Every job applicant wants to look his or her best on a resume or during a job interview. After all, the person viewed as the best will likely get the job. But, how far are you willing to go to leave that golden impression? Maybe stretching the truth a bit? Rating your skill levels a tad bit higher than actual? Outright lying? In reality, job seekers do all the above.
Politicians are famous for putting a “spin” on any situation so they always come out smelling like roses. Similarly, applicants also want to cast themselves in the best possible light. Experienced interviewers are well aware most candidates engage in a bit of “puffing.” Merriam-Webster defines puffing as “to praise extravagantly and usually with exaggeration.” For example, consider an applicant who actually won sales awards only three months last year. On a resume or during an interview, the person may puff this modest achievement as “regularly” winning sales awards.
OK, so there is some deception out there. But, how bad is it? In a 2014 press release, CareerBuilder.com stated that a recent survey found 58% of hiring managers said they’ve caught a lie on a resume and 33% have seen an increase in resume embellishments. Think about it. This means the data shows a slight majority of job seekers lie on resumes and the situation is only getting worse!
When Does Puffing Become Lying?
According to an article from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, “The challenge, experts say, is not to cross the line from harmless puffery to a more damaging form of elaboration. In some cases, the limits of what is accepted and what isn’t are clear-cut — few would condone amplifications that break the law, for example, or cause others serious harm. Equally prone to reproach are cases in which company executives or leaders within an organization are found to have included degrees they never earned, or positions they never held, on their resumes…”
What Do People Lie About?
If people lie on resumes and during interviews, it begs the questions of what kinds of things they lie about and the size of the untruths. As it turns out, we’re not just talking about “little white lies” or innocent stretches of the truth here. No, we’re talking about real whoppers. Like what?
The three most common lies job seekers tell, according to Monster.com, relate to education, dates of employment, and skill levels. Lies about education can range from exaggerating the importance of certain courses or programs to outright falsification of college degrees. Regarding employment dates, the Monster.com article states, “Another common deceit is to cover up employment gaps by ‘stretching dates for one or two jobs to cover a time gap, or fabricating an interim job…’” When it comes to skill levels, as you might expect, applicants usually tend to overrate themselves. For example, just because you took one class or attended a one-day seminar on Microsoft Excel, should you describe yourself as a “highly skilled” user of the application? Doing so misrepresents the skill level regardless of whether such a portrayal is a deliberate lie or simply due to self-delusion.
Because of such attempted deceptions, many employers now routinely test job applicants to determine their actual skill levels. Be sure to read the Career Lantern posting Should You Expect a Skill Test During a Job Interview?
Misrepresentations Can Have Consequences
Suppose Human Resources or an interviewer catches a lie on a resume, during the interview, or even after a person is hired. What happens? At a minimum, your resume gets tossed out. Suppose you do land an interview but then get caught in a lie. Think about how horribly embarrassing it would be to leave the interview room with egg on your face – and, of course, no chance of a job offer. It is also no secret that most companies have a policy of firing a person who is later found to have falsified some aspect of their resume or job application. You could get fired even after holding the position for years and having done a great job! Or, worse yet, you could end up in prison.
Say what? According to an interesting blog post by ShakeLaw.com, “…the cardinal sin of resume fraud is falsifying your educational record.” The posting describes how in some states it is actually illegal to either falsely claim you received a degree from an actual, accredited university, or to list a degree from a “diploma mill.” You know how these shady, so-called colleges work: you send money, no real coursework required, and you quickly receive a “degree.” According to the article, penalties for such deceptions vary by state but might include significant fines (e.g., $2,000) and a year in prison.
Will They Catch You?
Probably. With so many applicants making so many false claims, Human Resources departments have become very skilled at detecting deceptions on resumes and applications. Also, the job interview can be a vulnerable time for dishonest candidates. An experienced interviewer can quickly separate fact from fiction by merely asking the applicant simple questions which “scratch just below the surface.”
According to a CNBC article, famous SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk asks one simple interview question to catch a candidate’s bluff: “What were the most difficult problems you faced and how did you solve them?” Musk goes on to state, “People who really solved the problem, they know exactly how they solved it.” In other words, applicants who merely puff will not have a deep level of knowledge or detail and will quickly be found out.
I agree with Mr. Musk. For example, I recall interviewing an applicant who claimed a vast amount of experience testing a particular piece of equipment. He proudly described how he had served an internship lasting months where he had worked every single day with the machines, performing tests on hundreds of them. All I did was simply ask the applicant the brand name of the devices he tested. His response? “Uh… er, they were blue in color.”
It Doesn’t Matter if You’re Clever
You may think you’re pretty clever and could pull off a deception. However, there may be others who will gladly help to take you down. Think about it. Any number of people might be happy to put a knife into the back of your career. A jealous colleague, unhappy former employee, passed-over applicant, angry ex-significant other, just to name a few.
Need an example? Here’s a true story. I know of a company which hired a person to head up a large, important department. The press release regarding the hiring of the individual touted how he had a bachelor’s degree from a respected college and an impressive work history with a well-known firm. A few days later, an anonymous letter arrived in their Human Resources department suggesting that the company look a little closer into the new manager’s credentials. They did. As it turned out, the individual had falsified his education. Although he had indeed attended the college indicated, he was actually a few credit hours short of having completed his bachelor’s degree. Therefore, in reality, he had no college degree at all. Unfortunately, the job description for this management position absolutely required a degree.
Let’s assess his situation. No degree. Lied on his documents and in the interview. Caught red-handed. To make matters even worse, the whole incident became public and severely embarrassed the company president. You can guess the outcome. The new guy was out the door just as quickly as he had arrived.
The Bottom Line
As a job applicant, you are selling yourself. Like a salesperson, your immediate task IS to paint your product – you – in the best light possible. You want your experience, skills, and credentials to come off looking good. A job interview is the right time to “toot your own horn” a bit. It’s OK. You do all this to show the potential employer why YOU are the best candidate.
However, keep it honest, even if many other job applicants do not.
Why? It’s the right thing to do. Besides, you otherwise just might be reading Career Lantern while in the unemployment line or from a prison cell.
Agree? Disagree? Share your experience or thoughts?
Click “Leave a Comment” at the top right of this post (or at the bottom on some mobile apps).
Featured image courtesy of peter67/pixabay.