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5 Common Lies Job Applicants Tell

marionette_yoh_blog.jpgIn an ideal world, every tidbit of information included on every resume could be taken as fact. However, in the real world, not all job applicants tell the truth. Statistically, just about every employer will at some point come across a resume that is built on falsehoods. The key to successful hiring lies in knowing how to spot those falsehoods and dismantle them.

Resume inaccuracies can be low impact, like a flubbed hiring date or a job responsibility description written in such a way that it suggests more responsibility than the applicant actually had. More often, however, inaccuracies are intentionally built into resumes by their authors with the goal of significantly and fraudulently boosting their hiring chances.

Some of these lies have the potential to damage your business if you don't catch them. Others won't have all that much impact, but they are still signs of a potentially dishonest person who may be a risky hire.


5 Common Lies Job Applicants Tell

Here are the five most common lies that applicants tell on their resumes or on their job applications and how you can navigate through them to get to the truth.


"I have never been convicted of a crime"

For a long time, the question, "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?" appeared on virtually every job application. This trend has begun to reverse recently thanks to the ban the box movement to support fair hiring policies. As a result, there are many areas in which applicants can withhold information about their criminal histories without technically telling a lie. Even if the criminal history question is still on your job application, denial of criminal history could be one of the most common applicant lies you encounter.  

Applicants will often seek to hide this information because of the stigma surrounding ex-offenders in the United States. In fact, some see hiding their criminal pasts as the only possible way to compete for jobs. It will be your call how to deal with applicants who tell a lie in this area. With that said, it's important to know who you are hiring, and being aware of past criminal activity—particularly violent crimes or sexual offenses—is paramount to protecting your business, your customers, your other employees, and yourself. Running criminal history checks on all of your hires can help to provide assurance.


"I earned a degree from [insert name of prestigious university here]"

Many attractive employment opportunities require a college degree. For many employers, a college degree from a noted institution carries as much weight as—if not more than—work history and experience.

It may be tempting for applicants who never finished school (or didn't attend at all) to invent college degrees to make themselves more marketable to employers. Some of these candidates will list a degree at a university where they actually only took a few classes but never graduated. Others will go a few steps further, purchasing degrees from "diploma mills" or taking other steps to falsify their educational pasts.

Background check companies can dig deep to verify whether or not your candidate received the degree that he or she is claiming to hold. You can also try to get in touch with the admissions department at the school in question to find out if they have any records of your applicant enrolling or graduating. The good news about this particular lie, as serious as it is, it tends to fall apart under scrutiny. If left un-scrutinized, the college degree lie can go undetected for decades—as it did for Marilee Jones, a former Dean of Admissions for MIT.


"I worked at my last company for three years"

One of the things that applicants want to show on their resumes is that they are dependable employees and good long-term hires. Every applicant knows that employers are looking for people who are going to stick around. After all, the costs of employee rentention and turnover are well-documented. It's also well-documented that employers and hiring managers hate to see resume gaps. As a result, an applicant who hasn't ever held down a job for a long period of time and whose resume is littered with periods of unemployment might be tempted to stretch his or her employment dates.

An applicant's tendency to stretch employment dates should also fall apart under scrutiny. HR departments are usually happy to confirm or deny a few pieces of basic information about their past employees, including salary, job title, and (you guessed it) employment dates. If your candidate is adding months or years to his or her most recent job, a simple call to the employer will poke a hole in the story.


"I have all the skills listed in your job description"

Job descriptions are supposed to be a company's chance to tell the world who should and should not apply for a specific position. The reason that employers are so specific about the skills and experience they want for a job is so that it allows them to narrow down the applicant pool to a more manageable puddle.

Some applicants, however, use the job description to create fib-filled resumes. If you ask for a wide range of technical and software skills and your applicant finds ways to mention all of them in his or her resume, it might be a red flag. Calling past employers to check on job responsibilities—or, better yet, testing your employee's skills with assessments or demonstrations—is the best way to separate the liars from the straight shooters.


"I made $80,000 at my previous job"

It's human nature to want a higher salary. Making more money is not only a portal to a better lifestyle but also a sign of status and accomplishment. As a result, you can expect ambitious candidates to try to negotiate their way to better salaries if and when you offer them jobs. However, there are honest and forthright ways to negotiate salaries, and there are dishonest ways to do it.

Applicants who lie about their past salaries to give themselves better negotiating power fall into the latter category. A candidate who takes this approach is hoping you will take the bait and beat his grossly inflated number, thereby giving him a massive raise that he wouldn't have gotten honestly. Once again, remember that HR departments will give you salary information for past or current employees if you call, so pick up the phone and find out whether or not your candidate is trying to manipulate you.


About the Author: Michael Klazema has been developing products for pre-employment screening and improving online customer experiences in the background screening industry since 2009. He is the lead author and editor for He lives in Dallas, TX with his family and enjoys the rich culinary histories of various old and new world countries.  

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