This Is How to Spot a Lie on a Resume
Lying on a resume is strongly unadvisable. And yet it is very common. You are not sure? Take a long look at your own CV.
Okay maybe, you tried to be generally honest in your own bio. But how many exaggerations, half-truths and lies by omission can you count? Chances are it is more than 5.
As counterintuitive as it is, recruiters are used to lies and can even be open minded to them if it is something they would consider insignificant. Just something sparing the ego of the job candidate.
Interestingly enough, a recruiter may love catching a lie on a resume – it may give them more information what the candidate chooses to hide than what they choose to show – that is, if they catch it.
REASONS PEOPLE LIE ON THEIR RESUME
Generally, lying is a bad idea.
First, it may render your entire interview pointless. Recruiters shortlist applicants for interview against strong criteria. If you don’t match it, you shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
Second, it will establish a relationship of distrust. If you have lied about being able to speak Spanish, what else have you lied about? That is what the recruiter will think. They will be more suspicious of everything else you say, regardless of whether or not you have given them any other reason to doubt you.
Third, it will immediately devalue your application. Once the recruiter is suspicious of your character, you can expect that will damage your reputation. You will not enjoy the same treatment as you would have, had you stayed honest.
You may even expect a lower remuneration offer.
So, why do people lie?
To increase the chance of getting hired
Okay, so the issue is not entirely to blame on the job applicants. Most job offers are incredibly non-inclusive.
A job offer or a job description should follow the logic ‘if you can do the job, we will hire you’. It must list the responsibilities, so that the future candidates for the position judge based on their abilities whether they can do the job or not.
Instead, what we usually have instead of a job description is an applicant description. An applicant description follows the logic ‘if you can be that person, we will hire you’.
’In order to apply, you must have an education in Accounting, a minimum of 2 years of experience, and a perfect fluency in Japanese’
Applicants are trying to fit into molds that are very difficult to get into.
And it often works. According to a 2014 study, quoted here by The Muse, ‘79% of interviewed business owners reported “they had hired employees with mismatched skill sets or who displayed underperformance on the job, despite the claims made on their resume.’
To increase their chance of a higher remuneration
As unpleasant as it is, it is true.
Your offered remuneration for a position could be fixed by a budget or it could be flexible. In case of a flexible budget the recruiter will offer you a salary based on the productivity they project you will have for your team.
The recruiter will base their decision on your proven history of success: the amount of employees you have led; the budget of the project you have managed; the amount of responsibilities you have had; the amount of time you have spent on that position; on whether or not you have education in the field.
With so many factors, an exaggeration or two are usually allowed by the candidate. But those could be very dangerous, if you are caught in the lie.
To avoid discussing a sensitive subject
If a recruiter discovers an attempt to cover gaps in employment, it is more often than not because the candidate is uncomfortable discussing that period of their life. That may include:
A mental problem. When overworking comes to bite you in the back and you burn out, you need a good break before you come back to the workforce, but you are worried that will be seen by your future employer as a weakness.
A disease. When your health is not so good, it is not your favorite topic to discuss with recruiters. You will be seen as a potential flight risk, to no fault of your own.
Family time. When a mother or a father takes time to spend with the kids, the employer may question how much they prioritize their work to their family.
THE MOST COMMON LIES ON A RESUME
Now that we have established the many reasons why an applicant may lie in their CV, let us take a look at what lies are the most common and try to identify the profile – who would lie about that and why?
‘Yes, I have graduated from…’
Lying about education is the most common lie a recruiter will come across on a resume.
First, there is a lot of reasons to never graduate. Education is expensive. A lot of students try to juggle work and school and fail.
Second, graduating college or university could be seen as a failure to manage a long term, expensive project.
Third, and most important, failing school could be seen as lack of competence in your field.
Younger people’s resume shows less work experience and therefore education would be relatively more important to recruiters. That is why younger people are more prone to lie about finishing their education when they haven’t.
‘I am fluent in…’
Two cases here and two reasons to lie:
If knowing the language is a requirement, the candidate will often lie about their level of fluency in the language so that they pass the screening process. Then they will hope for the best for the interview, when they have a language check. Then you will get the excuses. ‘Yes, my Spanish is a little rusty, I have not used it in a long time…’ and then there come the promises. ‘I was actually planning to sign up for a refreshment course…’.
More rarely you will get a candidate lying about being fluent in a language, when that language is not a requirement – just to come across as more well-rounded.
‘Yes, I worked there…’
An applicant will lie about their working history in the following cases:
Case #1. They will lie about the amount of time they spent with an employer. More often than not it will be because things did not go well at the end. Perhaps the employee could not pass their trial period and was let go.
Case #2. An applicant might have extended the final date of their working agreement if they were trying to cover up a gap. A long amount of time they could not find employment. They would not want to look desperate.
Case #3. If it is their only relevant experience, they would want to inflate the amount of time they were employed in the field.
‘My computer skills are impeccable…’
More often than not lying about computer skills will come from ignorance. It is the Dunning-Kruger effect. ‘I don’t know what I don’t know, so I must be pretty smart!’
When people are not particularly educated in a subject the chance is higher that they will overestimate their abilities more dramatically.
Being able to check your email, to use a text editor and create a spreadsheet is not considered mad computer skills. When your experience with the Internet is limited to regular Google searches and posting selfies on social media, you are not an expert.
It is usually middle-aged people who fall into this category.
Learn more about the Dunning-Kruger effect by watching this video:
‘You could say I was almost the team lead…’
Exaggerating the level of responsibility and contribution is another very common form of lying on your resume.
That one is pretty harmless. Since it would have to be heavily supported by some acting work on the interview.
The applicant would be trying to convince the interviewer of their importance in their previously held positions.
It is very easy to catch, too. The applicant will continue saying ‘almost’. ‘You know I had so many responsibilities I was almost the team lead’, ‘I was also almost promoted’, ‘I was almost always the person to come and save the day’. ‘I was almost made responsible for the most important project in the company’.
‘I was regularly employee of the month…’
Lying about awards and accomplishments is common when an applicant has low confidence about the achievements in their CV.
That is often the case with applicants whose work history is short not for lack of experience but for sticking with the same employer for too long.
They are afraid of being seen as not ambitious enough. And they are worried their future employer may expect for them to be loyal without offering them progress or opportunities.
‘I was generously compensated for my labor’
Lying about your remuneration is perhaps the easiest lie to understand. If you are used to a particular standard your future employer will be more willing to offer you that higher salary.
Moreover, your pay is often seen as an indication of your worth. It is easy to think the recruiter will consider you as a more valuable employee if you were better paid.
Combine that with the fact that salaries are often a subject of privacy and are very hard to check even when you have a list of contacts for reference, and you have yourself the perfect storm.
Obviously, applicants who feel were underpaid are most prone to lie about their remuneration.
‘I am single. No, I don’t see myself as a parent any time soon.’
Sad, but true. People who are planning to create a family for themselves soon will lie (often by omission) about their age, their marital status, and, when it comes to the interview, about their plans for the future.
New mothers and fathers are unfortunately not protected very well by law from the employer when they want to spend time with their family.
And even if they are, the employer will not always enjoy missing an employee for a prolonged amount of time, even if it was for a good reason.
Women are more likely to lie about their plans for having kids.
HOW TO SPOT A LIE ON A RESUME
By now you must agree there could be many reasons for an applicant for a job to lie on their resume. Some are legitimate, some are toxic for the employer-employee relationship.
Therefore, you must also agree it is still the job of the recruiter to verify the entire information about an applicant’s profile.
They need to detect and deal with a lie, whether it is a harmless exaggeration or a significant deception.
If a recruiter is serious about their research, there are easy techniques to verify if what they have been told matches the truth. This section of the article will tell you how lies on a resume come up most often.
As easy as a piece of cake. Most lies come out during a simple skill evaluation on your first or second interview in person.
You are fluent in Spanish, maybe you won’t mind verifying that via a short conversation. Or do you?
You are a computer expert? Then perhaps you won’t mind answering several questions about this programing language that we use.
The applicant will stumble and stutter and excuse themselves. They will say they feel very distracted today…
To put it simply, the lie will come out and the interview will take a turn for the awkward. The applicant will feel embarrassed and the interviewer will know someone has lost their time.
Social media research
A simple social media search will immediately speak about two qualities in an applicant. 70% of employers will use social media to snoop on candidates.
First, the recruiter will immediately know how much they value their privacy. Most social networks will have protections against strangers stalking them. If they have not taken care to protect themselves their information will be publicly available.
Second, the recruiter will notice how technically savvy the applicants are. The type of content they share, the type of images they post, they will speak of the character of the applicant.
And a third, bonus point, depending on their social media habits and their level of privacy, hints may be available of the applicants’ working history and education here and there.
At the end of the interview, the recruiter will ask the applicant about their reference list. It must be a list of between three and eight contacts that are relevant to the candidate’s working history.
The recruiter will use that to verify the amount of time the employee has spent with the company, their main responsibilities, the main qualities the company considered valuable with them. They will also try to verify their salary, but they will only be successful if the company has a transparency policy when it comes to remuneration.
Even if it is a golden opportunity to catch a liar, reference check does not always take place. If the future employer is in a hurry to fill in the position, and if it is a job post with big employee turnover, they may not bother.
A reference check is not always needed. The higher the level of the position, the greatest the effort of the hiring manager will be to verify the character of their applicants.
If the risk is too high, the hiring manager will call in favors from their friends in other companies to vouch for the person they are planning to hire.
An innocent meeting to grab a coffee with the wrong person can make or break your interview.
In some countries it is the practice for agencies to perform background check on job applicants.
The investigators will perform a check on all facts from your resume that are publicly available and all that can easily be verified with an institution or an employer:
- Your graduation status
- Your criminal record
- Your medical record
- Your or marital status
- Your employment history
- Your employment achievements
If you lied about your education, your age, you having kids, or your reason to terminate your last labor agreement, you might be in trouble.
A recruiter with years of experience will have developed a very strong intuition about when they are being lied to.
Not only that, they will have knowledge in organizational psychology and will use various tools and techniques to assess your character, and particularly carefully, how honest you are being.
They will ask you ‘trick questions’ to check if you are willing to step out of your comfort zone and talk about your flaws:
- What would you say is your greatest weakness?
- Can you tell me the greatest challenge you had during your last big project and how you overcame it?
- Can you list several shortcomings you felt you had when working with your last employer?
- How do you feel this interview is going for you?
Pause too long, stutter before you talk, or say something too self-confident. Your bravado will immediately disappear and your recruiter will see right past your false self-esteem.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A LIE IS DISCOVERED
On the one hand, lying on resumes and on interviews is not the best way to go. They create an air of distrust during the interview, and, possibly, during the employment. In some cases, a lie on one resume may create future recruitment issues for you.
On the other hand lying in one form or another is so common that recruiters and employers have become desensitized to it. They can be tolerant of one or two white lies here or there if the applicant seems to be overall a well-rounded person. And skilled enough to do the job.
How do recruiters decide where to draw the line?
How serious is the lie?
In other words, the first thing the recruiter will consider is how far away from the truth the CV puts the applicant.
An honest mistake to overestimate one’s skills is easy to look over. A good example is not being really good at a language that is not crucial to the position. A simple test will prove the level of fluency. The lie will not go too far. And maybe the candidate was honestly in the dark about how much their language skills have deteriorated.
Lying by omission about education is also easy to go over. So you went through your courses but you never found time to write your thesis? That is not immediately obvious in your resume, but it could be overlooked.
How brazen is the lie?
Here are several examples where the hiring manager will cut you no slack. If you were:
- Coming up with a fantastic number about the salary you received with your previous employers
- Adding an education you never actually attended
- Adding working history for employers you never worked for
- Dramatically exaggerating your skills in a field that is crucial for the position you are applying for
To put it simply, the further your lies put you from being competent for the position and the more the hiring manager is convinced you are intentionally trying to mislead them, the less chance you have to get to job and the higher the chance for you to face some more significant consequences for your lies.
Is the candidate a prospect?
A brilliant looking resume, especially for a difficult position to close will raise the hopes of a hiring manager. When applications are rare each one is checked and considered with care. Good talent is rare to find.
You do not want to submit a lying resume in such a situation. First, being one of several applicants, your lies will be more obvious. You will be discovered sooner or later.
And second, you will betray the high hopes of your recruiters. Imagine they skipped on the chance to meet someone else because they were pursuing a meeting with you.
You might be facing heavy consequences. If they were using a paid investigator for your background check, chances are high your name is entering a databased, labeled as a liar.
A white lie or exaggeration here or there might easily be overlooked. But try not going too far.
Have a very critical look at your resume today. How many of your claims can you cover by facts – diplomas, certificates, labor contracts?
Are you really as good as you say you are in your listed skills? How marketable are those?
Be critical. It is better to be honest with a more humble resume than to have a flashy CV and no job.