Lying on Your Resume: Why It Won't Work

More job seekers are lying on resumes, so companies have increased scrutiny.

September 9, 2008, 6:15 PM

June 24, 2010 — -- By now, you've probably heard about Adam Wheeler, the 23-year-old accused of faking his way into Harvard with falsified transcripts and test scores.

Ditto for Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat running for U.S. Senate who recently was outed by the New York Times for having fabricated his supposed combat experience during the Vietnam War. (Although Blumenthal did join the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve in 1970, he never served in Vietnam.)

Then there's U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who's running for the Senate. He, too, has been accused of exaggerating his military record, claiming an award he never received and combat duty in Iraq he never served.

But how many of you have heard of Andrea, the accountant who lied about that Ivy League college degree, or Mark, the model who didn't actually pose for a two-page spread in Men's Health?

Little surprise, fudging a resume is not just the domain of cunning careerists and slick politicians.

Nancy Keene, a director in the Dallas office of global executive search firm Stanton Chase, sees this sort of resume fakery all the time.

Typical example: While doing background checks on candidates for a chief financial officer position with a large, high-profile organization -- a position that required a current Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license -- Keene discovered a blatant fib on the bio of one "very strong finalist."

"Not only is her CPA [license] not current, it has been revoked," Keene said. "Someone who was a finalist for a CFO search!"

Needless to say, the candidate did not get the job.

My inbox runneth over with recruiters across the country sharing similar tales of job seekers -- entry-level workers and executives alike -- embellishing their resumes with everything from contrived college degrees or manufactured military service to trumped up job titles and responsibilities.

Now that a new class of college grads has hit the job market, I thought we should revisit the age-old topic of faked resumes and concocted credentials.

Perhaps BS-ing about your B.A. or blowing smoke about your last promotion is the career strategy of the week. But is embellishing your academic or employment history really required in today's work world? Or it is a recipe for landing your application in the "delete" folder? And just how much C.V. puffery can a person get away with?

'But ... Everyone's Doing It!'

In a 2008 survey, 8 percent of 8,785 U.S. workers polled said they had fudged some aspect of their resume. Of the 3,169 U.S. employers polled in the same survey, 49 percent said they'd discovered an applicant stretching the truth on their resume.

Unfortunately, the "Everyone does it!" argument doesn't hold water: 57 percent of employers who found a candidate fibbing on their resume told CareerBuilder they couldn't drop the applicant fast enough.

"Lying on a resume or in an interview is the kiss of death," Keene said. "Why would I present someone like that to a client who is counting on me to present the very best talent for the perfect fit?"

Sure, career advisors and interview coaches harp on the necessity of looking good on paper. But there's a difference between smart marketing and revisionist history.

"It is never OK to misrepresent yourself," said Cathleen Faerber, managing director of The Wellesley Group, Inc., an executive search firm in Buffalo Grove, Ill. "If you have a gap in employment, show the gap. If you didn't complete your course requirements, so you attended, but don't claim a degree."

Likewise, if you never worked on the Hilton account, never held the title of "manager" or never received the Employee of the Year award, don't pretend otherwise.

Tampa-based employment attorney Ed Carlstedt, who's a shareholder with law firm Trenam Kemker, agrees.

"We don't have much tolerance for any fudging," said Carlstedt, who's screened many a recent grad for a position at his firm.

"If someone's got a 3.39 GPA and they bump it to a 3.4, that won't cost the job but it will certainly raise an eyebrow. But if a resume says they have 3.6 and the transcript says 3.3, that's inexcusable."

How Firms Ferret Out the Fibbers

I know what some of you are thinking: "Yeah, how many firms actually check? Who's going to know?"

Anyone with a phone, a computer and a halfway decent BS detector -- that's who.

"A lot of job seekers don't realize that companies do check," said Ron Colaiuti, president of Royce Ashland Group, Inc., a recruiting firm in Monroe Township, N.J.

"Someone will say, 'I worked at Company XYZ from 2000 to 2008,' and then you go on a social media site and it says something different. Out of every 10 candidates, one is lying. One at least. I've been doing this 34 years and I have never encountered so much of this."

Because Colaiuti and his team of recruiters have seen more job hunters "exaggerating, fabricating and outright lying on their resume" since the recession began, his firm has (a) ramped up its reference checks, (b) turned up the scrutiny during candidate phone screens and (c) developed a sixth sense for detecting baloney.

Many other recruiters and hiring managers I spoke to echoed similar sentiments.

"If someone thinks they should put down, "Led the XYZ project; saved X percent," they should expect a question about their leadership style, how they dealt with people who didn't do their work and how the savings were calculated," said Kelley Rexroad, an HR consultant based in Tampa. "If the applicant was just a member of the team, it will show."

But recruiters with a finely tuned BS detector aren't the only ones foiling resume fibbers. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, a majority of employers now run background checks on their applicants. And if you think these searches on your employment and criminal history won't turn up any details you're trying to hide, you're wrong.

"You won't believe what our searches turn up every day," said Joel Goldberg, a spokesperson for Aurico Reports, Inc., a background screening firm based in Arlington Heights, Ill. "Convicted thieves apply for bank jobs. Convicted rapists apply for work in largely female offices."

In fact, Goldberg said, out of the hundreds of thousands of resume checks the firm has performed, "a good one-third have a pretty significant lie." And by "pretty significant," he means fabricated references, salary history, job title, job duties, duration of employment and reason for leaving a company.

Moral of the story: The days of embellishing your bio, resume or online profile with those little whites lie are over. Thanks to the hyper-competitive job market, employers are simply too picky and too skittish to gloss over them.

Instead, let your honesty speak for itself. With so much of the competition relying on resume fibs, your integrity alone will stand out from the crowd.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michelle Goodman is a freelance writer and former cubicle dweller. Her books include "My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube." Follow her at @anti9to5guide.

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