Key Signs That A Job Seeker Is Lying On Their Resume

John Krautzel
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Resume fraud is a fact of life, as any hiring manager or job recruiter is well aware. Studies show that as many as 49 percent of employers have discovered lies on employees' or job candidates' resumes. Knowing this makes it clear that you should have your radar up whenever you're going through applicants' resumes. Here are some of the key signs to tip you off that the applicant you're considering may not be telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth on his resume.

Extended Periods of Self-Employment

There's nothing wrong with being self-employed. In fact, many successful entrepreneurs whom you would be thrilled to snag for your company describe themselves as "self-employed." However, take a second look at a resume's claims regarding self-employment. A true freelancer can list clients she's worked for or projects on which she's worked. She can provide links to websites that show legitimate accomplishments or provide other evidence.

Far too many people upgrade their volunteer or fundraising work to the level of "consulting" on their resumes. When they do this without supporting evidence of achievement, they're using the phrase "self-employment" to mean "unemployment." These claims deserve a second look, if only to tell whether you're dealing with someone who may exaggerate her accomplishments once she's working for you.

Problems With Employment Dates

If a resume shows a series of jobs of short duration — under three years or so — the listings should provide the months of employment as well as the years. A resume that lists jobs as lasting from 2015-2016 and 2014-2015 could actually be hiding the fact that the job applicant was hired in December 2015 and fired in January 2016.

If you follow up with a former employer and learn that the dates of employment were fudged a little bit, that's a big warning sign. If a job applicant is willing to play games with something as simple and easy to check up on as dates of employment, what else is he lying about?

Embellished Job Titles

Sometimes people grant themselves titles such as "manager" or "senior" when, in fact, they were never hired under those titles. You can pick these out on a resume if the job responsibilities listed aren't compatible with the job title being claimed. It's also easy and legal to call the applicant's former employer to ascertain what the actual title was, just in case an employer decided to amp up a job title in lieu of giving a raise.

Some applicants may embellish their job titles for good reasons. For instance, a generic title, such as "analyst" or "assistant," may not adequately describe the work the employee performed. However, the most truthful job applicants don't try to do this. Instead, they make sure their abilities and experience are fully spelled out under the actual job title they held.

Vague Responses During the Interview

If you interview a job applicant who can't give you more than one sentence in response to a question about his education or his former employment, you may want to dig a little deeper to find out if he's telling the truth. Many people who have a set response prepared regarding their college experience crumble if you start asking specific questions.

Pay attention to body language during the interview as well. All but the most experienced liars are likely to give themselves away through lack of eye contact with you or by sitting very still without moving their hands. Liars also often avoid using the words "I" or "me" in a normal fashion, and may betray themselves through high, nervous voice tones. Any of these signs should trigger your desire to do some research to verify that what the applicant is saying, both in person and on his resume, is true.

Other Giveaways

If a job applicant claims to speak a foreign language, it's a great idea to ask a question in that language to see if you get a good response. Job applicants who don't provide contact information for their references or their former employers also raise red flags; try asking in person for that information to see what response you get. Another giveaway comes if a job applicant mispronounces the name of a company he claims to have worked for, the names of prominent people in your field, or the names of technical terms he should know.

Sometimes you can realize that a job applicant is lying by reading between the lines of his resume. Other times, comparing the answers he gives in an interview to claims on his resume can make any deception clear. Pick up on the clues available to you to decide whether you want to go forward with a candidate who is less than honest.

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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Laura unfortunately reporting them to the police will not do any good. All you can do is make sure that you don't hire them and, maybe, if this person is applying for a job in a particular industry, you could use your own social media to let other managers know about this person. It's just like bad-mouthing a boss. The word will get out until no one else will hire this person. @Duncan so very true that practical skills testing is a good thing to do with a candidate. If you go to a temp agency for some type of clerical or tech position, they are going to test you before they even sit down and talk with you about your goals and needs. So why should a company be any different?

  • Duncan  Maranga
    Duncan Maranga

    I think there is more than meets the eye when it comes to scrutinizing details of job seekers during the interview. Sometimes just being careful only on the areas that raise suspicion may not be enough. Some people can forge entire profiles in a manner that may not even raise eye brows at all. Interviewers can nip these cases by doing a series of staged interviews to even include some practical skill testing.

  • Laura W.
    Laura W.

    Is there anything an employer can do, if he knows for sure that an applicant is lying? I mean, apart from not hiring the person, can we report people to the police for something like this?

  • Jane H.
    Jane H.

    Given how easy it has become to check up on most people's claims using online background checking services, typing their name into search engines or looking them up on social media, anyone attempting to apply for a job really needs to think like a hiring manager and make sure the information they are providing doesn't conflict with the information that's readily available on the web. If the information that's already out there about a candidate is either wrong or somehow misleading, then that's an opportunity for the candidate to explain the discrepancy before the hiring manager finds it, to prove the candidate is doing their best to be honest about their qualifications and experience.

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    @Shannon For what it's worth many people do offer expert services to non-profits on a volunteer basis. I think this falls squarely under the heading consulting/consultant. If there's a title closer to what you did, then by all means use it. I think the problem are consultants with vague job descriptions. If you can specifically quantify projects that you consulted on and describe achievements then I see no problem with the title.

  • Jacqueline Parks
    Jacqueline Parks

    Although checking and double checking resume information is a great way to ensure candidates are actually as qualified as they appear, I disagree about considering signs of nervousness during an interview as signs of lying. Some people interview better than others. I rarely judge applicants on their nerves because I want to be fair to people who hide anxiety more poorly than others. Of course, it depends on the position they applied for, but I just wanted to add another opinion to the discussion.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Mike totally agree. I am self-employed and have my monthly pay stubs to prove it. I would certainly take proof of that with me on an interview if I thought that might be an issue. Of course self-employed is a catch-all term since I am not actually working for myself but working for a company as self-employed, freelancing, contractor - so many different terms we can use. @Jacob we may enhance our social media accounts to make ourselves look fun and exciting but never do that on your resume or cover letter. Lies will always be found out at some point or another. Earlier I used a reference regarding a high official at a well-known University who was fired for cause because she indicated that she had a master's degree when, in fact, she did not. Once she was found out, she was stripped of all benefits and ousted. That's why it is never worth lying. And each time you lie, you have to remember that lie and have to find a way to weave that lie into your life story. Too hard to remember. Always better to be upfront and honest.

  • Mike Van de Water
    Mike Van de Water

    Erin, a job candidate that has legitimately been self-employed should have some sort of financial information that can be made available. Perhaps Paypal reports or checks that have been cashed. This type of information is often used when looking for housing, as landlords require proof of income. I would steer clear of any candidate that claims to be self-employed but cannot produce any income verification.

  • Jacob T.
    Jacob T.

    I guess it is a little baffling to me as to why this would be surprise or shock to anybody. We lie an embellish our social media accounts and selectively edit to appear more fun and interesting. Why would that not naturally carry over to things that are more crucial to success like a resume or cover letter?

  • Erin H.
    Erin H.

    I wonder how an employer can prove that a self-employed applicant isn't actually self-employed? I have heard the saying that sometimes being self-employed is a step away from being unemployed, but I would think that an applicant could at least prove that the bills are being paid. That money has to come from somewhere.

  • Andrew  S.
    Andrew S.

    An interesting piece of statistics. Almost 50 percent of employees said they've discovered lies on their current or prospective employees' resumes. I'm wondering what aspect is the most lied about on a resume. I've read somewhere that the number one thing that job seekers tend to falsify is their educational credentials, and some have even made up companies that they supposedly worked for that in fact never even existed.

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    I imagine that there are many people who do lie on their resumes, and in a variety of ways. One of the things that has always humored me is when an applicant lists ranges of dates that don't tell the whole picture. This is a perfect way to show employment that may have been short term without lying. Always ask for more specific dates when the years don't amount to much.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    I disagree that self-employment is a form of lying. Freelancers don't have to come up with names of clients to prove self-employment. Someone's income tax forms or income tax returns for those years offer insights as to how much money someone made during a year. A background check, if a company performs one, could also reveal a candidate's financial situation during that time.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Shannon thanks for the question. My opinion is that no, I would not rename it. But, during the interview, I would be prepared to discuss exactly what type of consulting you did.

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    I love the practice of testing foreign language skills. That is a clever, yet telling practice. I'm intrigued by the use of "consultant" on resumes. Yes, I agree that it can be a red flag that the applicant is inflating his or her resume. But, what about those who really have served as a consultant for multiple clients? Would you recommend renaming this title/position to avoid any speculation?

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