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Lying on Resumes: Who, What & Why

April 25, 2019


April 25, 2019

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It’s hiring time! Sitting at your desk, after hours, sifting through piles of resumes, you’re hoping to put together a short list of candidates to interview. That’s when every HR manager’s nightmare hits you, and an uneasy feeling gurgles through the pit of your stomach. There’s no denying what is right in front of you: a blatant lie on your most promising candidate’s resume. Stunned into disbelief, you frantically shuffle through the resumes of your top picks, wondering how many more of them have fabricated outright lies, stretched the truth, or conveniently forgotten to mention something important.

Lies on resumes are not only damaging to the candidate audacious enough to try pulling one over on you, but they also can affect your company’s bottom line. If the fraudulent resume manages to slip by you, and you hire someone incompetent to perform their job, now you have to jump through all the hoops, compile all of the documentation, and incur the costs required to terminate their employment.

You might lose contracts with treasured, long-term clients, if they discover you have unqualified people in your employ. Your company will suffer a definite hit to its professional reputation. You might become the butt of every HR joke, or the laughingstock of your industry.

How do you stop this from happening? Your HR department isn’t staffed with enough people to conduct exhaustive background checks on every job applicant! Fortunately, there was a survey conducted recently that can clue you in to who is most likely to lie on their resume, what they tend to lie about, and why they lie.

Between March 28 and April 1, 2019, Consumer Track Inc. commissioned a new survey from Survata, as reported by GOBankingRates, to determine the prevalence of the practice of lying on resumes. The survey was administered online to 1003 respondents, both men and women, spanning all generations currently participating in the U. S. workforce.

The survey revealed some very interesting job candidate behavior patterns. Coming to recognize these patterns will help you focus your resume lie-detection efforts and enable you to weed out the likely liars without wasting precious resources in the process. First, you will need to decide what constitutes “lying,” for there are nuances to lying. One person’s lie may be another person’s embellishment of the facts.

How Much Resume Lying Is Taking Place?

As with other aspects of life, when you are searching for the truth, there is perception and there is reality. In the survey, 40% of the respondents felt that less than half of the job-seeking population lies on their resumes. Another 28% felt that half of this population probably lies, 18% felt that more than half of the population lies on their resumes, and 4% felt that everyone lies when applying for jobs. That’s a whole lot of lying going on! Only about 10% of the respondents felt that nobody lies on their resumes. “What we see in others is a reflection of ourselves.”

If this many people believe that so many people are lying on their resumes, then it is a pretty safe bet that a substantial portion of those people who recognize these behavior patterns in others are exhibiting those same behaviors, themselves. That would mean that as many as 90% of people are lying on their resumes, to one degree or another!

Now, contrast that data with the self-reported data revealed in the survey, when the respondents were asked if they had ever lied on a resume. Only 5% admitted to lying, at least once. Half of those 5% admitted to being repeat offenders. A full 85% swore they had never lied on a resume, while 9% stated that they had not lied, but that they had been tempted to lie.

Of the older Gen Z respondents (those in their early 20s), 14% said they had been tempted to lie. The Millennials (Gen Y, ages 25-34) admitted that 11% of them had actually lied on a resume. By comparison, Baby Boomers (aged 55+) stated that only 2% of them had lied at least once on a resume.

So, who is really telling the truth? From this perspective, it would appear that the Millennials are being more honest about their transgressions in preparing their resumes. The Millennial respondents justified their high percentage of lying based on their belief that 23% of job applicants lie on their resumes. To them, lying was somewhat of a norm.

From a practical standpoint, this survey appears to have a very large element of bias. Who wants to admit that they are guilty of indulging in negative, socially-unacceptable behavior, especially when the results of the study might be made public? Older generations, such as the Baby Boomers, are much more influenced by societal pressure to conform to norms than younger generations, such as the Millennials.

What Lies Are Being Told?

Now that you have some idea of the sheer volume of lying happening, and who is likely to be lying, let’s take a look at the types of lies being told on resumes. These are the types of lies that were identified in the survey:

38% lied about their work experience


31% lied about their dates of employment



16% lied about job titles in former positions

15% lied about their references


11% lied about their college education


7% lied about their responsibilities in former jobs



4% lied about their college GPA


2% lied about their internship experiences

This data garnered from the survey is perhaps most critical, as it has a direct impact on whether a job candidate has the knowledge, skills and abilities to perform the job at the expected level of competence. Of this list, job experience, dates of employment, college education and job responsibilities are the most critical when evaluating a candidate’s resume. 

Have they had actual experience doing the type of work you need them to do for you? Did they actually ever hold the positions where they say they gained their experience? Do they have the educational background required to perform the job successfully? Have they ever had similar responsibilities or performed similar duties? Seeing such high percentages of people admitting that they lied about their work experience is alarming!

Why Do Job Candidates Lie on Their Resumes?

It is safe to assume, across the board, that people lie on their resumes to cover up some real, or perceived, lack in their knowledge, skills and abilities. They lie so they will look good to prospective employers. The survey revealed some rather interesting data in this regard. Here are the reasons for resume lies:

24% lie to cover up gaps in their employment history


22% lie because they feel their experience is not strong enough for the position


15% lie because they feel their references are weak


9% lie because they were fired from one or more previous positions


9% lie because they were laid off


7% lie because their education doesn’t meet the job requirements


When pressed about why they had lied about having a lack of required job experience, many of the survey respondents stated that they felt a sense of entitlement to the job that they were applying for, so they felt it was acceptable to fabricate experience that would demonstrate their qualifications.

Another reason was that they were ashamed of their previous jobs, which were either low-paying or menial in nature, so they invented jobs that were more in line with what a successful applicant would need.

Here are some specific results of the survey that will help you target your background research into your job applicants, by generation:

  • Baby Boomers lied because felt they lacked job experience. This was largely due to the rapid evolution of technology, which makes this generation feel unqualified.
  • Gen X respondents lied because they had gaps in their employment history, which was due to the recession and high unemployment rates that existed during large blocks of time while they were entering the workforce. Many of Gen X also lied about their college education, no doubt due to the extreme competition they experienced when vying for jobs in the recession.
  • Millennials lied because they had gaps in their employment history, similar to those in Gen X.
  • Gen Z lied because they lacked job experience. Many of this generation are just entering the workforce and are looking for some type of competitive edge that would allow them to land that all-important first job.

Don’t They Feel Remorseful?

In a word, no. This could be seen as a sad comment on how our societal norms are degrading. A full 47% of those who lied expressed zero remorse for having done it. Even worse, half of those experiencing no guilt would lie again, given the opportunity. Of those survey respondents who admitted to feeling guilty for lying, 18% said they would do it again, despite feeling remorseful. Among Millennials, a staggering 73% experienced no guilt about lying on their resumes, and 55% of them stated they would lie again. In Gen X, 63% of the younger members (those born in the 70s) responded that, although they did feel guilty about lying, they wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.

What Can HR Managers Do?

Although most HR managers report that it is rare for a candidate to put a complete fabrication of their knowledge, skills and abilities on their resumes, it does, occasionally, happen. It is far more common for a candidate to slightly exaggerate their skills, which is found on roughly 15% to 25% of resumes. Look at the data revealed in this survey.

Decide what candidate evaluation criteria are most critical to success in the position you are advertising. Determine who is most likely to lie about that aspect of their work history. Identify your short list of best candidates and then do a little checking. It can save you from making a costly mistake.

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Reduction In Bad Hires


Reduction In Employee Turnover


Decrease In The Turnaround Time Of Their Background Reports

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