Skeptical Black Woman

What most employers think you’re lying about (and what you should actually lie about)

Peter Harris|

Be honest. Is everything on your resume accurate?

Most employers don’t think so. They are becoming increasingly skeptical of what candidates claim about their skills and work history. In fact, a survey by the recruitment firm Employment Office found that over 80% of employers believe that candidates are lying on their LinkedIn profiles.

67% of the 300 hiring managers and business owners surveyed said that candidates are most likely to lie about their past job titles and responsibilities. The other major areas where they feel people are most likely to fudge the truth are about the exact dates of previous employment, their education and their exact qualifications.

Said, Tudor Marsden-Huggins, the managing director of Employment Office, “It is the same with LinkedIn as it is with life, untruths are usually uncovered at some stage.  It’s best to portray yourself with truthful information to avoid damage to your reputation if and when colleagues find out you’ve lied and exaggerated.”

So we asked Workopolis recruiters and members of the HR community where they find the most common half-truths, exaggerations and outright lies on resumes. Here’s what they told us were the most widespread falsehoods:

  • Education – HR managers surveyed said that many people who have even just started an educational program will claim to have graduated and obtained the degree even if they only took a few courses.

  • Employment dates – People often fudge the dates of their previous employment in order to exaggerate their tenure in a role or to mask periods of unemployment in between jobs.

  • Second language proficiency – Candidates with a conversational knowledge of a second language often claim to have native fluency. This is particularly true of people with Canada’s high school French skills applying for jobs requiring written bilingualism. It doesn’t work out.

  • Job titles – People most often tweak their job titles either to match the role they’re aspiring to land or in order to more accurately reflect the work they were doing at a previous job when they think their actual title undersells their contributions.

  • Technical skills – This is the most insidious lie of all because it is the least likely to be caught in the screening process. There isn’t likely a central phone number that an employer can call to determine if you actually do know HTM5. However if you get hired for a role that requires that skill, you’re going to land in hot water when you’re expected to actually use it on the job.

How do people get caught lying on their resumes?

While more and more companies are instituting policies of only giving minimal information to reference callers about past employees, they will confirm some basic details. Most HR departments will at least corroborate your job title, how long you worked there, and what your salary was. (Inflating their past salaries is the other big lie that recruiters say many candidates try to get away with. But as this is not often done on the resume itself, it didn’t fit with my list above.)

So, despite the temptation to make yourself look better and give yourself an edge over the competition, lying about your skills and experience on a resume or LinkedIn profile just isn’t worth it. Even a quick phone call to tight-lipped past employer can blow your cover on most of the biggest lies. And an exaggerated technical skill or language proficiency that you just don’t have will quickly come to light on the job.

You don’t want to lie about your ability to do a job in order to get hired. You might however, want to lie about the things that have nothing to do with your abilities that could still prevent you from getting hired.

Here are a couple of career lies that you actually should tell:

I never worked there. Okay, don’t literally say that. But if you worked at a job that ended badly for you in a way that can hurt your future chances (fired for cause, extremely short tenure, etc.), simply leave it off your resume altogether. Only list the relevant jobs where you’ve learned skills or made contributions that can help future employers. Your resume is a document marketing your credentials – it doesn’t have to be a comprehensive list of everything you’re ever done.

My old boss was the greatest, and the whole team rocked. Nobody likes everyone, and there are some truly terrible bosses out there. However, even if you’re right and the team really were a bunch of jerks where you worked before, saying so will sink your chances of getting hired. It is essential that employers see you as friendly, positive and as a great team player. Slamming your old boss will only make you look like a complainer and have them wondering what you’ll be saying about them next.

I’ll confess. As a student, I was once let go from a book store for fighting with the manager on duty over the music. She said that head office dictated the playlist for the store so we couldn’t change it. I tried to make the case that forcing anyone to listen to ABBA Gold Greatest Hits on constant rotation for four nine-hour shifts in a row was simply inhumane. It didn’t end well for me. I’ve left that job off my resume ever since.

Have you ever lied on your resume? Did you get caught? Please share your stories with us!

- Peter Harris

Peter Harris on Twitter

Category: Resumes,
  • Mike Soup

    Of course we have to lie to employers on our resume. Explaining a gap on a resume can ultimately lead to either not being respected, or not being hired. Employers are all liars themselves anyway.

  • LesB

    I’ve never lied on a resume. What I struggle with is the knowledge that most employers are reading with your resume with the expectation that you’re probably somewhat exagerating your abilities. I’ve always been paranoid of doing that, for fear that I can’ meet a new employers expectations, so I tend to downplay my abilities. That works against you, though. If I downplay my abilities to be on the safe side and the employer views my statements as being on the edge of exageration, then I’ll probably never make it into the que.

  • Dr Muffstench

    I had been applying for the most unskilled of jobs and getting absolutely nowhere before I decided to lie on my C.V. I have to say I have no regrets and would completely recommend doing the same, as quite literally within one week of me changing my name by deed poll, I had secured the chief gynecologists position at my local hospital.

    • Zen Master

      I gave myself an honorary high-school diploma, which I don’t honestly expect to cause problems. After twenty+ years I have the literacy equivalent of a post-doc, so as a matter of practicality I pretty much think I’m entitled to say I passed that rather basic educational milestone. As for putting “high-school dropout” on a resume, well that strikes me as rather stupid. Since I’m an IT professional with non-trivial expertise, it shouldn’t be a problem. If it is, then I’ll know the hiring officer in question lacks a mature perspective, and is likely to be naive about the trend of degree inflation affecting the real-world value of accredited educational institutions.

      • Hubert (Trip) Montgomery III

        How does someone quit high school? I have never understood how this would work, but always wanted to because I would rather have spent my youth drinking and carousing. If you quit, dont they just send you to reform school and throw your parents in jail for your truancy?

  • Richard Derek

    And how much is this due to the fact that employers have extremely high expectations for their candidates like 5 years to be an Office Assistant. You get what you ask for in my opinion.

  • Em

    You know it’s funny in the years past (like 5 years ago to be specific) I really worked my resume to push the bounds and land a job…and nothing! I didn’t lie though, just exaggerated and followed the standard resume. It was by all means a “perfect” “normal” resume. The minute I gave up and was honest, said I hated so-and-so job, and saying “You know, I don’t feel I need a full blown resume to flip burgers or run Microsoft excel” I started getting multiple calls. Sometimes being “real” works out. I guess it depends on the employer.