From foolish fibs to full-on fraud, lying on your résumé is one of the most common ways that people stretch the truth. But think twice before you ship off your next half-baked job application. Even if your moral compass doesn't keep you from deceit, the fact that human resources is on to the game should.
The percentage of people who lie to potential employers is substantial, says Sunny Bates, CEO of New York-based executive recruitment firm Sunny Bates Associates. She estimates that 40 per cent of all résumés aren't altogether aboveboard.
And this game of employment Russian roulette is getting riskier and riskier. Almost 40 per cent of human resources professionals surveyed last year by the Society for Human Resource Management reported they've increased the amount of time they spend checking references over the past three years.
"Résumés are marketing tools designed to do one thing: make the phone ring," says John Seraichyk, founder of the Barrett Group and co-founder of Executives Only, both Rhode Island-based recruiting firms. Once it does, you'd better be ready to back up your paper claims. Susan Vobjeda, vice president of marketing at Yahoo! HotJobs, warns that even a white lie can follow people throughout their career. Simply put: Don't do it, she says.
One of the most common résumé lies involves playing with dates to hide employment gaps. The reasons are myriad: hiding being fired, a period of job hopping or even an embarrassing prison stay. Some women stretch time lines because they fear it will be difficult to reenter the workplace after starting a family, says Seraichyk.
Even though it's one of the easiest items on a résumé to check, bogus college degree claims are also prevalent. John Challenger, chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based outplacement firm, says that not having a diploma is one of the things many applicants are most ashamed about.
Ask Dave Edmondson, the former chief executive of RadioShack. He resigned in February after questions arose about the accuracy of his résumé. According to media reports, his claim to have a degree in psychology from Pacific Coast Baptist College in California wasn't true. Nor was there evidence he received a degree in theology from the same unaccredited college, which in 1998 moved from California to Oklahoma City and was renamed Heartland Baptist Bible College.
Fear of ageism can lead to lies by omission. Older job seekers may fudge or leave off the year they received their degree, or lop off their early work history, to appear younger on paper, says Seraichyk. While it's easy to sympathize, it's also important to remember that the truth behind these lies will quickly become evident at the interview.
Another widespread set of tall tales is embellishment of experience and accomplishments, says Jenny Sullivan, a spokeswoman for Chicago-based CareerBuilder.com, a joint venture between The Tribune Co, Gannett and Knight Ridder. For example, a mediocre salesperson might claim she increased sales by 80 per cent, or a small-office sales director might say he managed 50 people, says Seraichyk.
Some job hunters will say they were paid a higher salary at a previous job in an attempt to get more money, says Sullivan. One particularly popular move is to combine one's salary and bonus. But employers are wising up. Todd Bermont, author of 10 Insider Secrets to a Winning Job Search, says it's becoming more common for companies and recruiters to ask for a recent pay stub or tax return. Imagine talking your way out of that.
Considering that a résumé is usually a single sheet of paper, there are surprisingly many opportunities for yarn-spinning. Recent college grads will raise their grade point averages or claim honors they didn't receive, says Bermont. And some people blur the line between familiarity and proficiency when it comes to technical expertise, such as knowledge of software programs, he says.
Even claims of language proficiency aren't immune. Sullivan says she knows of a candidate who claimed fluency in Spanish on his résumé. During an interview, when the hiring manager began speaking to him en español, the truth came out. He didn't know a word.
And in one case, a pre-op transsexual woman who called herself Charlene walked into the office of Mary Lou Nash, a Kansas City-based headhunter, who was surprised to meet a 6-foot-4 man whose given name was Charles. While not exactly a lie, surprising a potential employer with a detail like that might be risky.
So why do people do it? Why all the fiction? Simply put, in today's environment, where unemployment is low and people change jobs often, fear often leads to desperation, says Challenger.
But whether you get caught in the interview, on the job or years down the road, Bermont recommends heeding his mother's adage: "Whenever you tell the truth, you don't have to remember what you said."