8 Common Resume Lies and How to Spot Them

Nancy Anderson
Posted by in Career Advice

As a hiring manager, you are probably seeking applicants who are qualified, personable and professional. Honesty should also be one of the key qualities you look for in a job candidate. It can be difficult to detect when an applicant is stretching the truth, embellishing his experience or dressing up past titles. Learn the eight most common resume lies, so you can spot them instantly and ensure you are hiring the most qualified person for the position.

1. Lying About Education

If the position you posted requires a particular type of degree or certification, it is part of your job as a hiring manager or recruiter to weed out applicants who don't meet the minimum qualifications. Unfortunately, some candidates lie about their education and training. Request documentation of degrees or certifications as part of the hiring process to avoid getting outsmarted by dishonest applicants. One clue that may help you detect a fake degree is an obscure college or university name. Perform a quick online search to find the higher education institution and verify its accreditation if your gut is telling you something is not right.

2. Listing Fake Companies

If you have never heard of a company listed on a candidate's resume, it could indicate that the organization doesn't exist. Verify the company is legitimate by researching online. Investigate the contact information and address of the company and make a quick call to ensure its authenticity. Some candidates even list a friend or family member as a representative of the company to provide a sham reference. Instead of contacting the number provided by the applicant, call the number found online and ask to speak to the reference directly to verify the facts.

3. Embellishing Salary

In an effort to boost the dollar amount of job offers, some candidates lie about their salaries in previous positions. Weigh the salary figure provided against the candidate's experience and the profitability of the firm. If it doesn't seem accurate or even plausible, do some investigating. Check online for average salaries the company offers or compare the amount with statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can also ask applicants to submit a recent pay stub or tax return to verify earnings.

4. Dropping Names of Professionals

Many job seekers drop names of people in their professional network to get a foot in the door. However, if it seems unlikely that the two individuals worked together professionally, trust your gut and look into the matter. Contact the professional listed in the cover letter as a reference and ask questions about how he or she is acquainted with the applicant.

5. Missing Dates

Although the fear of age discrimination is a valid concern that may cause candidates to eliminate dates on their resume, some applicants leave off dates of employment, graduation or certification because the information is false. This omission also makes it difficult for you to determine whether gaps exist in the employment history. Request a revised application with dates clearly listed so that you can confirm employment.

6. Inflating Job Titles

Some companies give employees impressive titles in lieu of pay raises, but for the most part, job titles are relatively simple and closely related to the duties assigned. If you receive a resume with a job title that seems a little over the top or that shows a promotion from an entry level position to an administration position within a short time period, question the facts. Verify this information by checking the applicant's references and contacting previous employees to obtain the actual title.

7. Embellishing Accomplishments

Job candidates must highlight their accomplishments in the field and mention the recognition they have received. However, when applicants make over-the-top claims that seem a little far-fetched, it's important to ask for more details. For example, be skeptical if an applicant claims that he was "the first person to meet sales goals" or the "only employee to satisfy clients," especially if he worked for an established firm.

8. Padding Grade-Point Averages

Companies who request grade-point averages as part of the hiring process may notice that many applicants are not fully truthful. Take a long look at the GPA provided and the degree earned. An individual who claims to have earned a cumulative 4.0 GPA should also note that he graduated with honors. If you are unsure of the truthfulness of the claim, request a transcript to double-check the applicant's grade records.

Unfortunately, some applicants stretch the truth or even lie on resumes. You can uncover fabrications by investing time in investigating an applicant's claims, trusting your gut and requesting more documentation. If you follow these precautions, you can make sure you offer the job to the most qualified and honest candidate.

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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Jane so very true. That's why I think it's a great idea to give the candidate some type of practical test on the day of the interview so that you can weed out those who know from those who don't. This will save a lot of headaches both for you and for the company. You won't have to worry about firing anyone! @Katharine personally I use references who are no longer at the company. In my case, the company is no longer there, either. So this happens. But it shouldn't matter when it comes to your reference because they are going to talk about you - how you work, how you get along, would you be a great hire, etc. It matters greatly who you choose for a reference. If the hiring manager calls your former company, all they can do is confirm that yes you worked there and then give them dates. They can't discuss your salary, your work ethics - nothing. Just the dates you were there.

  • Jane H.
    Jane H.

    Most people are honest in their dealings, especially in their employment where they don't want to risk getting fired after they've settled in because an untruth finally came to light. At one time, I worked at a company that had a habit of hiring people for a certain job without proper vetting. It didn't take long to realize it was up to me to fire the liars. The job in question was fairly technical in nature and it was relatively easy to figure out who wasn't up to the task. My advice to job applicants who are thinking about fudging their credentials is: don't. If the lie is in regards to something central to the job, it will come out, probably sooner than later. That's a no-win scenario.

  • Katharine M.
    Katharine M.

    Regarding the item about references- what should I do if my best reference at a past job is no longer with the company? Should I just put down the name of someone who is still at the company? I've heard different things about references: I know at least one company I used to work for was only willing to confirm dates of employment, not give personal references. If that's the case, then it probably doesn't matter who the reference is at a company. Is this a common practice (not to give personal reference beyond verifiable information?)

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Sierra your viewpoint certainly makes sense. However, if the candidate lied on the resume and/or cover letter, what else are they hiding? What would happen if I hired them? Would they continue those lies? If you have ever worked with a person who likes to "weave together" some tall tales, you would understand how detrimental lying can be. I realize that you see culling down the resume to 10 years only would be a lie - but, in that instance, the reason that companies ask that is because technology has advanced so rapidly in just a short ten years that any skills that the candidate had prior to ten years ago would certainly be obsolete so why even bother. If the hiring manager asks what you did before that, well, then certainly you can tell him. Good idea @Jay for asking some leading questions about their school. Sure they could still lie about that, too. What I would do if I thought that the person was telling tall tales would be to jot down some of the things that they said, move on with the interview and then jump back to that part again. You see, telling lies is so much harder than telling the truth. You have to remember the lie. I have found that most candidates will fail miserably. It's not that I would be trying to trick anyone. It's just that I want to know that the person that I am hiring is trustworthy.

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    Good interview technique is so important in these circumstances. Sometimes, it can be useful to think of ourselves as private investigators and ask questions accordingly. If you ask the right questions, you'll soon discover any lies. Quizzing someone about when they went to school, what they liked most about their school and who they went with can help determine if an applicant is lying about his or her education, for example. It's important to focus on what's missing, too.

  • Sierra H.
    Sierra H.

    If one hired an employee, who it later was found out, lied on the Resume or Other Part of the Process, I do not think the Solution is Necessarily to go and 'Fire' the Employee. How about let's 'Fire' who did not Liken wise, commit due diligence. It takes two.

  • Sierra H.
    Sierra H.

    Aside from establishing skill set, I'd rather have the closest truth and gage with some pre-prescribed questions or exercises, whether or not the applicant would have a good fit attitude over the long haul and maybe could be developed further into the kind of employee we need. Are they positive? Can they perform under the pressures of THIS ENVIRONMENT? Communication style? Etc. The past is only a snapshot. What can this candidate bring to NOW? I USE everyone's best quality and work around and develop the rest! People would be honest if they didn't think they would be penalized or ABSOLUTELY NOT CONSIDERED for a blemish here and there. I like to leave the atmosphere for honest communication so I more fully access what I'd be dealing with or not. And this foundation yields people more willing to be transparent throughout the work process...If there is a mistake, etc; We will work it out From Here.

  • Sierra H.
    Sierra H.

    @Nancy Anderson~~Continuing~~The problem I have with this is: Do you really want HONEST applicants or Do you want ALL THE INFO to Add Up? As a Recruiter, if one wants HONEST PEOPLE, then don't suggest they 'Lie by Omission'. Accept that a Certain Percentage of the Details will never be proven or found. Or accept the Alternate Reality that People are "Hiding", maybe 15 other Details. They are either completely honest and you accept that you can't know every company ever made OR they will lie to please your need to 'see' every detail line up. In my experience, most people do the 2nd, in this age of scutinuty and online searches. They just make it look good... Which is another kind of dishonesty, to me. Maybe this is what your company or agency needs (someone who can make it look good) Maybe there are probing questions one can ask to arrive at a satisfactory median about their previous experiences there, instead.

  • Sierra H.
    Sierra H.

    @Nancy Anderson~~I am having QUITE the difficult time with the idea of suggesting a recruiter do a Through Background Check and Chalk Up "Discrepancies" as Lies when On the Other Foot, Suggest one leave companies off the Resume that are Ten Years Old.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Kristen certainly agree that companies should have policies in place to handle issues when an employee lies whether before the interview, during the interview or even after being hired. Most companies - at least larger ones - will complete a background check on the candidate prior to making an offer. They may not be able to verify salary but they can verify that the person worked in a position with a company and the dates worked. They can also verify education simply by contacting the school. In my opinion, if something surfaces even after hired, I would give the employee an opportunity to explain and then base my next decision on how he/she responds. It has been my experience that if they tell one lie, there will be more to follow. @Lydia and @Jacqueline so true that you could have worked for a company that is no longer. However, if it was before the Internet was really up and running, it's been more than ten years and you probably don't want to include it on your resume anyhow.

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    I absolutely agree with @jacqueline. One of my first jobs was with a small company that became a division of a bigger company and then was sold at least twice. The brand was eventually subsumed into a bigger company and no longer exists. This happened before the internet became what it is today and recruiters/hiring managers probably won't data mine long enough to get these details. While I could write the company history on my resume, this seems cumbersome and not really relevant.

  • Jacqueline Parks
    Jacqueline Parks

    I think it important to mention that discretion is required in deciding that company or organization is a fake based on an Internet search or the lack of contact details. Many companies go out of business, and older or smaller companies might not have an Internet history. I think it OK to request more information from the applicant in that instance, but I wouldn't be too distrustful. I think transparency and trust are important in an organization, and approaching job candidates with a trustful air is part of that.

  • Kristen Jedrosko
    Kristen Jedrosko

    Nancy, would you suggest that organizations have procedures in place prior to the interview and during the interview process that will aid them in uncovering any of these mistruths? Would you also suggest that they have policies in place for what will happen if it is uncovered after an individual is hired and it is discovered that they have lied in the pre-employment process?

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Well said @Duncan. That is why it's so important to check the references and check as many facts as you can before extending an offer to any employee. What do you do @Mike if you hire someone who told out and out lies on his resume and you hired him? Do you let him go right away or do you think it will reflect badly on you so you try to cover it up and help this person move along? A lie is a lie is a lie and all lies are uncovered at some point. Always best to do your due diligence on the employee prior to an offer the same as it is best for a job seeker to check out the company prior to submitting an application.

  • Duncan  Maranga
    Duncan Maranga

    Even with lots of stringent measures to catch false or exaggerated resumes, there are still a number of cases that go unrecognized. Most imposters will do their homework excellently by using technological ways to brace themselves as the best, for instance by preparing rogue websites and referencing themselves prior to submitting their resumes. It is therefore important that employers apply modern technology in identifying such counterfeit recommendations and referees.

  • Mike Van de Water
    Mike Van de Water

    Nancy, would you (generally) consider this sort of resume embellishment to be grounds for immediate removal from consideration for a job? If so, are there any circumstances that would cause you to think differently? I admit that I'm one of those managers that doesn't really follow up on references, although maybe I should give that policy another look.

  • Jacob T.
    Jacob T.

    While I agree that it can be a tricky situation to watch out for fabricated companies and inflated job titles, it is also worth noting that with the explosion of online service providers, artisan producers and small companies,many people will have work experiences or heady titles for companies that nobody will have heard of. This could simply indicate an entrepreneurial spirit and drive to take on more responsibility.

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    All too often people list references that are actually friends or family members. The best way to verify references is to call the company they are listed for, and make sure they actually work there. In addition, it's very important to investigate the actual relationship between the applicant and the reference. A few simple questions can help to decide if the applicant has any real ties to the company listed.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    I don't believe that inflating a job title is that bad. There are so many people who get wacky job titles (just look at the "ninja" craze from five to eight years ago) that it's almost impossible to keep up with everything. Job titles are not nearly as relevant as someone's skills unless a candidate inflates the job duties associated with the title.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Shannon it may seem like an invasion of your privacy but, when you are being hired by a company, they are certainly within their rights to do a background check on you and, depending upon the position, could include a financial check also. It's not that you think the person is lying per se but, if you find them lying about salary, what else are they lying about?

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    It's unfortunate that applicants lie, but the reality is that it does happen far too often. In the article, you mention verifying salary from applicants. As an applicant, even if I was telling the truth, I would find this a bit invasive. What is the best way to explain why this information is necessary without blatantly saying "I think you're lying"? To me, it seems like quite a bit of effort to put into someone who you are already assuming has character flaws.

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