Lying on Your Resume? Here’s How You’ll Get Caught

Disney's Pinocchio

Don’t get caught in a lie. | Disney

Honesty isn’t the best policy, at least according to some job seekers. People often stretch the truth on their resumes and cover letters in an attempt to land work, new research by OfficeTeam has revealed.

Nearly half of workers surveyed by the staffing company say they know someone who lied on their resume. That’s a 25% increase from 2011. Fifty-three percent of managers have a sneaking suspicion that candidates are often dishonest, and 38% have said no to an applicant after discovering their lies.

Employers are clearly clued in to the fact that some applicants are either exaggerating their experience or handing over resumes that are more fiction than fact. But that doesn’t appear to stop some people from telling a few whoppers as they attempt to weasel their way into a job. Giving in to the temptation to lie when applying for a job is risky though. You could miss out on a job offer, damage your reputation, or even get fired once your fibs are revealed.

Plus, it’s easier than ever for a hiring manager to discover you’re not telling the truth about your past. Here are 10 ways employers discover the truth behind your resume lies.

1. Your alma mater can’t confirm you graduated

Claiming to be a Harvard graduate when you really have a degree from a no-name state school is one of the worst things you can lie about on your resume, according to hiring managers surveyed by Hloom. And while some employers will take you at your word when you say you went to a fancy school, others will check on your educational background by calling the school directly or using a service, such as the National Student Clearinghouse.

Sometimes, it’s interested third parties who clue an employer into a lie, such as the student journalists at a Kansas high school who discovered their new principal had inflated her educational credentials.

Next: Failing the skills test

2. You can’t pass a skills test

Lack of the skills described is one of the easiest ways to get caught. | iStock.com

It’s easy to say you’re proficient in everything, from conversational French to coding, on your resume. But proving you actually have those skills is another thing entirely. Employers realize how simple it is for people to exaggerate their skill set, so don’t be surprised if you’re asked to demonstrate your talents.

An interviewer might ask you a question in the language you claim to be fluent in or give you an on-the-spot quiz. Failing such a basic test is a sure sign that you’ve either stretched the truth or overestimated your abilities, both of which are likely to take you out of the running for a job.

Next: Fuzzy dates  

3. Dates don’t add up

Calendar page

Double check your dates. | iStock.com/toeytoey2530

Roughly a quarter of resume liars are fibbing about their employment dates, according to OfficeTeam. If you’re tempted to cover up a resume gap by fudging employment dates, don’t do it. A quick call to your past employer is all it takes for someone to find out that you got laid off back in January, not June.

Trying to cover a gap by listing your job history by year, rather than month and year, is also suspicious and might prompt a hiring manager to do some further digging. If you’re worried about a resume gap making you look like a slacker, fill it with volunteering or consulting work, not lies.

Next: Resume mismatch  

4. Your resume and cover letter don’t match

resume crumpled in cyan background

Too many people think resumes are all that count. | iStock.com/ragsac

A sparkling, error-free resume paired with a messy cover letter is a red flag that a candidate is not being totally honest. Such a discrepancy suggests you got a helping hand with your C.V. or maybe even stole another person’s work history to pass off as your own. Being unable to recall key details of your past experience and jobs during an interview is another huge giveaway that you’ve fabricated your past employment.

Next: Inflated job titles  

5. Your job titles are too good to be true

Business Team Busy Working Talking

Most people have to work their way up. | iStock.com/Rawpixel

Two years out of college and already sitting in the C-suite? Expect an interviewer to ask some pointed questions about your responsibilities to make sure you’re actually telling the truth about your title. Inflated job titles will also come to light if the prospective employer calls your ex-boss to confirm your past employment. That’s when the promotion you gave yourself from marketing intern to senior marketing manager is going to be revealed.

Next: Being vague about your skills  

6. You’re vague about your skills and experience

Embellishing is lying. | iStock.com/Imtmphoto

Job candidates might stretch the truth by using vague terms to describe their skills and experience. Perhaps they reason that as long as they’re not spouting an outright lie, it’s OK. But savvy interviewers will spot people who aren’t quite as knowledgeable as they initially appear. “Using ambiguous phrases like ‘familiar with’ or ‘involved in’ could mean the candidate is trying to cover up a lack of direct experience,” noted OfficeTeam. In other words, claiming to be familiar with event planning because you sometimes pick up doughnuts for the weekly staff meeting isn’t going to fly.

Next: The truth about body language  

7. Your body language betrays you

candidate in a job interview

Your body language gives you away. | iStock.com

You might think you’re an impeccable liar. But subtle body language cues in the interview could be giving away your resume lies. “A lack of eye contact or constant fidgeting may suggest dishonesty,” noted OfficeTeam, though those behaviors aren’t guarantees of dishonesty.

Touching your nose, looking down when you’re answering a question, and turning your body away from the interviewer are other ways you might inadvertently signal that you’re not telling the truth, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Next: Truth-telling references  

8. Your references don’t back you up

Angry woman calling custom service

A reference might not be in on your lies. | iStock.com/AntonioGuillem

If you’re a skilled liar, you might get away with embellishing your skills or past responsibilities in an interview or on your resume. But you won’t necessarily be able to count on your references to back you up. An honest reference will reveal the real extent of your job responsibilities or the truth about your so-called accomplishments.

Even if you find a reference willing to go along with your charade, the interviewer might do some extra digging on their own, reaching out to mutual connections or independently contacting your old boss or co-workers to find out what you’re really like. And remember, there are no laws restricting what an ex-employer can say about you, despite what some job seekers might think.

Next: You can’t hide from Google . 

9. A Google search reveals the truth

Google website on smartphone screen

These days it’s so easy to find out everything you need to know. | iStock.com/dolphfyn

Seventy percent of employers snoop on candidates before offering them a job. You better hope that what HR finds on social media or as part of a basic Google search matches what you have on your resume. Of employers who decide not to hire someone after researching them online, 27% did so because they discovered the candidate had lied about their qualifications, CareerBuilder found. A little Nancy Drew-style sleuthing is all it takes to discover that your alma mater is a diploma mill or that the company you claimed to work for last year went out of business a decade ago.

Next: Beware the background check.

10. The employer conducts a background check

Employers prefer to offer jobs to those who don’t lie. | Getty Images

Not all employers conduct formal background checks. But if you encounter one that does, it will sink you if you’re being untruthful. If a prospective employer conducts a background check and discovers you’ve lied (either directly or by omission) about your work history, criminal past, education, professional certifications, or other key facts, don’t expect a job offer.

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