It’s a tough job market, and more than one applicant has felt the pressure to “embellish” their work history, education, or accomplishments in an attempt to stand out. In fact, there has been a post-recession increase in resume lies. However, applicants should think twice about fictionalizing portions of their work.
According to a recent survey commissioned by CareerBuilder and conducted by Harris Poll, 58 percent of hiring managers say they’ve caught a lie on a resume. Also 51 percent said they would “automatically dismiss” an applicant if they discovered an embellishment. However, 40 percent stated that it would depend on the type of lie, and 7 percent said they would be willing to overlook the lie if they really like the applicant.
The most common resume lies that hiring managers and human resource personnel catch tend to be as follows:
- 57% - Embellished skill set
- 55% - Embellished responsibilities
- 34% - Job title
- 33% - Academic degree
- 26% - Companies worked for
- 18% - Accolades/awards
Also, applicants in some industries tend to lie more than others. The highest number of resume fibs is in the following industries:
- 73% - Financial Services
- 71% - Leisure and Hospitality
- 63% - Information Technology
- 63% - Health Care
- 59% - Retail
Keep reading to discover what employers told Harris Poll were the most unusual resume lies.
10 10 - Using dad's information
“Like father, like son.” “A chip off the old block.” This applicant obviously took those phrases to another level. Well, at least he didn’t claim to be orphaned as a child, like Jeff Papows did - until reporters at the Wall Street Journal found both of his parents alive and well in Massachusetts. Papows, who was the CEO of Lotus Software, also claimed to be an aviator for the Marines, although he never flew a jet and was actually only an air traffic controller. Papows also claimed to have a PhD from Pepperdine University – yet another lie.
9 9 - Claiming to be a prime minister
Probably the only thing worse than lying on a resume is being too lazy to research the lie to see if it’s a believable fib. This applicant claimed to be the prime minister of a country that doesn't have a prime minister. However, some resume liars go years before they get caught. For example, when the infamous Adam Wheeler applied to Harvard, he stated that he was transferring from MIT. However, he had actually been suspended from Bowdoin College for academic dishonesty. Upon acceptance into Harvard, Wheeler earned $40,000 in grants and prizes using plagiarized research proposals and essays. It was only during his senior year when he applied for a Rhodes scholarship and a Fulbright scholarship that his actions were discovered and he was convicted of 20 various felonies and misdemeanors.
8 8 - Making up high school honors
This applicant claimed to be a high school basketball free throw champion. He admitted it was a lie in the interview. Give the applicant a few points for fessing up during the interview. And then eject him from the building for such a flagrant lie. However, this applicant had more courage than Marilee Jones, who was the dean at MIT for 28 years before it was discovered that she had not earned the master’s degree listed on her resume. In fact, she didn’t even have the bachelors’ degree that was also listed. When Jones resigned, she said that she “did not have the courage to correct my resume when I applied for my current job or at any time since.”
7 7 - Claiming Olympic medals
Right. Because there are so many Olympic medalists that no one will ever know if you’re one or not. Well, at least Brian Valery of the law firm Anderson, Kill & Oleck, didn’t do that - although he did claim to be a lawyer and actually practiced law for 2 years before it was discovered that he was only a paralegal. Valery’s law firm is negotiating financial settlements with the 50+ clients that this paralegal represented during his two-year stint. One of those clients, Steven Mass, told the Wall Street Journal that Valery was unimpressive, but said he wasn’t suspicious because, “All first- and second-year lawyers are pretty terrible.”
6 6 - Lying about management experience
This applicant claimed to be a construction supervisor but the interviewer learned the bulk of the applicant's experience was in the completion of a doghouse some years prior. But . . . maybe he also supervised himself when he was constructing the doghouse. Doesn’t that count as management experience? This applicant is about as bad as Vice-President Joe Biden’s resume blunders back in 1988 when he was running for President. Biden said he went to law school on a full scholarship when he was only on a partial scholarship, and also said he graduated in the top half of his class when he was actually 76th out of 85 students.
5 5 - Exaggerating years of experience
This applicant claimed to have 25 years of experience at the age of 32. Yes, the applicant lied, but the real issue is much, much bigger. Is it possible that her parents are child abusers who had her working from the age of 7? If not, this applicant has serious shortcomings in both math and logic. At least Laura Callahan, a former senior director in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security didn’t make that mistake. Although her resume stated that she had a Ph.D. from the prestigious Hamilton College in New York, Callahan actually received it from Hamilton University, a diploma mill. In fact, Callahan was assigned a workbook, took an open-book test, and wrote a 2,000-word paper to receive her Ph.D. And she also used the same diploma mill to get her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. But at least she had the degrees back dated to 1993, 1995, and 2000 respectively, so the time frames were realistic.
4 4 -Claiming to babysit for Hollywood stars
This applicant claimed to have worked for 20 years as the babysitter of known celebrities such as Tom Cruise, Madonna, etc. While name-dropping can sometimes impress an employer, this practice is dependent on the applicant’s credibility. That was the case with Robert Irvine, who used to be a star on the Food Network series, “Dinner Impossible.” While the series made Irvine a household name, he lost his TV show when it was revealed that he embellished his experiences. Irvine stated that he worked for both the White House and for Britain’s Royal Family – which he did. However, Irvine did not cook White House Dinners for several Presidents, he did not create Princess Diana’s wedding cake, and he was not knighted by the Queen.
3 3 - Lying about duration of work history
This applicant listed three jobs over the past several years. Upon contacting the employers, the interviewer learned that the applicant had worked at one for two days, another for one day, and not at all for the third. You’ve got to wonder exactly what has this applicant been doing for the past several years and why he can’t stay on a job for at least three days. At least he was trying to be honest with the first two jobs, since companies do want you to list all of your previous employers. Most companies will consider unpaid work experience, so if the applicant volunteered somewhere, it would have been better to include this type of job history instead of revealing his instability as an employee.
2 2 - Getting fired and reapplying with same company
This applicant applied to a position with a company that had just terminated him. He listed the company under previous employment and indicated on his resume that he had quit. OK, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe his interpretation of the events is slightly different. For example, the company could have said, “You’re fired,” and he replied, “No, you can’t fire me because I quit.” So, in his mind, he “left” the organization, instead of being “forced out.” And then, he saw another position at the same company and figured that everyone would let bygones be bygones.
1 1 - Using two different work histories
This applicant applied twice for the same position and provided a different work history on each application. Hey, maybe she thought they threw her first application away. Or, perhaps she thought that since the work history on her first application wasn’t that impressive, she would offer an alternative list of experiences on the second application. She wouldn’t be the first person to magically create an impressive resume out of thin air. For example, Notre Dame’s head football coach, George O’Leary, claimed that he played college football for 3 years at the University of New Hampshire. However, he never played in even one game, and 5 days after Notre Dame hired him, they showed him the door when this resume fib was revealed.