Why you should care
Because if you get caught lying on your résumé, you can kiss that job goodbye.
After 28 years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the dean of admissions, Marilee Jones, submitted her resignation in 2007. The day before, it had come out that Jones fabricated her education credentials on her résumé when she first applied for a job at the school in 1979. She claimed to have degrees from three upstate New York universities, when in fact she didn’t have a college degree at all.
Ironically, Jones spent her career urging adolescents to chill out about college admissions. She often told MIT hopefuls they didn’t need perfect SAT scores to get accepted, and she even co-wrote a book about it, Less Stress, More Success: A New Approach to Guiding Your Teen Through College Admissions and Beyond.
It’s clear Jones didn’t want the next generation to experience what she had gone through decades earlier: the intense pressure to look exceptional on paper. But according to a recent survey by HireRight, an employee background screening company, many job candidates still feel the need to shine.
HireRight surveyed 6,000 human resource professionals and discovered 84 percent have found a lie on a résumé. That number is up from 66 percent in 2012. The most common fib? Their level of education. After performing background checks on job applicants, 23 percent of HR professionals have found a misrepresentation of education credentials on a résumé. This was true no matter the level of job — candidates lied across the board, from entry-level positions to C-suite gigs.
The 2018 U.S.-based survey was the largest of its kind and included HR and recruiting professionals from small, medium and large firms in more than 18 industries, with transportation, health care and manufacturing among the largest sectors represented. But employment site CareerBuilder, in a 2017 study of 2,500 HR managers, found similar results: 75 percent of the interviewees said they had spotted lies on a résumé.
The 84 percent stat didn’t surprise Cat Aldrich, vice president of operations at HireRight, who has watched that number slowly increase in recent years. It’s clear to Aldrich that job candidates still feel compelled to bolster their credentials, “but what they don’t realize is that it backfires,” she warns. Even a small fib, like your proficiency at Microsoft Excel or your previous title, can cause an employer to question your integrity.
If a candidate has typos, I weed them out right away.
Dawn Hirsch, chief human resources officer, HireRight
But your troubles may not end there. In tips to job applicants, HR firm Mighty Recruiter cautions that fibbing on your a résumé could also hurt an employee’s chances if they wish to take legal action against their employers, once terminated for lying. Even if the employee believes they’ve been victimized because of their ethnicity or gender, for instance, the employer can argue that they wouldn’t have made the hire in the first place had they been honest.
Understanding the full scope of résumé lying is important for companies, says Aldrich, because candidates who falsify their credentials may not be capable of doing the job they were hired for. “That can drive things like employee engagement and attrition levels,” she says, which can affect a company’s financials as well as its culture.
People also tend to lie about their salary history to secure higher compensation, and dates of employment to cover up gaps. Many candidates who lie on their résumé assume they won’t get caught, but when HireRight does a background check, they contact every school listed to verify degree, dates of attendance and major. In 2018, it’s also easy for a hiring manager to do a quick Google search or some social media sleuthing and catch you in the act.
So beware: Just 12 percent of hiring managers say they will call a dishonest candidate back, fully knowing the job seeker stretched the truth.
What can be done to beef up your résumé without lying? Dawn Hirsch, chief human resources officer at HireRight, has some top tips for standing out:
Frame your responsibilities at previous positions in a way most relevant to what you’re applying for, and be as detailed as possible.
Proofread to eliminate all grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors. “If a candidate has typos, I weed them out right away,” Hirsch says.
Limit your résumé to one page, especially recent grads, and make sure it’s clear and concise.
Also keep in mind that frequent job changes or a gap in employment isn’t a deal breaker. It’s common for young people to seek out new jobs every few years, not only for a higher salary but also for more opportunity, says Hirsch. “Job-hopping is much less stigmatized today.”
Time off between jobs isn’t always a bad sign either. Employers are recognizing that candidates might take a break from work to spend time with family or to travel, not just because they can’t get hired anywhere.
But most important? “Be honest and direct,” Hirsch says. HR appreciates honesty more than a perfect résumé.