It may seem harmless to lie about your experience or inflate your job title on your resume, but if you do, you run the risk of being called out by future employers. Unfortunately, due to recent data released, lying during the job application process has become standard. 

ResumeLab’s Job Applicant Behavior Survey of 1,900 workers in August 2023 has some pretty surprising revelations:

  • 70% of workers said they have lied on their resumes with 37% admitting that they lie frequently.
  • Three-quarters lied on their cover letters.
  • 80% lied during the job interview.
  • Those with higher education degrees (master’s or doctoral) appear to lie more frequently. At least 85% reported they have lied on their resumes and 90% were untruthful on their cover letters. 

The top five lies job seekers tell on their resumes:

  • Embellishing responsibilities (52%)
  • Job title (52%)
  • How many people they managed (45%)
  • Length of employment at a job (37%)
  •  Name of the employer (31%)

I believe the lying happens more in junior roles rather than the executives I work with here at JMA. But over my career of writing professional resumes for more than 20 years, I have seen resumes that are more fiction than fact happen at all levels. 

Embellishing Education and Experience

A separate survey by Resume Builder shows that education and experience are the two areas in the resume people lie about the most, and I would agree with that assessment. 

I have seen people change their major or even the name of the institute they attended, but it is rare that these are outright lies. Instead, it is usually a case of embellishing for the sake of sounding better to potential employers. For example, someone may say they have completed a program when they completed 90% of it but missed the last class for some reason. 

In that situation, I recommend being truthful with the percentage of the completion rate. However, we can still list the degree and school on the resume so that when the resume goes through the Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), it would show up for both the institution and degree. 

There is no question potential employers will check up on these facts through background checks, so you are better off being transparent rather than lying. Human Resources staff talk among one another, so you do not want to risk being banned in your industry if they find out you have lied on your resume. Even worse, if you do secure the position, you could be facing termination because of the lies. 

As far as experience, it is hard to lie on the type of resume we produce here at JMA. That is because we focus on quantifiable achievements related to roles. The applicant would at a minimum have to know what experience would be relevant to the role as that would certainly come up in the job interview conversation. 

I see this more with people trying to fudge “placeholders” in their resume because they want to hide an employment gap. For example, if someone said they spent six months between positions consulting, I would ask them to provide examples of engagements, the sizes of the organizations they worked with and quantifiable achievements in each contract assignment. It is difficult to lie when they must provide so many details that will eventually be woven into the resume. 

Employment gaps are prevalent, and when explained transparently, most employers are empathetic rather than viewing them negatively. You can offset these gaps by highlighting how you proactively enhanced your career during periods of non-employment. This might involve highlighting courses or certifications you pursued during those times.

Caught in a Lie

Because I ask very specific questions during a resume consultation, I can usually tell if someone is lying pretty quickly. They normally try to justify how the lie was relevant with the position they were in, so I redirect them to provide additional information that can be used in the resume instead. 

One client I worked with once simply made up a new job title. When I called him out on it, he said his organization did not use titles like other organizations, which is understandable. However, lying about job titles is problematic because it is so easily discovered. All I had to do was look at his LinkedIn profile to see what his true title was. There’s not much lying happening on that platform because employers can easily see your LinkedIn profile. 

I see these “title fibs” more than anything else when I collaborate with executives. I have had people tell me that even though their job title is Finance Manager, they work at a level of a Vice President of Finance. That may very well be true, but potential employers will confirm your employment with your current employer with the title they have on file. If those do not match, you will not be a match for them. 

The solution to this is to be straightforward with your job title but then build out an explanation of the level of your leadership within the job description. We shift the focus to experience that can be related to the job you are applying for and the transferable skills you offer. 

Salary Subterfuge

There are so many laws surrounding salary disclosure and verification these days, it is not really considered a resume problem. But lying about salary could easily happen during a job interview. Candidates may inflate their current or previous salaries in an attempt to negotiate a higher offer from the prospective employer. Conversely, they may understate their current earnings to appear more affordable or in line with the company’s budget. But those laws and regulations regarding salary information should discourage candidates from falsifying salary information. 

Too Good to Be True

It has only happened a couple of times in my career, but there have been a few clients who I have refused to work with because I do not want my name attached to their resume. One said she was a Harvard graduate but after filling out the initial worksheet, I could tell her answers were just too good to be true. She claimed to be an angel investor and for a recent graduate, her positions seemed inflated. I told her we were not a good fit to work together. 

Copy and Paste Game

I have seen candidates copy and paste the employer’s job description straight into the experience section of their resumes. I have seen identical branding statements and even cover letters taken from online samples where the candidate forgot to change the name from the sample to their own name.  

Related: Why Your Resume Deserves More than ChatGPT

AI Resumes

Another survey reported in HRO Today polled over 2,100 Americans about lying on resumes and reveals some confliction about AI assistance:

  • Nearly three-quarters (72%) say they would consider using AI in 2024 to help lie on their resume.
  • More than half (52%) say they would consider using apps that generate answers to interview questions. 
  • However more than half (57%) say that using AI to answer interview questions would be considered dishonest. 

The addition of AI to the scanning systems has complicated things. It is no longer about keywords on a resume. Now the AI systems have added the elements of patterns in your employment, education and your professional life and they are able to compare it to their high performance employees. By pairing them side by side, they can see who the better candidate would be when compared to their top achievers. So, it is not only the keywords that have to get through to the gatekeeper now. Instead, my job as a professional resume writer is to ensure your professional history is aligned with the types of employees the employer wants to consider. 

That means more research for me to ensure that your resume is full of achievements that are in alignment with the AI systems so that you are considered for the position. It’s about making sure your brand is accurate and appealing, and it’s another reason why you should think twice about writing your own resume

Today’s job market is a competitive one so it might be tempting to lie on your resume, but it is not worth the consequences. When you work with a professional resume writer, you can be sure your qualifications, experience and education are displayed accurately and in the best light possible to make you stand out as a star among a sea of applicants. 

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