Embellish. To decorate (something) by adding special details and features: to make (something) more beautiful, appealing or attractive. Any time we have to sell ourselves, our products, our services, our companies, we have to embellish. A bit. But when it goes too far, and it occurs in a public forum such as LinkedIn, where 259 million people worldwide can see your titles, past accomplishments and even what you say you look like today, too much embellishment is bad.
Tim McIntyre, president and CEO of The Executive Search Group, says the difference between self-promotion and a damaging lie varies by industry and profession.
I think most HR professionals and career coaches would concur though that stretching the truth in any forum, be it social media or an official job application, is risky, and that any uncovered fib is likely to damage your reputation.
As far as LinkedIn is concerned, the fear of public exposure is supposed to be enough of a deterrent, but it's not.
Several times I have come across the profiles of former colleagues who inflated their accomplishments and/or job titles and responsibilities.
Using an out of date picture, like when you had hair, or one from 40 pounds or 10 years ago is also it's own form of fibbing. I can't tell you the number of times I have scheduled a networking coffee chat with someone whom I have never met, stood around the shop searching for the person in the LinkedIn photo, and then tried to mask the initial shock when I am finally greeted by someone who looks so different!
It makes no sense to exaggerate or misrepresent who you are, what you've done, or even what you look like, because at some point you won’t be able to meet those expectations.
Here's a news flash. If you ever actually want to eventually meet up with people in person, the truth does come out.
It makes no sense to exaggerate or misrepresent who you are, what you've done, or even what you look like, because at some point you won’t be able to meet those expectations, according to Mark Williams, a former recruiter turned LinkedIn trainer in the UK.
Debra Donston-Miller recently wrote in this post on Information Week that exaggeration is currently the most reviled LinkedIn etiquette pet peeve.
"Depending on how you look at it, the good and bad thing about LinkedIn is that your experience is out there for all to see. Unlike the old days, when your resume was seen by only a few people, usually outside your own company, you could embellish without too much risk (not that you should have). That's not the case now, and it pays in many ways to be clear and honest in everything that you post."
"It pays in many ways to be clear and honest in everything that you post."
“When you start to lie about background information, reporting relationships, job titles -- those are things that ultimately will catch up with you during a reference check or at some point in the future,” says HR consultant Sheila Wyatt in this post on Monster.
While LinkedIn has become the world's largest professional networking site, it is neither a résumé nor a job application. That's why people generally feel more comfortable taking license with their past experiences, according to Mike Kahn, executive senior partner at the executive search firm Lucas Group in Houston, in this post in the Houston Chronicle.
There are occasions though when you can lay claim to projects and results that may not have been in their formal job descriptions. Here's an example from career exert Liz Ryan in this post from Monster.
"An office manager I know took on HR in her company after the HR coordinator left. The office manager's title was never changed, but she took on responsibility for payroll, benefits and so on. She put all of that on her resume, and changed her title to 'Office Manager (with HR responsibilities).' That's a perfectly good way for her to brand herself, because she hasn't changed the title to something her old employer wouldn't recognize or support."
So embellish away. Do polish your LinkedIn profile, thinking about your unique value proposition and what you and your company have to offer and tell the best story you can. But keep in mind the difference between decoration and fabrication.