Human Resources News & Insights

Top 3 lies candidates tell HR

Competition for jobs is high, and many candidates will go to great lengths to stand out — including lie to you.

Here are some of the latest resume tweaks, according, a Web site that advises job seekers on how to bend the truth and get away with it:

1. Covering up employment gaps

Many candidates are concerned about explaining periods when they were out of work. FakeResume’s recommendation: Pretend you were volunteering.

It’s a lot tougher to verify volunteer work than employment history. But if you’re suspicious, don’t brush over the issue. Ask probing questions about the work and, if possible, check references at the organization.

Another tactic to cover employment gaps or inflate experience is the so-called “functional resume,” which lists experience and accomplishments grouped by type, followed by a list of previous employers, rather than a chronological list of past positions. Not everyone who uses a functional resume is lying — but it might put you on alert.

2. Fake references

Most resume lies can be caught by checking references — so candidates who are serious about their dishonesty will provide references that are fake or impossible to check.

FakeResume recommends candidates provide the name and phone number of a fictitious supervisor at a large company. The number actually belongs to a friend who pretends to be an admin and tells the caller the company only provides references via letter. The candidate then mails a fake reference letter.

Candidates also place “typos” in a former employer’s address or phone number, hoping HR won’t bother when they can’t contact the person.

If you’re concerned about the references someone gives, experts recommend finding the company’s Web site and contacting the supervisor through the main phone number.

3. Phony responsibilities

Most fraudulent resumes don’t contain outright lies. More often, candidates stretch the truth, beefing up previous titles and exaggerating the responsibilities they had in previous positions.

The best way to catch those fibs is to ask detailed questions and not let the candidate off easy if you get vague or suspicious answers. Another tactic: Bring in somebody who’s already doing a job similar to the one the person’s applying for. Dishonest applicants will try to fake their way through an interview using buzzwords and generalities but break down when someone who’s actually experienced in the field asks for details.

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  1. I am the one that asks the probing questions. This allows me to filter if they were the ones actually doing the job, or assisting in doing the job. The most revealing information comes from cross examination.

  2. Many of our supervisors don’t like my interview style. They say i am very strict and hard on the guys. Hey, if they can’t handle my interview how are they going to handle working for us. I do manage to get a lot more information than what is on the resume/application and it’s amazing what they try to get away with.

  3. Number 2 is straight out of “Seinfeld”! Remember when George invented Van de Lay Enterprises so that Jerry would pretend to be his former boss? I had no idea people did that in real life 🙂

  4. I actually use the opposite approach and it works pretty well for me. I normally coduct what would seem like a very laid-back, casual interview to get the candidate to relax and potentially interrupt their planned approach. I will tell stories related to the work and then throw in a question or two related to their personal experience with similar situations or we will talk about places they’ve worked before and how I know someone who has also worked there or at a similar organization. Sometimes it’s suprising how people will slip up and not stick to their “prepared story” if you get them out of their game plan.

    And I definitely believe in looking up company phone numbers and asking to speak to someone in HR when checking references. Even if they don’t want to provide info about the candidate, they can usually confirm that the name and number I was given for a reference are valid.

  5. With fake references, I find that people will put a coworker or friend down as their supervisor, or other such tactics. If you find the companies’ phone number online and ask for the department they said they were working in, it’s amazing what you can find! If you just ask for HR, you will probably only get the job title and dates of employment.

  6. A candidate can always create his own fictitious company, put up a website with that company name, create an address that is hard to check, get listed with D&B as a private company, put on the website a page or two of information about the company, and list a friend’s number for the company who will verify employment only. The address could be some vacant lot or an office building currently unused and hard to trace if anyone is actually there. Anyway to check any of the above without visiting the employer? Let me know. If someone did all this you probably want to hire them for their creativity and if a company needs a good cover story for why something went wrong this candidate would be able to put a better spin on it than any politician.

  7. I’m with dritchie. I’ve found the more at ease an applicant feels, the more information they’ll give whether or not they intend to. Doesn’t mean you still don’t have to ask the right questions and follow up, but it’s a lot more fun. It is amazing what people will tell you when they think they’re in a comfort zone.

  8. I feel another thing they lie about is the amount of income they received from their previous employer. It wouldn’t hurt to request a copy of their last pay stub from the previous employer.

  9. A significant number of applicants use functional resumes to minimize the possibility of age discrimination during the resume screening stage. Thanks for pointing out the fact that not all people who use functional resumes are being deceptive.

  10. Need to know if an applicant can do a job? Find a test that tests for skills that an applicant would need to use on a regular basis and test them before you interview them. There is no lie in the world that can get you past missing half of the answers on our test. We started testing about 5 years ago and the applicants that we have hired have been able to do the job that they were hired to do.

  11. Through my years of experience I have used a few tactics to get more in depth information:
    1. As you progress through the interview ask them about the same topic but in a different way. Circle around and revisit their different employers. There’s usually a common thread from one employer to the next showing their skills – kinda like ‘connect the dots’, move around their work history with a zig and a zag every so often so they are caught off guard.
    2. Empathize with them when asking a behavioral based question, “Yes I know what you are talking about! This brings down their guard a bit because you are trying to come across that you are more on their level and understand. They start spilling the beans if they are of weak character or lack the leadership skills you are looking for.
    3. Ask a question and PAUSE. If they don’t respond, continue to PAUSE – don’t say a thing. Let them be the first to say something. Most people can’t stand the silence and it’s human nature to start talking – a LOT!

  12. I have a candidate that we had to let go due to lack of work. She was in A/P. She was a good employee and we hated to see her go. If anyone if looking for a loyal and efficient A/P Clerk please email and ask for a resume.


  13. I found my own unique style and unique questions to ask. Reason is I got tired of the “professional interviewees” that know how to answer the regular interview questions. I pay attention to body language, eyes, posture, and tone. My questions may be quirky and different but it catches those “Pro Interviewees’ off guard. the questions do deal with the environment of the worksite and the nature of the job.

  14. Lies, lies, lies. Welcome to the world of resumes and interviews….

    These lies can be impossible to detect, even with an in-depth, investigative approach to selecting the right candidate. As Carol mentioned, the best way to determine if a candidate can do the job or knows his/her stuff is to give pre-employment tests. If someone needs MS Excel skills to do a job, give him/her an excel test. If the position requires accounting skills, give an accounting knowledge test. Validated tests are the best way to see what they know (and don’t know).

  15. Here’s an attempt at a fake reference: to get out of paying child support, my ex-husband quits or gets fired from jobs. Recently he claimed his last employer fired him and contacted all the employers in the state not to hire him. Therefore he had the audacity to ask me to pose as one of his employers so that he could get a good reference. I told him he was 10 levels of crazy and he definitely needs to be locked up! People will lie and do anything to get a job or get out of one in my ex-husband’s case!


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