What employers think you are lying about

The most common lies in Canadian resumes (and what you should actually lie about instead)

Peter Harris|

Be honest. Is everything on your resume 100% accurate?

Most employers don’t think so. They are becoming increasingly skeptical of what candidates claim about their skills and work history. In fact, a survey by the recruitment firm Employment Office found that over 80% of employers believe that candidates are lying on their LinkedIn profiles.

67% of the 300 hiring managers and business owners surveyed said that candidates are most likely to lie about their past job titles and responsibilities. The other major areas where they feel people are most likely to fudge the truth are about the exact dates of previous employment, their education and their exact qualifications.

So we asked Workopolis recruiters and members of the HR community where they find the most common half-truths, exaggerations and outright lies on the resumes they review. Here’s what they told us were the most widespread falsehoods in Canadian resumes:

  • Education – HR managers surveyed said that many people who have even just started an educational program will claim to have graduated and obtained the degree even if they only took a few courses.
  • Employment dates – People often fudge the dates of their previous employment in order to exaggerate their tenure in a role or to mask periods of unemployment in between jobs.
  • Second language proficiency – Candidates with a conversational knowledge of a second language often claim to have native fluency. This is particularly true of people with Canada’s high school French skills applying for jobs requiring written bilingualism. It doesn’t work out.
  • Job titles – People most often tweak their job titles either to match the role they’re aspiring to land or in order to more accurately reflect the work they were doing at a previous job when they think their actual title undersells their contributions.
  • Technical skills – This is the most insidious lie of all because it is the least likely to be caught in the screening process. There isn’t likely a central phone number that an employer can call to determine if you actually do know HTM5. However if you get hired for a role that requires that skill, you’re going to land in hot water when you’re expected to actually use it on the job.

How do people get caught lying on their resumes?

While more and more companies are instituting policies of only giving minimal information to reference callers about past employees, they will confirm some basic details. Most HR departments will at least corroborate your job title, how long you worked there, and what your salary was. (Inflating their past salaries is the other big lie that recruiters say many candidates try to get away with. But as this is not often done on the resume itself, it didn’t fit with my list above.)

So, despite the temptation to make yourself look better and give yourself an edge over the competition, lying about your skills and experience on a resume or LinkedIn profile just isn’t worth it. Even a quick phone call to tight-lipped past employer can blow your cover on most of the biggest lies. And an exaggerated technical skill or language proficiency that you just don’t have will quickly come to light on the job.

You don’t want to lie about your ability to do a job in order to get hired. You might however, want to lie about the things that have nothing to do with your abilities that could still prevent you from getting hired.

Here are a couple of career lies that you actually should tell:

I never worked there. Okay, don’t literally say that. But if you’ve worked at a job that ended badly for you in a way that can hurt your future chances (fired for cause, extremely short tenure, etc.), simply leave it off your resume altogether. Only list the relevant jobs where you’ve learned skills or made contributions that can help future employers. Your resume is a document marketing your credentials – it doesn’t have to be a comprehensive list of everything you’re ever done.

My old boss was the greatest, and the whole team rocked. Nobody likes everyone, and there are some truly terrible bosses out there. However, even if you’re right and the team really were a bunch of jerks where you worked before, saying so will sink your chances of getting hired. It is essential that employers see you as friendly, positive and as a great team player. Slamming your old boss will only make you look like a complainer and have them wondering what you’ll be saying about them next.

My greatest weakness is… We all have things that we’re better at than others and some genuine weaknesses. A job interview isn’t the time to confess them. It’s also not the time to say, “I’m a perfectionist who works too hard.” That’s not a lie, it’s a cliché that will only annoy your interviewer.

Rather invent some innocuous weakness that sounds plausible but doesn’t impact your ability to do the job at hand. Then explain how you’re working on improving the situation. This shows that you are proactive, self-aware, and willing to learn. (Ideally you actually will be all of those things, but if not… well, lie.)

I’ll confess. As a student, I was once let go from a book store for fighting with the manager on duty over the music. She said that head office dictated the playlist for the store so we couldn’t change it. I tried to make the case that forcing anyone to listen to ABBA Gold Greatest Hits on constant rotation for four nine-hour shifts in a row was simply inhumane. It didn’t end well for me. I’ve left that job off my resume ever since.

How about you, have you ever lied on your resume?

Peter Harris

Peter Harris on Twitter

Category: Job interviews
  • http://www.thexclass.com Dana Is Kold Ski

    I especially agree with the “I never worked there” omission. The other two “lies” are very well known already, but I think people still have trouble seeing their resume as something other than a “comprehensive list”. That being said, there are certain jobs that people do take out of their resumes mistakenly. For instance, anybody with a waitressing job will tell you they feel slightly inadequate with that particular line on their resume, myself included until recently, despite the fact that it demonstrates an incredibly valuable skill set. I recently interviewed a woman from the University of Waterloo faculty who helps students find work and co-op placements full-time, and she spoke to the value of ALL experiences. I invite you to read it on my website, The X Class, if you’d like :) http://www.thexclass.com/what-experiential-learning-advisor-joanne-adair-knows-about-networking/

  • shyral Racette

    Hi…..I am well aware of all the misgivings that many prospective candidates applying for positions may fudge on their resumes; but what if you are just honestly overqualified, an over achiever lets say, and you don’t have to lie, or wouldn’t do it because if you get caught you look like an idget? Someone once told me that my weakness is that I “have to learn how to lie!” My weakness is not the qualifications but the interview process. I am weak at “selling myself” How do I fix this?

  • Annie Beaulieu

    Actually, I was wondering how to put that one out on my resume. My last job ended after 4 months because of the economic situation in my territory. I apparently have a load of positive comments from my past coworkers, customers and the management team. They even offer me a position at the head office but it was too far away from where I live to be worth it financially to move. They even gave me an awesome reccomendation letter.
    The thing is, that work experience demonstrate a loads of my skills and for the moment I just put it on my resume but without a end date and actually explain the situation to the employers when I’m requested for a interview.
    I don’t want to look like I am lying but I don’t want to put a end date either because it does look bad to be just 4 months in a job especially since my resume is what is going to make the cut for a interview or not.
    Any suggestions?

    P.S. Sorry for my english writting, I’m french and a bit rusty in english writting.

  • shanon5760000

    Everyone lies on there resume nothing new there it’s who has the better lie and has the best poker face. Who could blame them really with the vast majority of employers looking for experienced only or as I like to call it “Too damn lazy to train” rather than willing to train new hires as the baby boomers are reaching retirements somebody has to fill in for them eventually that looking for “Experienced” runs out . Big whoop you get fired you just gained some experience for the same job you apply for next. If you haven’t been fired at least once you’ve never truly worked and thats the truth.