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Will the Real Candidate Please Stand Up? How to Spot a Fake Resume

Can you spot a fake resume? Can’t blame you if the answer’s no…It’s becoming trickier than ever thanks to the rise in Web sites – like CareerExcuse.com and FakeResume.com – that make it even easier for job seekers to falsify information on their resumes.

Add to that the already strained resources hiring managers, HR professionals and recruiters have to verify these claims, and it’s even easier for unqualified job seekers to slip through the cracks.

In fact, a 2008 CareerBuilder survey on lies job seekers tell found that 38 percent of employees had embellished their job responsibilities at some point, while 18 percent had lied about their skill sets. Other common lies surrounded information about employees’ start and end dates of employment, academic degrees, previous employers and job titles. 

6 Ways to Avoid a Hiring Mistake:
Here are some more steps you can take to protect yourself from being the victim of a fake resume (adapted from Workforce Trends and Volt.com):

  1. Perform a standard background check on things like work history, residences, dates of employment, etc. Look for discrepancies between what the candidate submitted and what the reports reveal.
  2. Check for red flags: Unexplained gaps in employment, a reluctance to explain the reason for leaving, and unusual periods of self-employment can be a tip off to false employment history. Always check references, including clients, for self-employed work history. Because even references can be fake, check the web sites of previous employers and use the phone numbers found online for employment verification.  (Can’t find a previous employer’s web site, even after you’ve “Googled” it? The Better Business Bureau or the local Chamber of Commerce are good resources to check, too.)
  3. Utilize social networking sites. Social networking profiles contain public information that may help you verify certain information such as a candidate’s work history or education credentials.  (Just be aware of the possible legal ramifications of using social media to screen applicants.)
  4. Test their skills. Knowing that employers use keyword searching to find and qualify their resumes, applicants may include keywords for all skills required for the job – regardless of whether they have them or not. Find out if they’re embellishing by asking specific technical questions about the skills they claim to have and actually test their computer skills.
  5. Be fair. Remember that mistakes and misunderstandings do happen. If you find a discrepancy, give the candidate an opportunity to explain.
  6. Use common sense. Trust your intuition and experience. If something doesn’t seem right, follow up on it.

Lesson Learned: Readers Share Their Own Fake Resume Stories
In the comments from a previous post on lies job seekers tell on resumes, many readers shared their own experiences in dealing with false resume information. Here are some of their stories:

  • “Several years ago I learned a very important lesson: be wary of people who claim a previously outrageous salary from a “now defunct company” but are willing to work for less because they “like your company.” We hired my Executive HR Assistant who ended up spending the first two weeks of her job with us surfing for a new job online. We do have internet management software that blocks job sites, but as she was HR she needed access to these sites for our own recruiting efforts. It does monitor the sites visited though, and that’s what tipped us off. Additionally, she had five different versions of her resume stored on her company computer. All of them had her working for us for over one year, when she had only started 10 days previously. However, the reference name and number she included for our company was not us.  The funny thing was though, all of her business references and previous employment history checked out before we hired her; except the most recent one that “went out of business.” When checking references, look the company info up online and call directly. Don’t use the info the candidate supplied unless you have to, then take it with a grain of salt.” – Nathan
  • “I was ready to hire the perfect candidate when I decided to run a background check. We don’t normally run one for every position but this position had access to cash so I’d required it. The letters of recommendations from previous employers were actually letterhead he stole from the companies. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he submitted a list of company contacts and personal phone numbers. Everyone on his list turned out to be one of his friends who covered for him on the initial phone conversation telling us what a great employee he was. Digging deeper we found at a previous job in another city he was told to resign his position or he would be turned over to the police for theft. His explanation was that if he told me the truth, he probably wouldn’t have got the job. After that experience, I run background checks on anyone and everyone that works in the office and/or drives a company vehicle.” – John
  • “We had a person claim a very high-level position at a major corporation. It was actually true, but we couldn’t figure out why he wanted to come work for us in what was a huge step down for him. A few days later his name was in the paper – he had had *ahem* inappropriate activities with a board member of the company he was working for, in the parking garage. Which had been caught on tape….” – PJ
  • I received four applications with the exact same resume…The only difference were their names at the top.” – Colleen

What’s So Wrong with a Little White Lie?
I also want to mention, however, that a few readers of that post actually came to job seekers’ defenses – arguing the point that there’s little harm in embellishing resume information if experience and performance trump what’s on paper….Would you agree?

Or do you, like other readers, believe that if job seekers are willing to lie about one thing, they are probably willing to lie about other things, too?

What are your thoughts? Do you forgive “embellishments” on resumes, or is any white lie a deal breaker?

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.
16 comments
MaheshNarasimhan
MaheshNarasimhan

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andi
andi

I see nothing wrong with the embellishment of your resume as long as you are capable of performing, can learn in a short period of time, get up to speed fairly quickly. Every new job comes with a training period use it to bone up on those skills. Advertisers embellish and we buy their products, employers over state or falsely state job specifications to discourage applicants. I recently was hired by a not-for-profit who embellished the job description the job was nothing close to my expectations and I quit as a result. This is one foundation of a capitalist society (marketing). While employers run background checks employees should be privy to information about who is asking questions about them. I think it is far to one sided on the Employer side.

Sandra Tucker
Sandra Tucker

I would be interested in finding out what background checking services are widely used; particularly for companies that would have less than 20 checks a year to perform. Monthly service fees can be costly and finding reliable services are also important to screen through.

Sandra Tucker
Sandra Tucker

I would be interested in finding out what background checking services are widely used; particularly for companies that would have less than 20 checks a year to perform. Monthly service fees can be costly and finding reliable services are also important to screen through.

LeeH
LeeH

I went with a recruiter to a job interview that would involve C programming. At the time I had been exposed to C, and had helped to debug a number of C programs, but had only written one or two functions in C. My previous position involved extensive experience with the same operating system (pSos with pHile and pHrobe) on the same Motorola processor family using VAX Workstations for development, and a "download speedup" using existing hardware instead of a serial line.

We were fully expecting the client to ask questions about my C experience. Instead they were asking questions about other areas that I had covered on my resume. They were impressed that I knew how to customize the DEC editor (TPU/EVE) (Some one commented that they kept hitting control-z to perform some function from a prior editor only to find that the editor would exit. I mentioned that that could easily be taken care of with a key reassignment during editor startup.) My experience with the hardware, the OS, and the development system and utilities is what sold them. Not one question was asked about my C experience.

I got the contract job, and the customer was impressed by my knowledge. The initial C consisted mostly of modifying code with "glue logic" and many function calls to "library" routines. Early on I worked on a download speedup using Ethernet from a VAX “client” to the target system “server”, using C on the VAX and C and assembly language on the target system. (If I knew then what I know now, I probably could have written most of the assembly language portion in C with pointers but would have had to clone hardware definitions that were available in assembly macros.) I “borrowed” examples for the socket/stream portion and wrote new code for the rest of the download program. Reduced downloads of 22 to 30 minutes via serial link to under 2 minutes with Ethernet.

They wanted to keep me but there was a directive from on high that “thou shall not keep a contractor for more than a year.” Even the VAX sysadmins wanted me because I had shared some of my utility DCL scripts with them with examples of how they could be used, including a few that did something that was “impossible”: using a script with a wild card parameter. Since there was no native script support to parse a file name, I wrote my own using the DCL string functions. They were most impressed with one example that could find and verify all of the CMS repositories on a drive. They were also impressed that when I needed something done with my workstation that I knew what needed to be done and how, and could show support information on why, but just did not have the privileges to do it. Early on I had asked them to increase my paging file about octuple. I had a tendency to keep utilities open instead of closing one to start another. With a small paging file the system was thrashing. After some discussion and system usage charts they still did not have a clue what I was talking about. I suggested giving it a try. They agreed to double it. It took 3 trips to get it large enough to reduce thrashing to a tolerable level, and one more to reach optimum utilization. (Ask me about paging files and virtual memory.)

I mentioned to someone on the last day that coming in I only had a little experience with writing C. They said they would never have suspected it because I dove right in had been a valuable addition to their team.

I had an advantage of knowing the other things that most contractors or employees would have had to come up to speed on. I also knew how to find information in manuals and am quick to pick up the basics of a language.

LeeH
LeeH

I went with a recruiter to a job interview that would involve C programming. At the time I had been exposed to C, and had helped to debug a number of C programs, but had only written one or two functions in C. My previous position involved extensive experience with the same operating system (pSos with pHile and pHrobe) on the same Motorola processor family using VAX Workstations for development, and a "download speedup" using existing hardware instead of a serial line.

We were fully expecting the client to ask questions about my C experience. Instead they were asking questions about other areas that I had covered on my resume. They were impressed that I knew how to customize the DEC editor (TPU/EVE) (Some one commented that they kept hitting control-z to perform some function from a prior editor only to find that the editor would exit. I mentioned that that could easily be taken care of with a key reassignment during editor startup.) My experience with the hardware, the OS, and the development system and utilities is what sold them. Not one question was asked about my C experience.

I got the contract job, and the customer was impressed by my knowledge. The initial C consisted mostly of modifying code with "glue logic" and many function calls to "library" routines. Early on I worked on a download speedup using Ethernet from a VAX “client” to the target system “server”, using C on the VAX and C and assembly language on the target system. (If I knew then what I know now, I probably could have written most of the assembly language portion in C with pointers but would have had to clone hardware definitions that were available in assembly macros.) I “borrowed” examples for the socket/stream portion and wrote new code for the rest of the download program. Reduced downloads of 22 to 30 minutes via serial link to under 2 minutes with Ethernet.

They wanted to keep me but there was a directive from on high that “thou shall not keep a contractor for more than a year.” Even the VAX sysadmins wanted me because I had shared some of my utility DCL scripts with them with examples of how they could be used, including a few that did something that was “impossible”: using a script with a wild card parameter. Since there was no native script support to parse a file name, I wrote my own using the DCL string functions. They were most impressed with one example that could find and verify all of the CMS repositories on a drive. They were also impressed that when I needed something done with my workstation that I knew what needed to be done and how, and could show support information on why, but just did not have the privileges to do it. Early on I had asked them to increase my paging file about octuple. I had a tendency to keep utilities open instead of closing one to start another. With a small paging file the system was thrashing. After some discussion and system usage charts they still did not have a clue what I was talking about. I suggested giving it a try. They agreed to double it. It took 3 trips to get it large enough to reduce thrashing to a tolerable level, and one more to reach optimum utilization. (Ask me about paging files and virtual memory.)

I mentioned to someone on the last day that coming in I only had a little experience with writing C. They said they would never have suspected it because I dove right in had been a valuable addition to their team.

I had an advantage of knowing the other things that most contractors or employees would have had to come up to speed on. I also knew how to find information in manuals and am quick to pick up the basics of a language.

Janet
Janet

In today's economy if it means getting food on the table for your kids, wouldn't you? I sure would. But you need to do it carefully, so that you are actually capable of what you are embellishing on, if not don't do because you will get caught. I do all of the hiring, and am completely aware of this, and I don't think its a bad thing, people want to appear better than they are. I've personally embellished on my resumes, an I guarantee you as a recent college grad at that point with no experience you better bet it got me that job, but I also knew that I was totally capable of my claims, and in fact I got promoted to ceo within a year. So I guess its really about your reasons for doing it, are you a fighter or a whiner, and your hiring manager should know the difference.

Janet

Janet
Janet

In today's economy if it means getting food on the table for your kids, wouldn't you? I sure would. But you need to do it carefully, so that you are actually capable of what you are embellishing on, if not don't do because you will get caught. I do all of the hiring, and am completely aware of this, and I don't think its a bad thing, people want to appear better than they are. I've personally embellished on my resumes, an I guarantee you as a recent college grad at that point with no experience you better bet it got me that job, but I also knew that I was totally capable of my claims, and in fact I got promoted to ceo within a year. So I guess its really about your reasons for doing it, are you a fighter or a whiner, and your hiring manager should know the difference.

Janet

g
g

I have had college career counselors teach me how to "embellish" on my resume. I was lucky; when my "embellishment" caught up with me, my company did not fire me or hold it against me ---- they allowed me to learn from my mistatke. But having embellished/lied left me feeling so guilty that i never did that again --- without them having to say a single word of correction or warning to me. I do use my words carefully on my resume, but do write it truthfully and accurately .... and i have a clear conscience and peace of mind about my resume.
But i have another thought; i've discovered that perspective employers "embellish/lie", too, so it is sort of like "the pot calling the kettle black", don't you think? It would be so good if all of us were truthful and honest, wouldn't it?

g
g

I have had college career counselors teach me how to "embellish" on my resume. I was lucky; when my "embellishment" caught up with me, my company did not fire me or hold it against me ---- they allowed me to learn from my mistatke. But having embellished/lied left me feeling so guilty that i never did that again --- without them having to say a single word of correction or warning to me. I do use my words carefully on my resume, but do write it truthfully and accurately .... and i have a clear conscience and peace of mind about my resume.
But i have another thought; i've discovered that perspective employers "embellish/lie", too, so it is sort of like "the pot calling the kettle black", don't you think? It would be so good if all of us were truthful and honest, wouldn't it?

Mary B
Mary B

Lying on a resume is never worth it. We had an employee who we had hired on a temp-to-hire basis. She was a very nice person, great at her job, and would have been converted to a permanent employee, had she not listed herself as a graduate of a school that she had not really completed. Our company had a "zero tolerance" policy for that type of thing, so she was termed immediately. She had attend the school, but had just a couple of classes left to graduate - so is that lying or embellishment? There is a fine line, and it is best not to take the chance, in my opinion.

Mary B
Mary B

Lying on a resume is never worth it. We had an employee who we had hired on a temp-to-hire basis. She was a very nice person, great at her job, and would have been converted to a permanent employee, had she not listed herself as a graduate of a school that she had not really completed. Our company had a "zero tolerance" policy for that type of thing, so she was termed immediately. She had attend the school, but had just a couple of classes left to graduate - so is that lying or embellishment? There is a fine line, and it is best not to take the chance, in my opinion.

Keith
Keith

We have to be careful of our definitions. Embellishment and lying are not synonymous. I worked at firm where myself and a co-worker received a week of TQM training. I listed on my resume under training. He wrote it up in the experience section and as such it inferred there was more there than there really was.

Embellishment? Yes. A lie? No. I don't recommend it, but I understand puffing on a resume. (since it's been a few years, and I never used it, I've long since removed TQM from the training section of my resume).

For the employer, buyer beware. For the applicant, lying risks both wrecking your reputation and could result in termination after the hire.

Keith
Keith

We have to be careful of our definitions. Embellishment and lying are not synonymous. I worked at firm where myself and a co-worker received a week of TQM training. I listed on my resume under training. He wrote it up in the experience section and as such it inferred there was more there than there really was.

Embellishment? Yes. A lie? No. I don't recommend it, but I understand puffing on a resume. (since it's been a few years, and I never used it, I've long since removed TQM from the training section of my resume).

For the employer, buyer beware. For the applicant, lying risks both wrecking your reputation and could result in termination after the hire.

Mary Lorenz
Mary Lorenz

g, you're absolutely right - employers are definitely guilty of embellishment themselves - and whether it's on the job seeker end or the employer end, embellishments are tricky territory because they can lead to false impressions, assumptions, etc. all of which lead to hiring mistakes. One way we can get around this is to make sure that we really dig deep during the interview process to make sure we're finding the best fit between employee and employer - and that goes for experience as well as culture fit.

Mary Lorenz
Mary Lorenz

Completely agree, Mary - there's a very fine line between embellishment and lying, and it's not always easy to tell the difference. It's a shame that the company had to lose what sounded like someone with great potential - it just goes to show that both sides lose when it comes to lying on resumes.

Mary Lorenz
Mary Lorenz

You're right, Keith - while embellishment and lying are definitely two different things, and some might find nothing wrong with a little embellishment, it still tends to be a gray area. But I think you say it all when you say, "For the employer, buyer beware."

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Will the Real Candidate Please Stand Up? How to Spot a Fake Resume Thanks to a rise in websites like CareerExcuse.com and FakeResume.com, it became even easier for job seekers to falsify information on their resumes. Here we give tips for making sure you don’t fall victim to fakes. [...]

  2. [...] search the Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau websites to verify its existence. One red flag on afalse could be long periods of [...]

  3. [...] note: This post was adapted from an earlier post about resume lies, which includes true life stories from readers sharing their own ‘fake resume’ [...]

  4. [...] note: This post was adapted from an earlier post about resume lies, which includes true life stories from readers sharing their own ‘fake resume’ [...]

  5. [...] note: This post was adapted from an earlier post about resume lies, which includes true life stories from readers sharing their own ‘fake resume’ [...]

  6. […] I was ready to hire the perfect candidate when I decided to run a background check. We don’t normally run one for every position but this position had access to cash so I’d required it. The letters of recommendations from previous employers were actually letterhead he stole from the companies. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he submitted a list of company contacts and personal phone numbers. Everyone on his list turned out to be one of his friends who covered for him on the initial phone conversation telling us what a great employee he was. Digging deeper we found at a previous job in another city he was told to resign his position or he would be turned over to the police for theft…After that experience, I run background checks on anyone and everyone that works in the office and/or drives a company vehicle. […]

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