- On average, 72% of a job applicant’s resume is accurate while the remaining 28% is embellished.
- Identifying resume embellishment is simple when employers effectively interview applicants and follow through on background checks.
- Hawaii is one of the top 10 states with the least accurate resumes, with an average of only 35% of a candidate’s resume being accurate.
This article was written by Morgan Overcash.
It can be very tempting to stretch the truth to get a dream job or enter into a desirable field, but is lying on a resume really a risk worth taking?
Three HR leaders provide insight into the realities of resume embellishment and share advice on how human resource managers can identify and handle these situations.
Tools for identification
According to VP People, North America at Sage Amy Cosgrove, resume embellishment can actually take lots of different forms: “From stretching your job title to outright lying about your educational background.”
It’s no surprise that HR personnel have procedures set in place to verify and confirm educational background, previous employment, job positions and more when considering a potential candidate for a position.
Paul Lewis, Chief Customer Officer of Adzuna, provided a great example that can help check a job applicant’s educational background.
“Employers can also use online sources like the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs (DAPIP) to view accreditation records,” he said.
Background verification processes and interviews are two of the most efficient and fool-proof methods human resources professionals have at their disposal.
Before waiting on background checks, which can only be utilized at the time of offer, it’s possible to catch whether a candidate has been truthful or not at the interview stage.
“Good, fundamental interviewing skills,” Cosgrove said, “are the easiest way to identify when someone hasn’t before truthful about their experience.”
She emphasized that it’s possible to spot falsities even during phone screenings. Being direct and asking for specific examples and clarity on actual responsibilities are all critical for discovering the truth.
“The screening interview will also allow employers to ask for more context surrounding experience on a candidate’s resume, which can typically uncover any wild exaggerations,” Lewis said.
Not forgetting the power of the internet, Founder and CEO of Ultimate Assistant Training & Consulting Bonnie Low-Kramen states that “doing a simple internet search on social media such as LinkedIn and Facebook” is an important tool for HR to utilize.
Lewis backs this up, “HR will generally check a candidate’s social media profiles, particularly LinkedIn, prior to making an offer.” Therefore, it’s fundamental that job applicants stay truthful not only on their resumes, but also on their social media accounts.
The impact of background checks
Technology also plays a pivotal role in hiring prospective candidates. Despite its late appearance in the process, the fact that background checks are one of, if not the final place to catch resume embellishment can’t be ignored. Background verification is essential and effective for catching misinformation that may be difficult to uncover in interviews and conversation.
“Most companies make offers contingent on successfully passing background verifications. I once rescinded an offer after a background check revealed that someone didn’t even attend a university that she had on her resume as receiving a degree from,” Cosgrove said.
Common areas of embellishment
Just as common as embellishment itself are the areas on resumes people tend to exaggerate the most. Skill, education and even sometimes age, are the top three areas where Low-Kramen and Lewis see the most exaggerations and lies.
“The most common embellishments are exaggerating about age, technology/computer skills, and lying about college graduation dates and other training certifications,” Low-Kramen said.
Examples she provided of exaggerated technology skills include being “fluent in both PC and Mac and an ‘expert user’ in MS Office.”
Lewis reinforces these statements and also adds another: that candidates will often lie about their educational background by covering up employment gaps by stretching dates or fabricating a position.
The best way to confirm a candidate’s true level of skill is by giving them aptitude tests. Low-Kramen touches on the importance of these tests and their effectiveness.
“Even better than asking for proof of graduation are giving aptitude tests, which essentially are working auditions. If you are looking for a strong writer, give a candidate a writing assignment, asking specifically to not use ChatGPT or any artificial intelligence.”
These tests can shed light on not only a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, but also inform if they truly know what they claim.
Low-Kramen also has concerns about ageism.
“I also see a fear of ageism and therefore, candidates may lie about their age,” she said.
In a time when the older one gets, the harder it becomes for them to obtain a job, this isn’t surprising.
The risks of embellishment
Some people may think, “what’s the harm in a little white lie if I can get the work done?” This perspective, however, ignores two important factors that employers consider — the employee’s success and longevity within their organization, and the employee’s character.
Regarding an employee’s long-term success, “If you’ve embellished your background to match what the company is looking for, but don’t actually have those skills or that experience — it is highly unlikely to be a good fit,” Cosgrove said.
The “fake it ‘til you make it” culture can only take people so far, and ultimately, a candidate who has embellished their resume isn’t only being detrimental to themselves but to the organization as a whole.
Even a candidate’s character can come into question when the lies on their resume are discovered.
“It’s also a concern if the embellishment of the resume is indicative of the candidate’s values. How will this behavior manifest itself in daily work life?” Cosgrove said.
Trust is essential between both employer and employee, and it is a vital component for the foundations of their relationship.
“Resume embellishments lead to a breakdown of trust,” Lewis said.
He shared an example of an employee being hired but being unable to perform their job effectively because they lied on their resume, which then leads to distrust from the employer and ultimately could lead to the employee’s termination.
“The employer may find it hard to trust future candidates as well after this type of experience.”
While no legal action can be taken against resume embellishment, job applicants should truly think twice before lying about the educational background. According to Lewis, it is possible to purchase fake degrees from so-called “diploma mills.”
Some jobseekers may purchase fake degrees from ‘diploma mills,’ or businesses selling fake university qualifications and transcripts in return for someone paying the ‘tuition,’” he said. “Job candidates should know that while it’s not illegal to buy these degrees, it is illegal to use them to secure employment.”
Let’s look at the numbers
What do the statistics say about how often this is happening? According to Matthew J. Rodgers at iprospectcheck.com (a background check and screening solution company), on average, 72% of a job applicant’s resume is accurate while the remaining 28% is embellished.
They collected data on all 50 states from over 3,000 anonymous job seekers to determine how accurate their resumes are. Below is a list of states that, on average, have the lowest resume accuracy. (Percentages are listed as, “State” followed by the job applicants admit that only “percentage” of their resumes are accurate):
- Hawaii: 35%
- Maine: 50%
- West Virginia: 54%
- Utah: 60%
- Pennsylvania: 62%
- California: 62%
- Nebraska: 63%
- South Carolina: 63%
- Indiana: 65%
- Tennessee: 65%
This issue isn’t only quantifiable based on state averages. Certain industries see more resume embellishment than others as well. Chelsee Yee from KHON2, a Hawaii news source, discusses in their article, “Study: Average job seeker in Hawaii admits lying on their resume,” that iprospectcheck.com also compiled data on resume accuracy across various career industries. They discovered that the finance industry has the lowest resume accuracy at an average of 34%, and that the real estate industry had the highest resume accuracy at an average of 90%.
Some other numbers of interest include Lewis’ findings from Resumelab.
“A survey conducted by Resumelab suggests just over a third (36%) of workers have lied on their resume, and a majority of lies center around job experience (25%) and job duties (21%),” Lewis said.
Low-Kramen said, “The reality is that men will strongly lobby to get a job, even if they only possess 65% of a job description’s qualifications … contrasted with women who generally feel that they need to possess 98% of the qualifications in order to apply.”
The statistics prove resume embellishment is a persistent issue, and a “fake it ‘til you make it” mentality may have temporary benefits or provide short-term satisfaction, but with that there’s no guarantees, stability or security.
An important message to job seekers
There can be many reasons behind someone’s decision to exaggerate skills, positions or education on their resume. However, Lewis encourages job applicants to reconsider.
“Candidates shouldn’t feel like they need to hide any of these factors [career gaps, redundancies or layoffs, or incomplete degrees],” he explained. “It’s better to disclose and give context to these factors from the very beginning, as an employer will recognize, value and appreciate the honesty the job candidate is portraying.”
Lewis emphasizes that employers are very likely to offer a new employee the necessary training to compensate for any skills that may be needed, so if there are any skills that a candidate doesn’t currently have, they can be encouraged by the fact that there are still opportunities for them.
There is currently no fool-proof method to stopping resume embellishment before a resume reaches an employer’s hands. But by intentionally asking detailed interview questions, performing background checks, noting common areas of embellishment and always considering the risks, it’s possible to weed out applicants who aren’t all that they claim to be.