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This Is How To Spot A Lie On A Resume

More people than you think lie on their resumes. Here are six tell-tale signs a candidate has stretched the truth.

This Is How To Spot A Lie On A Resume
[Source photo: DadoPhotos/iStock]

People are lying more on their resumes.

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New research from Robert Half’s OfficeTeam found that nearly half of survey respondents knew someone who had lied on a resume—a 25% increase over the company’s 2011 survey.

But how do you know? It can be tough to spot falsehoods right off the bat, but if you know what to look for, you can spot clues in inconsistencies or questionable assertions, says attorney and career branding expert Wendi M. Weiner, a board member of the National Resume Writers’ Association.

Here are six red flags that a resume statement could be a lie and needs verification.

Date Discrepancies

When start and end dates are listed as year-to-year instead of including the month and year, the candidate could be trying to hide job gaps or make previous employment seem longer than it was, says HR expert Matthew Burr, founder of Burr Consulting, LLC, a human resources consultancy. He’s also seen situations where start and end dates didn’t align properly.

While such fudging might not be an outright lie, it’s probably “an area that you’re going to want to dig into,” Burr says. It may be a mistake, or they may be trying to mislead you. It’s a good idea to find out, he says.

Lack Of Degree Specification

Education is another area where people often embellish or lie, Weiner says. While some people boldly state that they went to a school they didn’t attend, others are misleading in more subtle ways.

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One tell-tale sign is that the individual doesn’t put the type of degree earned, she says. When they just say they earned a bachelor’s degree instead of a bachelor of science (BS) or bachelor of fine arts (BFA), ask more questions, she says. “I’ll say, ‘Did you get a bachelor’s degree?’ They’ll say, ‘Yeah. I was 10 or 12 credits short.’ I would rather they put in the resume, ‘Completed 110 credits toward bachelor’s degree.’ You’re being honest that you have completed coursework toward it or a certain amount, but not saying that you’ve got a degree when you haven’t,” she says.

Short Stints At Big Names

Odd wording can also be an indicator that something is amiss, Weiner says. Sometimes, people who have worked as contractors or through intermediary firms, such as staffing agencies, for large firms will cut out the middleman information and say they worked for the big firm, she says.

“I’ve seen young lawyers put that they were a contract attorney for a top 100 firm, but they actually weren’t employed by the firm as a contract attorney. They were employed by [an intermediary firm] who is really the true employer that has assigned this young attorney to a project to work at the big firm. What happens is by putting that you are a contract attorney for the actual named law firm, you’re lying,” she says. These out-of-the-blue stints with big-name firms should trigger some questions, she says.

Big Jumps

Similarly, if a candidate has a big jump on his or her resume—for example, from administrative assistant to manager—in a short period of time at one firm or between two jobs, Burr says it’s a good idea to investigate. “I’m not saying it’s not possible to do that, but it’s a red flag,” he says. People give themselves the title they feel they deserve on their resume, instead of the actual title they had.

Odd Job Descriptions

The OfficeTeam survey found that job experience (76%) and duties (55%) were cited as the areas that are most frequently embellished. When you see “vague descriptions of skills or skills that aren’t consistent with the job duties or job title,” you might be seeing that hyperbole in action, says OfficeTeam district president Brandi Britton.

If the candidate gets to the interview stage, ask specific questions about job title and responsibilities—and be sure to check references to verify information, she says. “A lot of times, when you dig into skills, you find out that they’ve just been exposed to it—they took a class or got a booklet on it,” she says.

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Too Much “I”

Burr also balks at resumes that uses the pronoun “I” instead of “we” too much. If the candidate is taking too much credit or claims responsibility individually for something that was clearly a team effort, he wants to know more about what the person’s actual role was in the accomplishment.

Resume embellishment can range from minor overstatements to outright fabrication of credentials. But should you treat every untruth or embellishment the same? Weiner says you should review them on a case-by-case basis. It’s one thing to omit the month that you left a job to hide the three-week nightmare job that you left abruptly. It’s another thing to willfully include false dates, employers, or degrees.

“It’s the outright lying where you’re clearly not even stretching the truth anymore, but it’s really a misrepresentation of that information is where it’s problematic,” she says.

About the author

Gwen Moran writes about business, money and assorted other topics for leading publications and web sites. She was named a Small Business Influencer Awards Top 100 Champion in 2015, 2014, and 2012 and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010), and several other books.

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