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What’s the actual risk of telling a little white lie on your résumé?

Even if it’s not totally honest, lots of people alter a detail or two on their résumé. But what’s the potential impact?

What’s the actual risk of telling a little white lie on your résumé?
[Source photo: Sam Lion/Pexels]
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The truth is out: A 2020 ResumeLab study shows that a majority of job seekers fudge a detail or two on their résumés. Thirty-six percent of those surveyed confess to outright lying, and still others admitted to stretching the truth, bringing the grand total of résumé fraudsters to 56%.

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If you are a recruiter or hiring manager you may well have seen a résumé that has this touch of “creativity.” In fact, a full 93% of people surveyed in this same study said they knew someone who had lied on their résumé.

Let’s look at what constitutes a lie, why people do it, and what the consequences are if you’re caught.

WHAT CONSTITUTES A “LITTLE WHITE LIE” ON A RÉSUMÉ?

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There are several common ways job applicants “enhance” their résumés, convinced such statements will improve their chances of landing the job.

The most common lies are in work experience. That might mean taking full credit for a project others worked on or overstating sales figures. Alternatively, applicants often claim skills they don’t have, such as language proficiency, or they misrepresent job responsibilities.

Another form of white lie is literally that: Using white fonts in the blank areas of the résumé. This strategy is designed to fool the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and get you beyond the software that 90% of companies use.  The white font presents keywords and inflated credentials that the job seeker assumes only the software can read.

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WHY DO PEOPLE LIE ON THEIR RÉSUMÉS?

These lapses occur for several reasons. For one, the market has become much more competitive. The most common explanation given for lying is that the candidate “was unemployed for a long period of time.” With the job market so competitive, applicants may feel they don’t have a chance at the brass ring unless their submission has everything the hiring company is looking for.

A second reason for lying is that the ATS looks for specific words from each job seeker, and if you don’t have those words in your job history, well, make them up on your résumé. So candidates try to beat the bot at its own game. They throw in keywords even if they’re not quite true.

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Third, many candidates feel the job search process has become so impersonal that they lack any connection with the employer. Many companies don’t even acknowledge applications, distancing the candidate and making that person more comfortable with lying.

Finally, everywhere a candidate turns, there are words, phrases, and entire résumés that are there for the taking. The internet offers up sample résumés, job descriptions, and language to use. Career consultants and résumé writers can be hired to create a killer résumé. For some, the authentic voice of the applicant and incentive to tell the truth disappears.

All this does not excuse the lying, of course, but it does explain why it has become so pervasive.

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WHAT IF THE PROSPECTIVE EMPLOYER FINDS OUT?

There’s a good chance you won’t get caught. According to the ResumeLab study, only 31% of résumé cheaters are caught, and of these just 65% are not hired, or they’re fired once the employer finds they’ve hired a cheater. That means only 21% of people who lied on a résumé actually lose out on a job.

But if a candidate is caught at this stage or later, he or she can kiss future job prospects at that company goodbye. The ATS identifies that person as a “do not hire.” Even if the job seeker gets by that first round, there are many more steps to landing the job, and the scrutiny only gets tighter.

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Some candidates are found out by recruiters who read the “hidden” white fonts on a résumé. All it takes is a recruiter selecting all and changing the font to black. The secret will be out.

Others who stretch the truth are caught by recruiters or hiring managers who search the candidate’s social media sites and find discrepancies. So make sure your social media profile lines up with your résumé profile, and that everything is truthful.

Cheating can also be discovered during interviews. I know one search executive who interviewed a candidate for a top finance job. The candidate had put down on his résumé that he had “taken the company public, and created $75 million in value.” The recruiter asked: “And what was your chief financial officer’s role in all this?” The interviewee was speechless, because on his résumé he had defined his role as one a CFO would have been responsible for. He was not hired.

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Finally, white lies can be found out when companies hire independent firms to do background checks on new hires. I spoke to Jared Rosenthal, founder and CEO of StaffGlass, a recruiting and hiring platform that provides, among other things, résumé verification services. According to Rosenthal, its software enables companies to review the résumés of job candidates and check for accuracy anything on the résumé, “including employment history, job titles, certifications, education, and references.”

Rosenthal explains that such fact-checking not only assures companies of hiring employees who can be trusted, but it enables them to avoid lawsuits that might occur if they were to hire those who can’t be trusted. “Business begins with truth,” says Rosenthal. “Truth in data and truth in relationships.”