6 Common Resume Lies (and How to Spot Them)

How truthful is the resume you’re reviewing? How can you tell when a job candidate is doing more than a little exaggerating about his or her past experience? Here are six tell tale signs to watch for when an applicant has lied on his resume.

You’ve probably done it. Most people have. It’s pretty common and most of the time, harmless. Instead of using an otherwise boring or not-so-impressive job title, you throw a couple of words together and make something really special.

If you want a really good laugh head to LinkedIn and peruse some the job titles people use on the site. “Hospitality professional” at a restaurant. “Manager of People” instead of “manager” or “Chief (fill in anything) Officer.”

Inflating a resume using that all-too-familiar resume language is likely harmless. However, falsifying a resume is something different altogether.

As a business owner, you probably assume that what somebody writes on their resume is true, but that might not be the best idea. If you see any of the below on a resume, it’s a red flag and requires further investigation.

1. The school sounds iffy. There are few laws governing the awarding of a diploma. The bottom line is that issuing or purchasing a fake diploma isn’t illegal. It is, however, a crime on par with a traffic ticket to pass it off as a legit degree.

The problem is that these diplomas look like the real thing so you’ll have to do a little research. Make sure the college is accredited in the degree program of the diploma. If things still don’t seem right, ask for transcripts.

2. You’ve never heard of the company. There’s a better than average change that you will not know a person’s past employer. That doesn’t mean that the person is lying. It does mean that you should research the company before hiring. Research online and make sure information online matches the information on the person’s resume.

If the addresses don’t match, either the company moved or the person is hoping that you’re one of the many employers that doesn’t read every detail of a resume.

Related: Questions You Should and Shouldn’t Ask During Interviews

Never call the phone number on the resume if it’s a professional reference. Instead, call the company and ask to speak to the person. Sometimes an applicant will ask a friend to pose as a past supervisor.

If the company is no longer in business, that’s not not necessarily a sign that the person is lying. Many businesses fail each year and finding the address of the company when it was in business should be easy.

3. The job title seems overinflated. Sometimes companies give people a bigger title in lieu of a pay raise. Other times, the employee might inflate his or her own title. Your job is to know when to ask questions. Did the person go from an entry-level position to senior management in a short period of time? Does their title seem overly wordy?

If anything sticks out as odd, a call to their past employer is in order. Everything could be legit, but you don’t want to find out after you hire the person that they aren’t qualified. By the way, try to call an applicant’s previous employers—not the company they’re with right now. If you don’t hire them, don’t ruin their relationship with their current employer.

Related: How to Spot a Liar

4. Far-fetched self acclamations- You’re reading a resume and phrases like, “the first person to…” or “the youngest person to ever…”. How about “world-class leader” or “paved the way.” Ask yourself what the odds are of the person being the first to do anything? And what’s a world-class leader?

5. Name Dropping- What are the chances that the person actually “lead” a marketing campaign for a major company or “spearheaded” a campaign for a high-ranking politician? It’s more likely that they volunteered or worked for a company that had a role in the event.

Again, it could be true but even if it is, the elephant in the room might be, “If you headed up events like those, why aren’t you working with similar events now?” (Unless your company is in that business)

6. Resume gaps or vague details- You’ve heard the old cliché, “A lie of omission is still a lie.” In other words, if you don’t disclose an important piece of information that somebody has a right to know, you’re still lying.

If there’s a gap in a person’s resume that isn’t explained, alarm sirens should go off in your head. During the recession and still today, many people were laid off. There’s no shame in that, but the person who doesn’t want to talk about it might be hiding something.

Additionally, if they say, “I worked in the advertising industry” without any other details, further investigation is in order. Where did they work, why did they leave?

Related: How to Avoid Hiring Bad Employees

Bottom Line

The great scholar, TV personality and judge Judith Sheindlin routinely says, “if it doesn’t make sense, it’s probably not true.” If you’re in the hiring process, you don’t have time to investigate each applicant but for those final couple of candidates. Take the extra time to address anything in their resume that seems even the slightest bit fishy.

Uncovering a lie now is better than after they’re hired.

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