Job Search

Resume Lies

resume lies

Resumes do lie.

According to Steven Levitt, University of Chicago professor, and one of my personal favorite authors (Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics), over 50% of resumes contain lies. SHRM (The Society for Human Resource Management) studies showed 53% of resumes lie. Other studies have shown that somewhere between 30-50% of resumes contain mistruths.

I’m not describing taking credit for the value you’ve provided past employers – that’s not a lie. I’m not including covering employment gaps through truthful methods, or describing your experience from your target employer’s point of view – these are ethical. Listing a local number and/or address can also be done ethically on your resume. I only support ethical job search methods – not because I think I’m Dudley Do-Right, but because ethical job search is much more effective than lying.

These studies looked for bold-faced lies, showing that they are rampant among job seekers. I suppose as the job market became tougher, more competitive, while employers became more dysfunctional in their hiring, candidates were driven out of desperation to lie on their resumes.

The biggest problem with these desperate actions are … they don’t work very often.

When there are all these studies and articles floating around the HR world, it becomes common knowledge among recruiters and HR reps that a great number of resumes contain lies. So guess what happens – Recruiters, HR reps, and small company admins charged with prescreening resumes start to look for lies.

Screening out liars is one of the major functions of recruiters and HR reps. It’s one of the reasons you get the feeling that HR departments job is to find resumes to reject. In the case of resume lies … you’re entirely correct in what you feel.

It also became much easier for recruiters and HR reps to catch resume lies … just at the same time as desperate candidates started to lie more often on their resumes.

Here’s where candidates lie most often on resumes:

  1. Education: Many companies will confirm university degrees and technical certifications in their background checks.
  2. Dates of employment: Don’t try to stretch your tenure to cover up gaps. While excluding months isn’t a lie, tacking on additional years employment to your resume is a big lie that can be easily caught by a basic reference check.
  3. Job title: Don’t embellish to give yourself fancy titles. This lie can be easily caught by a reference check – companies can and will give your official title as part of the reference process.
  4. Criminal records: Criminal background checks will uncover felonies or misdemeanors. An increasing number of companies are using outside companies to do criminal background checks, even for non-financial jobs.
  5. Inflated salary: Salary inflation can be caught by a thorough reference check – often using a service specializing in salary confirmation.
  6. Professional license: Companies may confirm licensing with the appropriate state agency as a part of their background checks.

Today, companies don’t even have to do extensive background checks to catch you lying on your resume. That’s why over 90% of companies search social media and Google as a part of their hiring process. Because social media inconsistencies uncover a large percentage of resume lies.

So why not just scrub your Facebook timeline? While it’s a wise move to take off things you wouldn’t want your Mom or boss to see, it won’t keep your resume lies from being uncovered.

Why not?

You can thank your friends for that – because on social media, you’d also have to lie to all your friends. Do you think that when you put on Facebook that you “graduated” from Harvard in 1990, that you wouldn’t have 10 of your buddies crying “BS”? Or that you suddenly got a CPA?

The truth is more powerful than lies

If you are applying for jobs you are qualified for, rather than lying to try for jobs you aren’t, then the truth is more powerful than lies. I’m not just referring to the truth about you – but if you can get to the truth about what’s happening inside the company, then you can express your experience to show you’ve solved similar problems, met similar goals.

When you can get to the truth inside the company and can adapt your resume to what’s happening about the company, your resume will be much stronger than lies, and you don’t have the risk of getting caught in resume lies.

About the Author

This article was contributed by Phil Rosenberg.  Phil is President of ReCareered, helping great people break through the challenges of modern job searches. Phil managed the Chicago suburban Financial and Technology consulting practices for recruiting industry leader, Robert Half International.