Lying on Your Resume: How Far to Stretch the Truth

The risk is high for job seekers who try to slip fake master’s degrees, phony salaries and exaggerated titles into their resume and job interview.


Thinking of padding your resume to increase your chance of landing a job in this weak economy?

Think again. History is littered with names such as these: George O’Leary, former football coach for Notre Dame, fired in 2001 after only five days on the job for lying on his resume about a master’s degree he never earned and an exaggerated position on the University of New Hampshire football team. Sandra Baldwin, former president of the United States Olympic Committee, who resigned in 2002 when a reporter revealed she never earned the doctoral degree she claimed on her resume.

Many job seekers are tempted to stretch the truth on their resumes, claiming degrees that they never completed, job responsibilities that are questionable and additional years of tenure they pull from thin air.

A June survey of business owners by online payroll provider Sure Payroll shows just how common the practice is:

  • 21 percent of respondents reported hiring dishonest employees
  • 47 percent of respondents say the hiring mistake was caused by a job seeker who lied in an interview.
  • 79 percent said they had hired employees with mismatched skill sets or who displayed underperformance on the job, despite the claims made on their resume

For the hiring company, the mistake can be expensive: Forty-eight percent of business owners told Sure Payroll those bad hires cost them more than $1,000, and 9 percent said losses exceeded $10,000.

For a job seeker, a deceitful or exaggerated resume can devastate his chances of getting hired or staying hired, since every detail on a resume can (and likely will) be verified.

Prepare to be investigated

How likely is it that your resume, job application and credentials will be reviewed for inaccuracies? Nearly 100 percent, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Ninety-six percent of human resources professionals reported that their organization conducts some form of background check on every employee, according to SHRM’s 2004 Reference and Background Checking survey.

For some candidates, it doesn’t take much more than a Google search on the applicant’s name to find out the truth, said Jacqueline Hudson, a senior account executive at executive-search firm Renascent Group LLC of Fair Haven, N.J.

“You put somebody’s name in and Google it, and it pulls up a lot of relevant information, both good and bad,” she said. “Articles published, what professional groups they’re in, articles written about their [employers] and how a candidate is involved.”

Beyond that, most recruiters check references at every company you list to verify your duties, tenure, salary, even your W2, she said.

Their findings include the most damning documentation, including police reports, articles about misconduct and more. All that information is shared with the recruiters’ hiring manager.

“It’s difficult in these days for a job seeker to hide that information,” Hudson said. “Something like that will come up in the end.”

If a candidate has been interviewed and a falsification is uncovered, it “wastes everybody’s time,” she said, given that 99 percent of the time “the client won’t start over” with the fibbing candidate.

Stretching the truth

More often than not, a dishonest resume is not an outright lie but a truth stretched too far, Hudson said.

Besides exaggerating salary, many candidates will exaggerate their experience, responsibilities and duties. For example, candidates who want to get into marketing but who have experience in sales will often puff up their resume to make it appear that they have much more marketing experience than they actually do, Hudson said. Stretching the truth in this way isn’t necessarily fraudulent, but it’s a waste of time, she said. HR pros and recruiters will get to the truth at some point, and you will likely be disqualified from consideration for the job.

“It’s really critical to be upfront and honest with the recruiter always,” she said. “They’re the person representing you to a client. If they don’t have your full information, they can’t represent you to their best ability.”

Before they reach the point where they’re stretching the truth, Hudson recommends job seekers to focus carefully on the positions for which they apply, making sure a given job is a good fit all the way around, not just because it’s at the director level, for example.

If it’s a good fit, as it should be, there’s just no reason to stretch the truth, she said: Your real qualifications will speak for themselves.