— By Kathryn Tuggle for MainStreet
Lying on your resume is always a risk, but some lies are harder to uncover than others.
Applicants embellish their resumes to gain an edge over the competition, but liars beware, says Becky Parker, director of services and support for employment screening for human resources and business solutions provider Insperity.
“More and more managers are becoming wise to these schemes, with many companies implementing thorough background checks by a third party to ensure candidates are telling the whole truth,” she says.
According to a recent survey by Harris Poll for CareerBuilder, 58% of hiring managers have caught a lie on a resume. Here’s a look at the three most common “little white lies” risk-taking applicants may put on their resumes.
1. Job title and advancement
When an applicant has been out of school for only a few years but their title reflects a management role, it’s either a sign they are very good at their job or that they’re lying, says Tracy Cashman, senior vice president and partner of information technology at recruitment firm WinterWyman.
“If someone is three years out of college but they’ve got ‘senior manager’ on their resume, you start to get the sense that there might be something else at play,” she says. “You’re only going to learn the truth by making a phone call to the employer.”
Stretching job titles usually leads to lies about the candidate’s actual skill set, says Becky Parker, director of services and support for employment at Insperity. For example, an applicant might say, “I managed a team of 20” when they only had two direct reports.
“Was your applicant really an experienced national sales manager like he or she claims on their resume? Or were they a floor manager for one location?” Parker asks.
If you’ve been with a company for several years, make your progression of job titles clear on your resume, says Janet Elkin, CEO of staffing company Supplemental Healthcare.
“It looks better to show your progression within a company. Put your total tenure on the top and then add a line that says ‘promoted within the organization,’” she says. “Otherwise it will look like you’re claiming to have been a manager for five years when you really worked your way up from an assistant.”
Most human resources managers will verify your dates of employment and sometimes your title, Cashman says, but not your salary.
“Most HR professionals aren’t going to verify salary, but it’s not out of the question that your prospective employer could find out,” she says.
The HR world is smaller than you might think, and people talk. Even if HR won’t disclose your salary, your manager might. Also, you could always be asked for a W2 or pay stubs to prove how much money you earned.
“Is that a risk that you want to take?” Cashman asks. “There are plenty of people who would probably say yes, but I feel like it’s definitely an ethics issue. If you’d lie about this, what else would you lie about?”
If someone’s salary is not commensurate with experience, that’s a sign they’re lying, Elkin says.
“HR professionals know the market for your position. If you have a salary that’s way off from the norm, they’re not going to think you’re that exceptional, they’re going to think you’re lying,” she says.
If you feel like you’re underpaid, the solution is not to fib about your salary, Cashman stresses. Instead, detail the reasons you’re worth more.
“Do your research. If you’re being paid below market value for your experience level or if you’ve gone five years without a raise, then bring those things up. Just don’t lie.”
3. Degree or GPA
“This one is interesting to me because you either have a degree or you don’t,” Cashman says. “Some people say, ‘Well, I put in four years,’ but if you didn’t graduate, you don’t have a degree, and that’s easy to check.”
Occasionally job candidates will maintain that they had a bill that went unpaid or that they were a few credits short, but they still list the degree. That’s a lie, she says. If you have 102 credits out of 108 completed, that’s a conversation you can address in the interview.
“Yes, it’s possible to forget a bill at the bursar’s office, but everyone knows whether or not they got a bachelor’s degree,” Elkin says.
Sometimes, people who don’t have a degree will be vague about having graduated. For example, they might just list the university name but they won’t list dates.
“At first glance, it might look like they have a degree, but they don’t. A lot of companies screen for degree. They’re going to call the college,” Cashman says.
If you didn’t graduate but did attend some classes, be specific.
“It can help in some cases to list that you have some college, but under no circumstances should your resume include ‘bachelors’ if you don’t have one.”
When it comes to GPA, there is no such thing as “rounding up” without looking unethical, says Jason Hanold, managing partner at executive search firm Hanold Associates.
“If you had a 3.8 but you say you had a 4.0, that’s a lie,” he says. “That is something your prospective employer might not discover until after you have a job offer in hand and they’re confirming your degree. You don’t want to lose that job because you fibbed about a few tenths of a point.”