It’s not surprising some job applicants feel the need to embellish their resumes to get a better shot at a job. But the exact number — now 85% — has risen dramatically over the past few years.
Resume lies have become so common that a lot of dishonest applicants are going undetected. Whether this is due to increasing pressure to fill positions quickly or trusting HR pros, a survey by SimplyHired discovered that 46% of hiring managers fail to check references, and 65% don’t verify a candidate’s education.
Even more shockingly, 16% of those surveyed don’t have time to read the whole resume, and 34% just skim over the cover letter.
This means there’s a pretty good chance a lot of applicants have gotten away with a lie, so they’re going to keep trying.
Why candidates really lie
While any lie seems devious, it’s a misconception that every resume exaggerator is trying to con their way into a job they aren’t qualified for. Some candidates are resorting to fudging the truth out of frustration, and not necessarily intentional deception.
More and more applicants are aware that companies use screening software to automatically eliminate resumes that don’t contain certain keywords or don’t meet minimum requirements. This often results in candidates never hearing back about a position and not getting a real shot at a job.
To prevent themselves from being weeded out right from the get-go, candidates will tweak their resumes to better fit a position by including as many keywords or requirements as they can.
Tammy Cohen, founder of InfoMart, a company that specializes in screening job candidates, thinks some companies’ job descriptions can be the cause of applicants’ embellishments. Unsurprisingly, job postings are often written in a creative, eye-catching way to attract more applicants. To match this style, candidates often jazz up their own resumes to appear to be a good fit for the position.
While small exaggerations can be relatively harmless, some candidates blatantly lie about crucial aspects of the resume.
Here are the top things job seekers lie about, according to a survey by OfficeTeam:
- job experience (76%)
- job duties (55%)
- education (33%), and
- employment dates (26%).
What to look for
Obviously, big lies in these areas are ones HR pros definitely want to catch. And OfficeTeam has compiled a list of several red flags that can be indicators of dishonesty, along with how hiring managers can find out the truth.
- Their skills have vague descriptions. When a candidate is trying to stretch out their list of skills, they may start listing items with phrases like “familiar with” or “involved with.” If someone is “familiar with HTML,” that could mean they took one class in high school and can barely remember anything. If a candidate was “involved with compiling sales reports,” they very well could’ve watched as others on their team did the heavy lifting. Also, watch out for any duties or titles that don’t really make sense — does it seem like a candidate is using more creative words to describe simple tasks?
The Fix: To make sure candidates have the concrete skills they claim, skills tests can be used as part of the hiring process. To get an even better idea if their skills are up to snuff, you can give the candidate a job audition or hire them on a temporary basis.
- Their employment dates are questionable or missing. When a candidate has previous job dates listed by the year instead of month, it can be an attempt to lengthen stints and hide periods of unemployment.
The Fix: Directly asking candidates what the months of their employment were can help clear this up if they answer truthfully. This can also give them a chance to explain any long gaps in their resumes, too. But if you still sense an applicant isn’t being honest with you, calling references to confirm employment dates is crucial.
- Their body language is off during the interview. If a candidate isn’t making eye contact or keeps fidgeting in their chair, this could be an indication of dishonesty. Be careful with this one, though. These could simply be signs of an anxious applicant, not an untruthful one.
The Fix: If the person is particularly fidgety while discussing a certain part of their resume, keep asking about it. If they can’t seem to answer your questions, they probably exaggerated their skills or experience. It’s also a good idea to ask others who met the candidate if they felt anything was off about the person’s behavior.
A long-term fix
While these tips from OfficeTeam can help you catch resume fibs as you go, there may be something you can do to reduce the amount of candidates who feel the need to lie.
If you use screening software to eliminate applicants who don’t meet certain requirements, examine those keywords and criteria. Are they so essential to the position that anyone without them should be immediately out of the running? Ask yourself if it’s possible a good candidate could be missing a skill or two. If the answer is yes, change those settings.
And as time-consuming as it would be to screen applicants without software, consider it. Candidates would be much more willing to tell the truth from the beginning if they knew a computer wouldn’t automatically weed them out.
Not all lies are created equal
So once you’ve caught a candidate in a lie … what do you do?
Obviously, some resume fibs are more serious than others. And Emily Parra, the HR practice leader at StratEx, a company that provides online HR and payroll management assistance, says it’s up to you to decide what to do.
Parra suggests focusing on what you really need out of the candidate. If they embellished on an unimportant aspect of the resume, but have the qualifications where it counts, it could be worth overlooking the lie.
Some lies should take the candidate out of the running immediately. Big things, like applicants lying about their education or positions they’ve had, clearly show they’re not trustworthy.