Depending on who you believe, either some or most job applicants stretch the truth in their resumes. Here are the most common lies HR managers are told.
The issue’s gotten some press lately, as both Food Network chef Robert Irvine and Lee McQueen, a contestant on the British version of The Apprentice, were recently ousted as having lied to get their TV jobs.
Apparently they aren’t alone — 48% of job-seekers have stretched the truth on a resume, while 10% have told bold-faced lies, according to a survey by Monster.com. Other studies report discrepancies in as many as 56% of all resumes.
Things you’ll find in a background check
What truths are being stretched? These are the most common areas:
- Compensation — Some applicants seem to think the easiest way to get a higher starting salary is to lie about their current pay. Many employers ask about this when they check references, but some have even started asking candidates to turn over pay stubs. (Look out, though — that might be a big turn-off for the candidate.)
- Title — Candidates might make up phony titles to sound more important, or because their current employer uses esoteric titles that wouldn’t mean much to an outsider. Either way, that’s another thing that’s easy to check with a reference. Also, you should remind hiring managers to focus on what candidates did, rather than what they were called.
- Education — Candidates lie about their education surprisingly often. Common lies about school: fudging dates to appear older or younger, claiming degrees that were started but never finished, and listing degrees from an institution that doesn’t even exist.
Those discrepancies are the easiest to catch in a background check, but that hasn’t stopped folks from trying anyway. About 20% of HR managers say they’ve caught someone lying about a previous job, while 16% have exposed lies about academic degrees.
Also, there are other kinds of lies that can’t be easily uncovered by talking to an old boss. Two more common areas:
- Accomplishments — This usually involves taking credit for previous co-workers’ work. For example, people might say they “led” a team when they were really just one of many members. The best way to figure what accomplishments the candidate can rightly take credit for? Probing deeply in the interview. A series of questions such as “What was your biggest challenge? How did you overcome it? What kind of help did you have?” should help you get the real story.
- Technical skills — Beyond official academic training, candidates might exaggerate proficiency in computer programs and other areas. How should you guard against it? If it’s something a position requires, consider giving some kind of test, or making sure you hire someone who had to use those skills in a previous job.