If you’re a hiring manager, you’ve seen applicants take the same liberties with the truth time and time again. If you have applied to more than 10 or 15 employers in your lifetime, chances are you’ve used a resume fib or two to give yourself a leg up on the competition. It makes sense why applicants stretch the truth a bit from time to time when compiling their resume or filling out job applications. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for job searches to stretch on for weeks or even months. When you’ve sent out hundreds of resumes and cover letters and heard almost nothing back, it’s easy to lose hope. As a result, it’s almost natural when job hunters start revising their past job titles or embellishing their employment responsibilities. They just want to get hired, by any means necessary.
If you are in the process of applying for jobs and are feeling this type of despair, don’t succumb to dishonesty. Hiring managers can spot resume lies instantly—and even the ones they can’t check often get flagged in background checks. Sooner or later, your (prospective) employer will find out that you weren’t truthful, and that fact will hurt you far more than an unimpressive job title or a list of mundane work responsibilities.
Do you need help to reverse some previous resume fibbing? Here are five lies that job applicants often tell, as well as how you can fix them before they come back to bite you.
- Made-up job titles
The story: Afraid your position of “Intern” or “Cashier” wouldn’t sound interesting enough, you decide to do some wizardry to make those job titles really pop. You represent your internship as a full-time position, or you change “Cashier” into Monetary Distribution Specialist (or something of the like).
The problem: The most obvious problem is that there is no such thing as a “Monetary Distribution Specialist” in any field. The same goes for most reinvented job titles. When positions are so vague or convoluted that they offer no sense of what you actually did, you can bet that hiring managers will see right through them. The other issue is that, if you are one of the final applicants, your hiring manager will probably call your previous employer—either to check your hiring dates and job titles with Human Resources or to speak with one of your listed references. Either way, your fake job title is probably going to come up in the conversation.
The fix: Open Microsoft Word, load your resume, and change your positions back to what they were. Do the same on LinkedIn or anywhere else where your job history is listed. It might not be “impressive,” but it’s the truth, which is all that matters.
- Embellished work responsibilities
The story: You look at the job description for the position you want and see a list of skills or experiences you don’t have. Rather than decide you aren’t qualified for the job at hand, you open your resume and revise the descriptions of your old jobs, adding in things that you never actually did at those jobs.
The problem: This type of resume dishonesty is seen most often in jobs where the employer wants all applicants to have certain specific computer skills. In such a situation, even if you lie about having those skills and don’t get tested during the interview process, you will show up to work on day one and have no idea how to do your job. Sooner or later, your manager will notice that you don’t have the skills you claimed to have on your resume, and you will very likely pay with your job.
The fix: Again, revise your resume. If your prospective employer has requested coding skills or experience with a specific CMS, make a note to learn those skills to make yourself more competitive in the future. You can learn a huge array of technical computing skills online, and that knowledge can turn you into a better applicant. The same goes for virtually any required skills that you don’t have yet.
- Filled-in employment gaps
The story: You didn’t work for the better part of a year and have heard that resume gaps set off warning bells for most hiring managers. To fill in the gaps, you stretch your employment dates at other companies.
The problem: As mentioned above, if and when your prospective employer calls the HR departments at your previous employers, they will confirm your employment dates. When they see that you worked at a company for months shorter than you said you did, that discovery really will set off warning bells.
The fix: If given the opportunity, explain your employment gaps. Maybe you were taking care of an ill parent or made a big cross-country move and took a while to find a job. There are plenty of reasons for gaps in employment, and since we are just emerging from a recession, there is no shame in admitting that it took you a few months to find employment.
- Inflated resumes
The story: Wanting to give yourself some high ground to stand on in negotiations, you list a past salary on your job application that is much higher than it actually was. Maybe if your employer sees what you were (or weren’t) being paid at your previous job, they will want to match it if and when they hire you.
The problem: Again, past HR departments are willing to confirm or deny a few objective facts about your employment, and your salary is one of those facts.
The fix: Don’t try to trick your way into making more money. You will need to get there by making yourself seem like a valuable applicant in the interview sessions, or going above and beyond once you land the job.
- Lying about qualifications
The story: You are so desperate to land a job that you go right past stretching the truth and start inventing a new life. You list diplomas you never receive, jobs you never had, and professional certifications you have never held.
The problem: There are verification background checks that can confirm or deny educational history, work history, and professional certifications. Claiming a false degree is illegal in many states, with sentences varying from significant fines to prison time. Are you willing to risk the punishment on the chances that your employer won’t run those checks?
The fix: Embellishing your resume is one thing; claiming degrees or professional licenses you don’t have is moving into fraudulent territory. To protect yourself from legal ramifications, it is vitally important that you be as truthful as possible when listing education or certification on your resume.
As you can see, the fixes are the easy part. All you have to do to save yourself from these common job applicant lies is to read over your resume and delete or revise any information you know to be false. Sure, you may have to wait a little longer to land an interview or get a job, but when you do, you’ll know you got there because of your real abilities and qualifications.
Michael Klazema has been developing products for pre-employment screening and improving online customer experiences in the background screening industry since 2009. He is the lead author and editor for Backgroundchecks.com. He lives in Dallas, TX with his family and enjoys the rich culinary histories of various old and new world countries.