Although we may not want to admit it, we’ve all lied at some point, whether it was a white lie that got you out of a previous engagement or a massive falsehood that’s been sticking around for years. But it’s considered common sense not to lie on a resume, right? Well, not according to some studies.
In 2020, the reference-check firm Checkster surveyed 400 job seekers and 400 hiring managers. According to the findings, 78% of job seekers misrepresented – or at least thought about misrepresenting – themselves on job applications and resumes.
Among the job seekers Checkster surveyed, 45.7% said the extent of their lying was moderate, and 3.3% said it was extreme. Only 16.1% of respondents didn’t lie at all. Another 28.5% of respondents said they lied “a lot” on their resumes but not quite to the “extreme” extent of other respondents. The remaining 6.3% of respondents said there were almost no lies on their resumes.
Here are some common resume lies Checkster asked respondents about and the percentage of survey participants who admitted to telling them or thinking about doing so.
|Resume lie||Percentage of respondents who confessed|
|Proficiency in in-demand career skills you don’t actually have||60%|
|Working at a certain company for a falsely increased number of years to exclude another company from your employment history||50.25%|
|For recent college graduates, inflating your GPA by at least half a point||49%|
|Using the title of “director” in place of “manager” or an equivalent term||41%|
|Listing a degree from a prestigious university when you still need a few more credits to officially obtain the degree||40%|
|Listing a degree from a more prestigious university than your actual school||39%|
|Listing a degree from a prestigious university after taking just one online class||39%|
|Including false achievements||33%|
Other common lies included listing a false address or saying they chose to leave a job when they were actually fired. Inflated salaries and descriptions of work in a certain role or on a certain project were also common.
Interestingly, 29.4% of the surveyed hiring managers told Checkster they would still hire someone who misrepresented themselves if there was a good explanation. Another 3.3% would hire the candidate no matter what, with only 34.4% citing lying as an automatic disqualification.
If no other candidate were available, 13.6% of hiring managers would hire someone who misrepresented themselves. Among HR staff, 14% would hire that person with the hiring manager’s permission. [If a company discovers a worker lied, they could rescind the job offer or fire the employee.]
When candidates lied about their GPAs, 22% of the hiring managers surveyed still hired them. The equivalent figure was 12% for fake job titles. For falsified professional references, hiring managers said they would never hire the applicant 63% of the time. The equivalent figure for untrue achievements was 60%.
Based on the 2020 study, the majority of job applicants lie on their resumes, but not as many hiring managers are fully opposed to this behavior as you might expect.
In contrast to the whopping 78% of people who said they lie on their resume or considered doing so in the Checkster survey, another study – conducted by Blind, an anonymous workplace social media platform, in 2019 – found different results. The company asked participants whether they had “embellished or lied on [their] LinkedIn or resume” when searching for a job. Approximately 90% of the respondents said they’d never lied to get a job, while the remaining 10% said they had. However, that study differed from the Checkster survey in that it didn’t count “thinking about misrepresenting” as lying.
Some of the more common lies found on resumes in the 2019 study were about academic degrees, age, technical abilities and criminal records. The survey found that, in addition to falsifying resume information, some respondents weren’t above lying about their “salaries, references and complete work history” during job interviews.
Along with asking respondents whether they had ever lied on their resume or LinkedIn profile, Blind’s survey wanted to know where these individuals worked. After collating the data, the organization discovered that 17 major businesses, including Apple and Cisco, were represented among the respondents.
According to the survey, the company with the most respondents who admitted to lying was European software corporation SAP, with 12.5% of the surveyed employees admitting to lying, followed by Amazon (11.57%), Cisco (10.78%), PayPal (10.58%) and eBay (9.93%). Other major companies that had a relatively high rate of falsehoods among respondents were Microsoft (9.84%) and Oracle (9.19%).
Blind’s study took a hard look at employees who lied, but it also found comforting data for businesses that prioritize ethics. Along with 9 in 10 respondents saying they had never lied on a resume, 13 of the 17 companies represented had a truth rating higher than 90% – meaning the vast majority of their employees did not misrepresent themselves on their resumes.
The company with the highest percentage of truthful respondents was Salesforce, with 97.17% denying ever having lied on a resume. Other companies with the most truthful employees based on resume honesty were Tableau (96.30%), Intuit (96.26%), LinkedIn (95.54%), Apple (94.83%), Adobe (93.14%), Facebook (92.68%) and Google (92.57%).
Even though some job applicants, even at large companies, lie on their resumes, the 2019 study suggests that the vast majority do not.
Though the Checkster study found that some companies would still hire a candidate who lied on their resume, getting caught lying often leads to the unemployment line. This notion is true at all levels of a team. Even prominent executives have lied on their resumes – including a former Yahoo CEO, a former RadioShack CEO and a celebrity chef – and most faced career difficulties as a result.
Applicants who lie on their resumes have more to lose than their desired job. Consider damage to your reputation, for example. If word gets out that you’re a dishonest person, you won’t be very attractive to other companies and could have trouble getting hired in the future. Some false resume information could even put you in legal jeopardy, especially if you’ve lied when applying for federal or state jobs or careers that require specific licenses.
The easiest way to avoid lying on your resume is to just not do it. Beyond that, though, writing a great resume that’s brief and direct is always a safer bet than misrepresenting yourself. Here are some other best practices to get you hired.
When you follow these tips, your honest, ethical resume might land on the right desk before you know it. Looking for more guidance? Check out everything you need to know about job searching in the digital age.
Andrew Martins contributed to the writing and research in this article.