Finding a job is tough. Perhaps that’s why some job seekers are willing to stretch the truth on their resumes in order to snag a coveted interview with a prospective employer. As many as half of all resumes may have some discrepancies or false information, say experts.
“Fifty to 55% of resumes have something on them that’s misleading. That has stayed consistent for the past 15 years, with a slight uptick during the recession because people were desperate,” Jason Morris, president and founder of Cleveland-based EmployeeScreenIQ, told Bloomberg BNA.
Some of those errors may be innocent – a typo that causes a mix-up over employment dates or a misremembered job title for a position held years ago. But many people pad their resumes with what are at best deliberate half-truths, and while they sometimes go unnoticed, savvy employers often catch applicants’ who are telling tall tales. Fifty-six percent of more than 2,000 human resources managers surveyed by Career Builder in 2015 said they spotted a lie on a candidate’s resume.
“It’s not that people are being deceptive or malicious, often they delude themselves that their experience is more than it really is,” career coach Ford Myers said in an interview with Fast Company. “I do believe in framing your experience in the best light. But there is a difference between spinning and lying. If you lie, you will always lose in the long run.”
Honesty is the best policy when it comes to resumes, especially given how easy it is for HR managers to verify your credentials and experience. Still, fibbing is common in the cutthroat world of job hunting. Here are the five resume lies that hiring managers surveyed by Career Builder said they encountered most often.
1. “I can do that!”
Job ads often come accompanied with a laundry list of skills that employers want to see in their ideal candidate. While they may know finding someone with all those skills is virtually impossible, they’ve decided to cast a wide net. “There is a concern among companies that are hiring that if a job description is too narrow, then they won’t attract a reasonable number of applicants,” Trevor Simm, the founder and president of OpalStaff and Talos Solutions, told Dice.
Applicants, on the other hand, also want to make themselves appealing to as many employers as possible, and some resort to embellishing their skill set to get their foot in the door. This can be especially tempting when a person has some but not all of the required skills listed in a job add. Misrepresenting skills was the most common lie HR managers saw, according to the Career Builder survey.
What exactly counts as lying here might depend on your perspective. You may feel OK telling a hiring manager you’re skilled with certain software when your knowledge level is actually pretty basic, since you’re confident that you can quickly get yourself up to snuff if hired. But claiming to be certified in HVAC when you don’t actually know what that is – as one applicant cited by CareerBuilder did — probably isn’t going to end well.
2. “I was directly involved in a big, impressive project”
More than half of HR managers said they had come across applicants who lied about their previous job responsibilities. Similar to lying about job skills, some people dress up the responsibilities they had at their previous job in order to seem more qualified for a new position. That often involves stretching the truth about involvement in a particular project.
“People may be exposed to or involved in a project but not necessarily doing the work,” Daryl Pigat, a manager for the staffing firm OfficeTeam, told AllBusiness. “Sometimes that translates into a resume that says they were hands-on, when they may not have that practical experience.”
This type of lie got Robert Irvine, host of the Food Network show Dinner: Impossible, into hot water. Irvine claimed to have helped design the cake for the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer, while in reality the cake was made at the school he attended (he did help pick out the fruit). He also said he was a White House chef, though he actually worked at the West Wing’s Navy mess facility and never prepared meals for any president, the Tampa Bay Times revealed.
3. “I worked at this company for three years.”
Big gaps in your employment history can be resume killers, so it’s hardly surprising that applicants sometimes fudge dates of employment in order to hide periods of unemployment. Thirty-nine percent of HR people said they discovered candidates who were lying about exactly how long they’d held a job.
While job seekers might fret about employment gaps, HR professionals say it’s better to be honest than to try to cover them up with an easily discovered falsehood. “We understand that things happen. The worst thing you can do is lie about it,” Jason Hanold, managing partner at executive search firm Hanold Associates, told MainStreet.com.
Nonetheless, desperate job seekers may stretch the dates of their previous employment by a few months or even a few years. Some may be trying to avoid those dreaded gaps or downplay the time they took off of work to raise a family. Others spin more elaborate lies, like one candidate cited by a Career Builder who was so careless when creating his job history that he said he was working for three different companies in three different cities at the same time.
4. “I was a managing vice president at XYX Corporation.”
Some people like to give themselves a little promotion when on the hunt for a new job. Thirty-one percent of hiring managers said they came across a resume where the applicant fibbed about a job title. But this is also one of the easiest lies for future employers to catch.
“With one phone call we can find out that’s not your title at all. If it gets found out after you’re hired, this is the kind of thing that can get you fired,” Janet Elkin, CEO of staffing company Supplemental Healthcare, told MainStreet.com.
Still, that hasn’t stopped some high-profile people from overstating their job titles. Former FEMA Director Michael Brown claimed to have been the assistant city manager of Edmond, Okla., experience that supposedly qualified him to run the federal government’s emergency management programs. In reality, Brown was the assistant to the city manager, a position that was “more like an intern,” the city’s head of public relations told Time. Brown also claimed to have been a law professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and the director of the Oklahoma Christian Home, claims that Time revealed to be untrue.
5. “I have a college degree.”
Job applicants who lie about educational experience aren’t that unusual, perhaps because many people assume that prospective employers won’t bother to verify their educational credentials. Twenty-eight percent of hiring managers said they had seen fake degrees and other false information about educational experience on a resume.
Liz Ryan, an HR expert and the founder and CEO of the Human Workplace, said that when she worked in HR, lies about educational experience were the most common issue when a background check raised a red flag about a candidate. “A job-seeker would tell us that they graduated from a college, but the college registrar’s office told us they’d never heard of the person,” she wrote in an article for Forbes. “Those situations depressed me because I couldn’t believe someone would be that stupid. Don’t they know we’re going to check on the educational background they reported?”
Yes, people really are that stupid. Scott Thompson, the former CEO of Yahoo, was forced to resign after activist investor discovered that he lied about having a degree in computer science. Marilee Jones, the former dean of admissions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, also lost her job after the school discovered that she hadn’t actually earned any of the three degrees she claimed to have.