There is always a moment when applying to a job or pitching a new client that you think “5+ years of digital marketing experience…I basically have that” or “knowledge in JavaScript…how long could it take me to learn?” To exaggerate is a natural human urge, especially when we know it will get us something we want; and we’ve all done it. Don’t kid yourself. Everything your resume says isn’t 100% accurate to your actual experience, and that’s okay. A page of text is never going to capture you fully (which is why resumes are so hard to write) and is why it’s okay to exaggerate your skills somewhat. Yes, we’re giving you the okay, BUT, be advised. Under promising might not do you any favors, but overpromising too much can potentially put you in a deeply embarrassing, and even reputation ruining, situation. This begs the question, “Where should I draw the line then?” 


Many freelancers find themselves in a paradoxical situation, in which they need certain experience to land a job, but to get that experience, they need to first land that job. For example, maybe the only way to work at an ad agency is to have worked at an ad agency before. “Well then how does anyone get hired at an ad agency?!” We understand the frustration. A lot of businesses put these sorts of qualifications in a job posting, but know that, even the most ideal candidate, probably won’t match a client’s criteria 100%. There is also no guarantee that the “perfect” candidate will even apply to, or take this job. 

This means that whoever is hiring is ready to compromise on all their qualification all the time. If you don’t have agency experience, but you meet most of the other criteria, well go ahead and apply honestly. When you’re thinking of exaggerating, make sure you actually need to, because most clients are perfectly willing to accept somebody who is short of their qualifications.  On the other hand, you might actually have the qualifications a client is looking for, but forgot, or perhaps never thought of a previous job in a certain way. If the client wants a specific skill set that you don’t think you have, review your resume, your portfolio, and take a stroll down memory lane. You might actually have the experience the client is looking for. 


Even if you do have all the skills necessary for a gig, there’s nothing wrong with framing them in a favorable way. That’s really the word we want to focus on here: framing. Exaggerating can imply a degree of fibbing or lying. That’s not what you’re doing here. You’re framing your skills in a favorable light. After all, just because you’re qualified doesn’t mean the job is yours. You still need to sell yourself. An essential aspect of framing is something you probably do anyway (or should be doing), which is tailoring your resume or your pitch to each potential client. Make a client understand how your skills and experience apply directly to them. Having a certain number of years’ experience or receiving an award can be impressive, but why should a client care if they can’t understand how that’s relevant? Make sure they know exactly why those years of experience will benefit them, and in a situation like this (when you have a skill set that is immediately compatible with a client’s needs) you can be extra confident. Of course you don’t want to say you’re the world’s greatest administrative assistant, but if you know that one of your skills or experiences matches a client’s needs exactly, you can be boastful about that. 

Now some of this framing can involve correlation. What we mean by that is, you could say that a certain skill you have, say drawing, could apply to a certain task a client needs, say painting, even though you may have no skill in painting. You have no way of knowing that your skill in drawing will directly apply to your skill in painting, but it’s alright to make some common-sense assumptions in these situations. Using correlation is most important when talking about transferrable skills, or skills that may not directly apply to what a client needs, but you can make an argument for why they do. In this situation, you don’t want to be overly confident, but rather, come up with a creative way to explain to a client that a skill you have is relevant to them, even though it may not seem to be at first glance. 


According to the 2019 State of the Recruiter survey by Monster, about 85% of recruiters commented that candidates exaggerate skills and competencies on their resumes. Exaggeration is common practice, and something clients expect, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take it too far. There are obvious scenarios you should avoid: don’t claim you worked at a company you didn’t, or studied a major you didn’t, or basically try to lie your way into a job you’re extremely underqualified for. There are other scenarios though, that are less clear.  

In some industries, you have to be part of a specific union to get a job. This can be annoying and downright unfair sometimes so, because you have the exact same skills as someone in a union, you apply to the job anyway, and just say you’re in the union. This is a no-no. For one, a business can easily check if you’re in a union or not, and two, both you and the business hiring you can get in serious trouble for lying about something like that. In any scenario where you aren’t quite sure of the line, air on the side of caution, or get a second opinion before you apply. 

What’s the saying? “Ask for forgiveness, not permission.” Generally, common sense exaggeration is totally fine. If down the line a client discovers you might not have been quite as proficient at a certain skill as you first let on, just make sure it doesn’t affect the quality of work you produce. Most importantly though, don’t lose out on clients just because you’re afraid to sell yourself as hard as possible. Exaggerate.