Anything's fair in love and war – but not in getting a job.

Are you an honest person?

Most people would respond with a resounding “Yes!” Aside from a few socially-acceptable fibs such as “I love that tie” or “I'm only five minutes away,” professionals tend to believe that they are honest where it matters. Sure, one might lie to smooth over an uncomfortable interaction or to avoid hurting someone's feelings, but virtually everyone agrees that lying on a resume falls outside the benevolent “white lie” category. What professional candidate would commit such a misstep?

Turns out, quite a few people do. A recent TopResume survey asked 629 recruiters to share their experience with lies, both small and big, on candidate resumes and during interviews. The findings may surprise you.

Lying on your resume is more common than you think

In fact, nearly four out of five recruiters, HR professionals, and hiring managers have witnessed lying first-hand. Discovering those lies may result in a hard conversation during the interview or even an outright dismissal of the candidacy with no chance to recover.

Which offenses are most likely to cost a candidate the job? Here is the list of the top five lies that received the highest damage scores in the survey:

  • Academic degree

  • Criminal record

  • Certifications and licenses

  • Work experience

  • Technical skills and proficiencies

These parts of the resume, plus other quantifiable factors, are often verified through background and reference checks. Admittedly, completion of background checks is far from perfect (23 percent of respondents confessed to only doing the background checks sometimes and 11 percent never perform them), but this is the most common way for the lie to be found out.

Resume lies have serious consequences

Is there a chance that a lie might not compromise your candidacy? Yes, but that possibility is small. In only two percent of cases, survey participants uncovered a lie and still allowed the candidate to move forward in the process.

The rest of the vote was split. About half of the remaining recruiters (48 percent) were firm on disqualifying the candidate immediately. Most often, this had to do with the subject of the lie. For example, a professional might lie about having a professional certification that's required for the job. Most licensing agencies have online research tools that allow an HR professional to simply type in a license number to check its status. A phone call to the agency is just as simple. A lie can be found out in seconds! Since licensing is often a statutory requirement, there is a high chance that the company will complete this check diligently and will have no tolerance for misrepresentation.

The remainder of the survey participants (roughly half of them) observed that there might be a bit of room for flexibility in certain circumstances. Perhaps the candidate states that she is fluent in French, even though this skill isn't required to perform the job successfully. If she then fails to answer a question asked in French but is otherwise well-qualified, some HR professionals may allow the candidacy to move forward.

Or perhaps a candidate lists state-level competitive swimming on his resume for a job that has nothing to do with swimming. If the hiring manager happens to have a brother who competed in the same swim club, she may ask for more details. That may cause the story to unravel. Depending on other qualifications and the candidate's response, it's possible that the candidacy may be allowed to remain in the running.

However, those are judgment calls that are situational and manager-specific. As such, it is difficult to predict outcomes with any accuracy. It is possible that a “small” lie added to make a resume look more impressive or unusual might slide – or it might ruin a candidacy.

Is honesty really the best policy?

When it comes to the hard facts on the resume, the answer is a hard “Yes.”

From academic degrees to certificates, professional licenses, criminal record, positions held, and technical skills that are required for the job, the best approach is to tell the truth. In fact, experts recommend that candidates double-check all key dates and details on their resume to be certain that there are no unintentional mistakes (let alone bold-faced lies).

Some candidates may be compelled to lie or embellish the truth because they believe their honest resume won't make it past the initial screening, let alone get them an interview. Perhaps their resume has a gap in employment, and they don't want to look like an undesirable candidate. Or maybe they were fired from the last job and would rather not list it at all. What then?

Begin by being honest with yourself and asking yourself a few hard questions. What specifically makes you feel that your resume isn't enough?  It is possible that your qualifications are objectively insufficient for this position. However, it's also possible that you have fallen for the illusion that someone else's resume (just like their vacation pictures on Instagram) is more glamorous and impressive than yours. In reality, HR professionals and hiring managers don't expect glowing perfection. Outside of a few “hard” technical prerequisites, there is often some room for professionals to be humans-in-progress.

If you are uncomfortable with certain parts of your professional history, you should know that there is a way to present them favorably. If you are still tempted to stretch the truth in order to make your resume look more attractive, know that lying isn't the only way to accomplish the goal. Work with a professional resume writer instead. An experienced specialist can help you frame your professional history in a way that puts a spotlight on your candidacy without taking the risk and the lasting consequences of lying on your resume.

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