I must admit that today’s reader note was a first for me. I’m not questioning the reader’s legitimacy, but who steals from someone else’s resume?
Have you ever written about someone stealing the information on a resume word for word? Just happened to my niece by the guy who took the role she left 2 years ago for her current opportunity. The ‘stolen’ parts are her overview at the top of her resume as well as her accomplishments while serving in that role. One specific example is she improved several processes, saving 11% of the budget and won an award for doing so. He went as far as to claim that specific accomplishment (however removed the notation of the award) as well as several others not listed as part of the job summary. Not to mention, the formatting is awfully similar. If you’ve ever addressed it, please let me know. I’m not sure what advice to give her. While it won’t matter now, they live near each other, have similar backgrounds, and may compete for a role in government in the future.
Obviously, we don’t have all the specifics here, but this is really mind boggling. Because there are so many moving parts to the story, I asked some of our friends if they would share their thoughts.
Heather, I know we don’t have the two resumes to compare but is taking parts of someone else’s resume a legal issue, an ethical issue, or both?
[Bussing] Copying text verbatim from someone else’s resume is probably not illegal. There may be some copyright claim, but if the information copied is factual and accurate, it would be hard to make a case that it was covered by copyright since facts are generally not copyrightable. The wording may be, but there are exceptions that could apply (I won’t bore you with a treatise on copyright law). And it’s hard to imagine what the damages would be at this point.
The real issue is if they were both applying to the same employer and the employer noticed the identical wording and wondered who was the one who copied. The easiest way to deal with that is for the reader’s niece to simply rewrite the text on her resume. This is not fair, and she should not have to, but it’s far easier and less expensive than trying to force the copier to fix his resume.
As for ethics, copying someone’s resume and using it for your own is a total weasel move. At best, it shows lack of imagination. It definitely demonstrates laziness and a tendency to take credit for other people’s work. But turning to the legal system is not going to be worth the time, energy, or expense on this one.
Thanks Heather! The second thing that crossed my mind was should the reader confront the person who “stole” the text. Hannah Morgan (aka Career Sherpa) is a well-known career strategist and a regular contributor at U.S. News & World Report.
Hannah, I’m not sure how this reader found out that pieces of her resume were ‘stolen’ and included on someone else’s. What are the pros/cons of confronting the person who supposedly copied the content?
[Morgan] To discover that someone has plagiarized your resume and taken credit for something they didn’t do must be aggravating. Here’s what I suggest she considers before taking any action.
Does it really matter? LinkedIn is almost more important than a resume today. Plus, if she updates her profile and the person copy’s that, she has more evidence to support her plagiarism claim since it’s out in the public.
The upside to confronting the person who has plagiarized her resume is that she will have the satisfaction of calling him out for both plagiarizing and lying on his resume. The downside to addressing this issue is that he could get angry and take revenge. But even if she does confront him, there’s no guarantee that he’ll fix the resume. If he had no problem doing it in the first place, he’s likely to do it again.
I would suggest she move forward and focus on controlling what she can control. That means updating her resume, which probably needs updating anyway and really personalizing her LinkedIn profile.
As Hannah mentioned, focus on those things you can control – being your resume. I spoke to Chris Fields, an expert resume writer and job search strategist over at Resume Crusade.
Chris, resumes are very personal documents. And I agree with the comments so far that this reader really shouldn’t have to change their resume because someone else copied from it. But are there some things they could do to bring back the uniqueness to their resume?
[Fields] I have had clients tell me about someone else’s resume before – even had people share with me someone else’s resume. Sad to say, there is a lot of spying happening out there. This reader could have found out by several means – he could have posted his resume online or LinkedIn.
I agree that resumes are personal documents, or they should be. However, I have been hired by people, usually couples or friends, and obviously they used the same resume writer previously, and that resume writer simply copied and pasted lines from one resume to the other. I recall two women who worked at the same company, in the same department, with the same job titles who were laid off and hired me to makeover their resumes. When they sent the old resumes to me, it was apparent that the old resume writer literally copied and pasted the same duties in the same order – verbatim. Seriously the top half of each was the exact same (SMH).
No two resumes should be the same. I have completed outplacement services deals where there were 10 employees, some in the same department and same titles, others in similar departments and after talking to each, although they did the same work, they went about it differently. So, none of those resumes were identical.
My suggestion to the ‘victim’ in this scenario is this: You can say the same thing 10,000 ways, so, I would rephrase my resume and maybe add a detail or two that is specific but different from the plagiarized resume.
Ed, I have no idea what industries and jobs we’re talking about here. But if a recruiter were to see some similarities in the resumes and ask about it, how should a candidate respond?
[Han] I think that the candidate – the one who is the victim of such theft – should go into detail about how she accomplished those feats with specific and detailed information about the history, how she came up with those solutions, etc.
Here’s the thing: when I review a resume and something doesn’t seem right, I always ask follow-up questions. The person who simply copied another resume isn’t normally clever enough to concoct a plausible story around the history of the idea. A former recruiting manager I used to work for gave me an example that illustrates the point quite well.
Let’s say I enjoy craft beer and am discussing the subject with someone who purports to be knowledgeable about craft beer. They should be able to describe for me the difference between top and bottom fermenting beers, speak knowledgeably about IBUs (international bitterness units), the Bavarian beer purity laws of several centuries ago, and what various different types of hops do for the flavor. Someone lacking the desired knowledge can’t fake that.
That’s how I would discern who’s telling the truth and who isn’t.
I want to extend a huge thanks to Ed, Chris, Hannah, and Heather for sharing their experience with us. Especially during these challenging times. We’re so fortunate to have colleagues who are willing to help the HR community.
If you have any questions – and they don’t have to be as unique as this one – please let us know. You can just send us a note via our contact page. We’ll try to get you some answers.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby after speaking at the SHRM Annual Conference in Las Vegas, NV14