Business Management / Human Resources

Lying on a resume: tips for catching dishonest candidates

Max Woolf

Updated: Dec 13, 2023 · 5 min read

Toolkit for download in this article

If you’ve been in the recruitment and hiring business for a while, you know that some job seekers tend to sugarcoat items on a resume. For example, they add skills they don’t particularly excel at, stretch employment dates, or even lie about past duties to get a seal of approval from an applicant tracking system (ATS).

But how often does it happen? Turns out, it’s more prevalent than you’d expect.

At ResumeLab, we recently surveyed over 1,000 people looking to answer the above question and more. We wanted to know why people lie and what leads them to such decisions.

Lies abound

Let me preface this section of the blog by noting that it isn't illegal to lie on a resume, cover letter, or job application. That's because they aren't considered legal documents, so job seekers usually can't get prosecuted for lying on them. That's why, according to our findings, 56% of job seekers lie on their resume.

So, what are the most common lies about?

  • Job experience (25%)
  • Job duties (21%)
  • Employment dates (16%)
  • Skills (15%)
  • Salary (10%)

When we asked respondents about whether or not they knew a person who lied on their resume, an overwhelming 93% said yes.

So, why do job seekers lie?

  • I was unemployed for a long time (37%)
  • I thought I'd get away with it (18%)
  • I wanted to get a higher salary for my position (18%)
  • I didn't have the skills and experience necessary for the job (17%)

Desperate times call for desperate measures. People want to land a job as soon as possible because often their quality of life depends on it.

Another explanation for lying on a resume could be that job seekers don’t think they’ll get caught. Sadly, they're right. Based on our data, only 31% of those who lied on a resume were caught. Of those individuals who were caught, 65% were either not hired or fired.

Untangling a web of lies

In an effort to land a job, people are willing to stretch the truth, and most of them are confident they won't get caught.

The question is—what steps can recruiters and hiring managers take to avoid being stung by dishonest candidates in the recruitment process?

Read on to find out.

Run robust background check on potential hires

Backchanneling job candidates is the perfect place to start.

To prevent any hiring mishaps:

  • Make sure the candidate's resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile match, story-wise.
  • Call the candidate's previous employers and provided references to double-check their dates of employment, critical job responsibilities, and job titles (the most common lies revolve around those.)

Test prospective hire's skills

You may have noticed that some job candidates put progress bars next to each of their skills on a resume. Problem? Being 64% efficient in SEO doesn't tell you much about whether or not the potential hire will be able to get the job done.

Thus, it's essential to gauge applicants' competency with a variety of tools.

Pre-employment skills assessment tests

These help evaluate a candidate's hard skills (keyword research, copyediting, etc.) and provide you with a robust picture of the person's talent levels.

For instance, if you're looking to hire a content writer, ask the candidate to write an article on a topic similar to the one they'd mostly write about if they got the job and gauge if their writing skills are on par with your requirements.

SHL assessment

It's online psychometric testing that lets you filter out applicants that don't meet the minimum technical ability levels needed for a specific role. SHL tests include numerical reasoning, inductive reasoning, verbal reasoning, and mechanical reasoning.

Probing interview questions

These are strategically composed questions that help assess the candidate's hard and soft skills. What's great about probing interview questions is that they help recruiters unearth the person's work experiences and see how they tackled real-life situations in the workplace.

Below are three examples of probing interview questions:

  • Tell me about a time when you had to collaborate with a coworker who was difficult to work with (gauges teamwork)
  • Tell me about a time you walked the extra mile at work (gauges commitment)
  • How would you go about performing keyword research if you were tasked to write an article for our blog? (gauges technical knowledge)

Pro tip: Introduce repercussions for dishonesty in the employment contract. It'll help you avoid legal trouble and lawfully fire the person if you discover the deceit after the contract has been signed.

About the author

Max Woolf is a career expert at ResumeLab. He’s passionate about helping people land their dream jobs through the expert career industry coverage. In his spare time, Max enjoys biking and traveling to European countries. You can hit him up on LinkedIn.

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