George Costanza once said, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.” That may be decent advice when trying to calm your nerves or rationalize an embellishment, but when you’re looking for a job, a lie can leave you unemployed and living with your parents.
First impressions are critical during a job hunt. Seven in 10 employers spend fewer than five minutes reviewing a résumé, according to a recent survey from CareerBuilder. In fact, half of employers spend fewer than two minutes reviewing the document that could determine your financial future. In order to make a strong impression, many applicants feel the need to lie on their résumés.
More than half of the employers in the survey have caught a lie on a résumé, including an applicant claiming to be a former CEO of the company he was applying at, and one applicant claiming to be a Nobel Prize winner. Making matters worse, most hiring managers are willing to overlook a lack of qualifications to some degree, but if they find a blatant lie on your résumé, kiss your chances goodbye.
“Job seekers have the unenviable challenge of grabbing – and holding – a hiring manager’s attention long enough to make a strong impression,” said Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder, in a press release. “Embellishing your résumé to achieve this, however, can ultimately backfire. Most hiring managers are willing to consider candidates who do not meet 100 percent of the qualifications. Job seekers can increase their chances for consideration by proving past achievements that exemplify an ability to learn, enthusiasm and cultural fit.”
Let’s take a look at the five most common lies employers find on résumés.
1. Embellished skill sets
George: Steinbrenner wants everyone in the front office to give a lecture in their area of business expertise.
Jerry: Well what makes them think you’re a risk management expert?
George: I guess it’s on my résumé.
Trying to impress the hiring manager with skills you don’t really have can be embarrassing when the truth comes out, and the CareerBuilder survey reveals the truth about skills is often discovered. Sixty-two percent of employers found embellished skill sets on résumés. Perhaps the most “creative” skill was an applicant who claimed to be fluent in two languages — one of which was pig Latin.
If you feel the need to lie about your skill set, it may be time to acquire some new skills. Education and certification programs are located across the country that can help you stand out from the crowd. While many programs require money, free classes do exist if you look hard enough — from learning a new language to learning how to manage a project. Remember, the best time to acquire skills is before you absolutely need them. Trying to find a job and learning new skills to appeal to potential employers can be daunting.
2. Embellished responsibilities
Having impressive job responsibilities help you feel important. If you were important to your old company, maybe a hiring manager will feel like he needs you. But if you don’t have noteworthy responsibilities on your résumé, you shouldn’t simply take the easy route and lie about your qualifications. CareerBuilder finds that 54% of employers discovered embellished responsibilities on résumés.
Instead, employers said they really wanted the following when looking for attractive job candidates and résumés:
- A résumé that is customized for their open position: 61%
- A résumé that is accompanied by a cover letter: 49%
- A résumé that is addressed to the hiring manager or recruiter by name: 26%
- A résumé that includes links to the applicant’s online portfolio, blog, or website: 21%
3. Dates of employment
Knowing when you worked at your previous job is an important detail that helps show hiring managers your experience level. It may also help show them how honest or detail-oriented you are. Thirty-nine percent of employers have found incorrect dates of employment on résumés. Some of these may not be bold-face lies, but having anything incorrect on your résumé is a strike in the eyes of a hiring manager.
The worst offenders in the survey included an applicant whose job history had him in three different companies and three different cities simultaneously. Meanwhile, another applicant for a driver position claimed to have 10 years of experience but only had a driver’s license for four years.
4. Job titles
Nothing can convey importance like a job title, but that still doesn’t mean you should embellish your role at a previous employer. A hiring manager can easily check with your references and find out if you are lying. Thirty-one percent of employers found lies on résumés about job titles. The difference between what you believe and reality can be significant. For example, one applicant simply claimed to have worked in a jail. The truth? The applicant was really there to serve time.
5. Academic degrees
Having a college degree was once seen as a ticket to the middle class and more. Now, it’s practically a requirement just to get a foot in the corporate door. If you don’t have a degree, it’s not as easy as making up your own college. At least one hiring manager in the CareerBuilder survey said an applicant claimed to have attended a college that didn’t even exist. Overall, 28% of employers have caught a résumé lie about academic degrees.