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The most common resume lies, and what you can really get away with

Elizabeth Bromstein|

I recently met someone at a party who had been laid off a few weeks earlier. Telling me about the job search, she said she’d been fudging the truth on her resume and in interviews, and by “fudging the truth,” I mean “lying.”

She’d lost her job, which she’d had for a year, several weeks ago, but told me, “I’m telling them I still work there, and that the role isn’t what I expected when I took the position.”

Another truth she was fudging was her salary, to which she was adding a breezy $20,000.

“Wow,” I said. “That sounds…incredibly stupid.” I am nothing if not charming upon first meeting.

She said she thought it was a “calculated risk.” I let it drop. But I still thought it was dumb. The two things she’s lying about are things that any respectable HR person can easily check, and is likely to. Right?

Not necessarily, as I have since discovered.

Many will check these things, but others don’t.

I asked one HR manager who asked that his name not be disclosed. He told me, “I don’t check last salary. I think it’s not as important as the combination of what people want, market value for the job and what I’m willing to pay. We use a third party to background check everyone as a condition of the offer, so I would usually find out if they were fired or laid off and we confirm exact dates of employment.” This, he says, is the most common resume lie. He adds that sometimes a candidate will ask you not to contact a current employer because they don’t want them to know they’re looking. This is not an insurmountable obstacle, however, as many employers will agree not to contact a current employer only until an offer is made. Then the offer is contingent on verification of employment history.

But, he says, “A lot of companies won’t disclose too much info, so sometimes you can’t get what you need.”

Still, even if you get away with it, for all you know, your old boss or a former coworker could follow you to a new job and let the cat out of the bag. Or someone could just be chatting with your old boss at a party. The point is, you could get caught at any time.

Regardless of the risks, this infographic says that about 40% of people lie on their resumes. And, according to Forbes, the most common lies candidates tell are the following:

  • Lying about getting a degree (M.B.A. from Whatsa Matta U)
  • Playing with dates (2000-2004: Rikers Island Starbucks)
  • Exaggerating numbers (Increased revenues infinity percent)
  • Increasing previous salary (They paid me in ingots and conflict diamonds)
  • Inflating titles (Most Exalted Grand Poobah)
  • Lying about technical abilities (Haskell and Lisp? In my sleep bro!)
  • Claiming language fluency ( Urdu, Tagalog, and that African clicking language)
  • Providing a fake address (1600 Pennsylvania avenue, 10236 Charing Cross Road)
  • Padding grade point averages ( 9.0…What?)


Come on folks. HR peeps are hip to this stuff. You think they never heard of combining your salary and bonus to create an inflated number? Puh-lease. And they’re going to figure out you don’t know Haskell the second they ask you to code something.

Also, if they do find out, they’re not going to tell you. They just won’t hire you. So, you’ll never know, and keep making the same dumb mistake. In the immortal words of Melle Mel: “Don’t do it.”

I don’t think this means, however, that you can’t make things look awesome, maybe awesomer than they actually are, without lying. If you don’t have the degree, highlight the related courses you have taken. And if you don’t have enough experience, write in action and industry words and play up your skills and accomplishments. How? Easy. Observe:

  • Moved a clothing rack – “Redesigned inventory placement.”
  • Talked a customer into buying two ice cream cones instead of one – “Increased revenues 100%.”
  • Worked as a cashier – “Supervised financial transactions with the public.”
  • Answered phone – “Console communications specialist.”
  • Pointed a customer towards the bathroom – “Solved customer problems/Improved health and safety
  • protocol.”
  • Showed a new person how to work the coffee machine – “Employee training in office technology.”
  • Got creepy person to leave the building – “Enforced security protocol and secured business perimeter.”
  • Sent external emails – “Updated communications and served as public relations liaison.”
  • Got obnoxious office mate to stop telling dirty jokes – “Served as employee grievance mediator.”
  • Unjammed paper from copy machine – “Troubleshooting print technology.”
  • Opened baffling attachment: “Served as communications sysadmin.”
  • Planned small surprise karaoke party for boss – “Media and entertainment planner.”


Just be sure not to claim anything you can’t back up. Then, as soon as you get the chance, amass the skills and accomplishments you need on the job so you won’t have to stretch the truth next time.


Category: Career Dilemmas, Job Search Strategies, Resumes,
 
  • SickOfHR

    This is awesome! Therefore the HR would contact your current employer, letting them know that you actually are looking to move to the next job!

    Is it this totally ethically incorrect to have HR disclosing to their HR friends from my
    current company that I am looking for a change??

    Or, -as I long term suspected- the HR people bend and/or make their own ethical rules on a continuous base- depends on what fits their interest!

    • my2cents

      Dude, did you read this? it said if you ask them not to contact your current employer they won’t…

  • Kofi

    Thanks for the info. But sometimes one has all the qualification and experience required by the job BUT the employers don’t even look at the resume because they know who they want to give the job to.