audience can take the advice and knowledge and apply it to their own endeavors. You offer insight on the advantages employers have, giving your audience a chance to think like their potential employer so they can make the best impression. A majority of the post though, is dedicated to understanding the struggle faced by applicants. I like your description, “the disadvantage of not knowing who else is applying for the job, what other applicants’ resumes detail, how the other applicants compare in competency,” etc…. Although this may seem daunting to upcoming applicants, this information is also beneficial because it could push the applicant to present his-/herself in the best way possible. Considering these factors, an applicant begins to think outside the box to consider ways of standing out.
    Furthermore, I believe detailing the factors standing between an applicant and the job is a perfect setup for the next topic you cover: why applicants look to embellish their resume and whether that is immoral. With such a competitive job market, it is no wonder that applicants look for that tiny advantage that will make them stand out. However, it is at this point where the applicant must be smart and know what to include and not. A big part of this and the whole embellishment idea, in my opinion, is the wording of your resume. Simply stating outright that you held a certain position or skill that you don’t is obviously wrong and immoral. Sooner or later you will be exposed and the end result will not be pretty. But, say a quality required is leadership and good communication skills. You may not have held a leader specified role but if you have experience working within a group on something important and feel that your actions had a significant impact on its success, it may be safe to say that you possess those qualities. Also, when you reach the interview, you can elaborate on such experiences and hope that they please your potential employer. Also, as an employer looking to elude embellishment, a questionnaire of specific roles and vernacular could quickly expose any imposter.
    Again I really enjoyed your article and I think it brought up valid points that even I will benefit from in the future. Keep up the good work!

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