Resume Trick or Treat

Here’s how recruiters and hiring managers sniff out resume facts from fiction.


As the days grow short, lies loom tall in the graveyard of tossed resumes. To save those job seekers who might be lured over to the dark side of spinning tales, we asked hiring managers to take some time from their crystal gazing and to share with us their divination skills. Here’s what they had to tell us about how they spot the web of lies tricksters spin on their resumes.

The Time Warp

Jillian Zavitz, programs manager for online English learning company, said that a red flag goes up when she sees dates that don’t add up or that conflict, as well as when dates reflect frequent job changes. Here’s an example of a resume gap that jumped off the page:

  • 1997 North Island College Ongoing Education Program, Courtenay, BC:
    I designed and taught a 3-evening course for adult learners on genealogical research, using archive and Internet resources. I created lesson plans and media to be used in my instruction.
  • Currently (2008 to present)
    Pacific Gateway International College, Victoria, BC: I have been employed part time as a conversation partner, assisting with verbal and written examinations. My job is to talk to students and put them at ease in order for them to demonstrate their language skills in a testing environment.

“The (11-year) gap couldn’t be explained,” Zavitz said. “I was expecting either traveling or stay-at-home mom, [but] I got nothing. Maybe they were in jail. I have no idea.”

The Social-Media Marauder

Cathleen Graham, who recruits in finance and communications in specialized areas for Silver Stirrup Consulting, said it’s easy as pie to suss out fact from fiction by checking backgrounds on Google, LinkedIn or other social media sites. “I recall one applicant who talked a great game, and in particular spoke with relish about his college experience,” she said. “Sadly, he was unaware my human resources coordinator attended that school…. [It turns out] he never even attended college.” As a matter of practice, Graham goes beyond a candidate’s preordained references to seek out individuals who have worked with the individual and, on a confidential basis, asks them about their experience.

The Mirage

There are resumes from people who are just too good to be true. “The most telltale sign is when they mention something really impressive,” Zavitz said, particularly when it reflects exactly what she’s looking for: overseas experience (in a Middle Eastern country), experience using the company’s online platform and a preference for working the graveyard shift. “These people are nonexistent,” she said.


Career Advice from Ladders

Some job seekers “dive into a thesaurus and pepper their resume with adjectives to make them appear capable of producing more than they are actually capable of delivering,” said David Muir Jr., founder of the Prepare To Be Hired program. Others flat-out lie, like the applicants who graduate from a four-year degree program and become a CEO or vice-president in two to five years. “Does that seem off?” Muir asked. “It does for many employers, and I know in my experience I will quickly disregard candidates whose resumes don’t make sense.” He suggested that job seekers explain their expertise in plain, simple terms, using the language appropriate to their industry. And tell the truth.

The Google Ghost

If you’re going to claim something bright and shiny, and you know it’s not true, don’t dare them to investigate the assertation. Zavitz gave this example from a resume: “My primary job overseas was teaching English for seven years and I am still currently a teacher online for one of the largest online English and business tutoring companies in Taiwan. If you were to Google my name you would find that I am rated from feedback from the students #4 out of approximately 250 consultants worldwide.” When Zavitz Googled him, however, he didn’t show up at all.

Brrrr. Spooky.