Legal

Are you embellishing your resume or just plain lying?


Most people embellish their resumes. In fact, there's quite an art to wording accomplishments so that they appear better than they actually were.

But if you're not exactly forthright about your education or dates of employment at previous companies-facts that are easy to check--you could be cutting your own throat.

Is it fudging or is it fraud?

Careerbuilder.com surveyed a group of hiring managers and found that 57 percent said they have found a lie on a candidate's application, even though only 5 percent of workers admitted to falsifying information. Ninety-three percent of managers who caught an applicant lying did not hire that person.

So what is harmless "padding" and what is out and out dishonesty? A recent article in The Christian Science Monitor warns that you should never assume that a hiring manager or an HR person is not going to check your facts, and that they won't make judgments about your character based on those misquoted "facts." You may even be hired on the basis of the information you give, but there's no statute of limitations on when you can be subsequently canned if the info is proven to be false.

I was once asked by a hiring manager about a person whose resume mentioned that he used to work at a company I used to work for. Since the company is now defunct there was no way to verify the employment. But I'd been there for ten years, knew everyone there, and also knew that this guy had never been employed there. Freakish coincidence, but it can happen.

Resume fraud can happen at all levels too, it seems. The Christian Science Monitor article cites two high-profile cases of resume fraud:

  • Marilee Jones, dean of admissions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, resigned after an investigation revealed that she did not hold the academic degrees she had claimed.
  • David Edmonson, CEO of Radio Shack, resigned after a Texas newspaper reported that his résumé listed a college degree he did not have.

I'm not sure why someone in a relatively high-profile position would think they could get away with stuff like that, especially in a day and age where someone's personal information is so readily available. But of course, presidential hopefuls do it all the time.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

14 comments
dt_luke
dt_luke

A resume is nothing more then a marketing document to me. That being said, false advertising is a knock on your product which is yourself. It is fare better to under promise and over deliver but you have to get the interview to land the job. So that creates an ethical dilema, so what to do. For me, with 18 years of experience I let my expertise speak for itself. No need to emblish that. For younger people, highlight your stengths (that does not mean lie) because you best be darn sure you can walk the walk. Any company worth working for will have a legitimate hiring process.

MikeGall
MikeGall

You'll never get caught a human doesn't read them anymore :( I've seen jobs asking for 1 year experience, in something, I had 6 years experience, not even an interview. Overqualified? Perhaps. Then why do others where my experience is almost exactly the duration they are looking for, on something like 20 different technologies not pan out? (surely there is very few people were that would be the case). My beat an automated script reads over the resume, spits out the top 5, HR then moves through the list. Once they find someone that can do the job they stop, they don't go to number 5 to see if maybe they are better. Or worst, the HR is non-technical (usually the case), and has no clue that you are better qualified, either way your lies will never get found out :)

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

It's definately a lie when you say you've done something and haven't. But it can get really dicey when you start listing qualitative performance. Because so much of how someone is rated is subjective, you can get a lot of people saying the person lied when it really is a difference in opinion. While I'd love to be able to claim to be a guru in everything I've ever done, it's still the right thing to do to list yourself as merely "have working or introductory knowlege of XXX".

skris88
skris88

I was young and innocent: I paid heaps of money and spent 3 years on a distance-university degree from a university that no longer exists. As a computer engineer this is only a basic degree and my other certifications are more critical and necessary for the jobs I apply for. However if I leave out the degree, I don't get a look in, if I leave it in, they check and - not finding the university listed - decided I'm a fraud. What hope is there for people like me?!!

ManiacMan
ManiacMan

I personally embellish a little bit, but I certainly don't lie in regards to the kind of work I've done and the places I have worked at. It's too easy to have a background check show discrepancies and destroy any credibility one has. I choose how I word things very carefully in my resume so as not to misconstrue anything, but one must embellish a little bit to catch the eyes of recruiters and HR drones who are looking for specific buzzwords. Once you get past them, you can elaborate and explain your resume in full when you get to the technical part of the interview. Do people lie? Of course some do and they'd be foolish to think they'd get away with it or not get weeded out for the frauds they are. Why do they do it? Fierce competition within the IT market from local candidates and to make matters worst, low paid foreign workers on work visas. I truly can't blame entry level IT folks for making false statements on their resumes because they have to bs their way into landing a job if they lack the experience. Everyone does it, but one has to be very careful in the method of execution.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

How else do you get past the HR filters that are looking for everything from cheeseburger to .Net?

Jupiter9
Jupiter9

"Careerbuilder.com surveyed a group of hiring managers and found that 57 percent said they have found a lie on a candidate?s application, even though only 5 percent of workers admitted to falsifying information. " Duh. If hiring managers detected every single lie, they'd only have to interview an average of 10 candidates for half to be able to say they have found a lie on a candidate's application. Even if they only detect 10 percent of lies, they'd still only have to see 100 candidates to have a 50 percent chance of having seen and detected a lie. In other words, the 57 percent number isn't too high. It's too low. *Every* hiring manager should have detected a lie in the first group of interviews for the first position they advertise.

GreenPirogue
GreenPirogue

I am currently hiring someone in the IT industry, and here is my experience: 1. HR is non-technical; that's why you need to tell them what you are looking for. They make sure you hire within state and Federal guidelines, and they do the recruiting and posting. But they need help. Good hiring managers give them help. 2. Most of the automated programs that cull through and give me my pool of applicants don't do a good job. But as a hiring manager, I review the resumes and toss out the ones who should have been at first pass. That's about 1/3 of all applicants for my company. 3. I cut some people just because I don't like their resume. Too wordy gets trashed because I assume that they will be wordy when employed, something I don't have time for. 4. I check facts on people prior to being hired, but never check facts until then. Because there are just too many applicants. An Administrative Assistant who passes themselves off as the LAN manager never gets the job. Integrity still counts. My two cents.

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

Do I always read these things at work? They must have thought that I lost my mind from the laughing.

Tig2
Tig2

While very funny it was also sadly true. I have been in the position of attending an interview only to discover that the CV that had been passed to the HR department was not the same as the one I furnished to the recruiter. It is embarrassing at a minimum to have to try to explain how that could have happened. Fortunately, I always carry a copy of my CV into an interview and was able to use that to provide correct information. Since that experience, I have only worked with recruiters I know well.

Eoghan
Eoghan

In this day and age I see no reason why one cannot include a business card size CD with scans of all current certificates and diplomas. I don't send one currently, but I always take one with me on interviews. That, plus a recent example of my written work. You'll be surprised how many people ask for that. But, you have to get the interview. I've found that resumes are like comedy: always leave them wanting more. The advantage of a one or two page resume is that it whets the appetite of those who know what is really being said on the resume and leaves them with enough questions to call you in. Why lie? Truth is usually stranger than fiction!

ManiacMan
ManiacMan

existence, then present it to them to combat any notions that you are a fraud. I know it's bad to go to a school that is now defunct, but sometimes, that's the only option for those that can't afford to go to an Ivy League school. I initially got my Novell training and certification through an IT school that no longer exists, but that doesn't discredit the fact that I am certified and truly know my stuff and have experience in it.

Sigman
Sigman

...because somebody left a copy of the highly and obviously fraudulent resume they were sending 'on my behalf' to potential customers sitting on a printer and I just happened to see it.