The New Inflation: Why Lying on Your Resume Never Pays

As head of a recruitment firm, I can report that when it comes to getting a job (and the documents required to do so) there seems to be a bit of…what shall we call it… creative license.

Rarely with malice, but often with a moral code reserved specifically for job seeking, candidates are pushing boundaries when it comes to how closely a resume’s statements of facts should be aligned with reality.

Two factors are changing that story: 1) social media and 2) an increasingly aggressive approach to fact checking by Human Resources.

Some candidates say their arms are tied. Lengthy qualifications lists and impenetrable computerized applicant screening systems make it almost impossible to check off every box, leaving some job-seekers thinking, Well, if I just get in the door with this little exaggeration….

But how bad is it? A recent survey from The Society of Human Resource Managers reported that 53% of the resumes and job applications they reviewed contained falsifications – and up to 78% were, in the least, misleading. For example, how do you stand up to these?

·      Would you tweak a job title or responsibilities to better align with the role you’re applying for?

·      Ever given yourself a modest raise in hopes of pushing the pay scale?

·      Have you ever thought something like, “Html? Sure, why not? And then planned to master it the weekend before ‘day one’ should you get the job

·      Have you ever adjusted the start and end dates of employment or board terms?

·      Did you really, really volunteer there?

·      Have you ever insinuated other active job offers in hopes of looking more attractive and/or attracting higher pay?

·      Oh, and is your LinkedIn profile consistent with your hard copy resume?

With a lengthy background in recruitment, I like to think I’m pretty good at smoking out the pretenders. Not just the outright liars but the fudgers, the embellishers and the inflators too.

Recruiters need to be 100% sure that whoever they’re sending into an interview is, indeed, the same person they’ve claimed to be. I take every a candidate at face value, but I’ve also learned to read the subtle signs (and ask the right questions) to determine whether there might be a bit of a light-show in the mix.

I cringe at the 2002 case of Bausch & Lomb CEO, Ronald Zarrella. When called out for his non-existent MBA, Zarrella was quick to pass off the blame to a headhunter (who, luckily had the paperwork to prove otherwise). $1.1million in forfeited bonuses later, Zarrella kept his job, but most aren’t so lucky.  Other well known cases include the saga of Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson, former president of the U.S. Olympic Committee, Sandra Baldwin and countless others.

But what about the whitest of lies? You want to look a bit more ‘west coast’ so you add mountain biking to your interests. You walk into the office cursing the crazy morning traffic. You feign Oscar-winning surprise that your email was never received.  Are those kind of harmless deceptions acceptable?

recent Bloomberg post says, “Most of the lying that happens at work is a simple matter of ass-covering. You forgot to do something or elided some onerous task, and a fib squeaks out…all in the interest of buying time to recover. “ In fact, David Shulman, author of From Hire to Liar: The Role of Deception in the Workplace, argues, “Most workplace lies aren’t actually antibusiness. They’re really in the interest of getting the job done.”

So if workplace lies are all about getting the ‘job done’, can’t we just chalk up those seemingly insignificant resume lies to getting the job?

Not according to the Financial Times, who claims the cost of lying on your resume can actually be very (cha-ching) high when legal considerations come into play. Turns out the consequences of professional embellishments aren’t just total embarrassment and reputation dive-bombing. You could get sued too. Plain and simple.

My best advice for deciding whether or not you should lie on a reason? I say, play your cards with this old saying top of mind: “You can’t un-ring a bell.” What’s said is said. Even if you aren’t caught red-handed during the recruitment phase, at some point, your past may catch up with you. At which point, even worse, you’re risking friendships, business relationships and your reputation.

If you’re worried about gaps in employment, a weak educational background, bad blood with past employers or an incomplete skill set, we can help you identify your authentic career story and, where needed, create a plan to correct (not auto-correct) the gaps.