If you've ever been tempted to insert a falsehood into your résumé to make you sound more qualified, you're far from alone. More than half of résumés contain lies, according to a 2012 study by Accu-Screen, Inc., ADP and the Society of Human Resource Managers.
It's puzzling why anyone would make up his or her job history, especially when people can easily check references. A simple Google search can quickly uncover lies most of the time.
Reasons vary greatly, from an applicant with a criminal record who's afraid his history would prevent him from being hired to someone looking to cover up an employment gap. Or maybe the job seeker simply doesn't have the required education or skills that a job requires, yet still feels he's qualified. Whatever the reason for the lie, there can be consequences beyond simply being caught.
While there's no limit to what job applicants can lie about on their résumés, the consulting firm Marquet International compiled this list of the top 10 lies.
1. Stretching dates of employment. We keep being told that working anywhere less than a year looks bad. So rather than fess up to the fact, some people are fudging their timelines.
2. Inflating past accomplishments and skills. There's a difference between enhancing actual skills and accomplishments and flat out lying. If you didn't do it, or don't know how to use it, don't list it.
3. Enhancing titles and responsibilities. This one's easy enough to confirm with a call to the past employer, but many human resources managers don't necessarily check up on every candidate (sad but true). Embellishing what you've done in the past can trip you up if you're expected to take on similar tasks now and find you're unequipped for the role.
4. Exaggerating education and fabricating degrees. This lie is one that could not only get you fired, but might also incite legal action on the part of your employer. It's simply not worth the risk.
5. Unexplained gaps and periods of "self employment." Rather than make up a fictional job to cover an employment gap, try honesty. If you were taking time off to raise children, go back to school or simply find yourself, no employer will fault you.
6. Omitting past employment. This is a gray area. Technically you're not lying (though we've all heard the "lying by omission" argument), but there's probably a reason you removed your last job from your résumé. Maybe you got fired and burned major bridges. Again, try honesty.
7. Faking credentials. Just like with lying about education, this can have serious consequences that can affect your entire professional future. Enough said.
8. Falsifying reasons for leaving prior employment. There's a tactful way of explaining being fired or quitting abruptly, and it doesn't have to involve lying. Just figure out the best way to explain it in as positive a light as possible.
9. Providing fraudulent references. Coercing friends and family to lie and act as your professional references can get them in trouble too. Value your friendships and look elsewhere for a genuine reference.
10. Misrepresenting a military record. Because people in the military often get preferential treatment in the hiring process, it might be tempting to pose. But again, this is one of the more serious offenses when it comes to lying on your résumé, so if you value your future, keep your lips zipped.
Honesty Really is the Best Policy
Lying on your résumé doesn't end once you've been hired. You've got to keep up the charade of each lie you planted for the rest of your career. Who can keep up with all of them?
Even if you're convinced that telling the truth will keep you from getting hired, you might be surprised. No potential employer expects you to be perfect. And if they won't hire you because of the truth, it's not the right role for you.
Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and Hoojobs.com, a niche job board for public relations, communications, and social media jobs. She blogs at LindsayOlson.com, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues.