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Fact or Fabrication? The Truth About Candidate Resumes and Interviews

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Death, Taxes and Embellished Resumes

It’s an unfortunate fact of life: at least one in every ten candidates are better on paper than in actual work conditions. “Experts estimate that 10 percent to 30 percent of job seekers shade the truth or flat-out lie on their resumes,” says CNN/Money senior writer Jeanne Sahadi in her article, Top 5 Resume Lies. While many of these lies are told simply to increase the candidates’ market value, some of them go as far as to conceal the fact that the applicant is plainly bad news. According to Sahadi, candidates most often lie about their education, job titles, compensation, reason for leaving, and accomplishments. Let’s get familiar with these fibs:

True to a Certain Degree – whether it’s to meet the position’s requirements, command a higher salary, or just because it seems easy enough to do, exaggerating or even fabricating educational attainment tops Sahadi’s list of resume lies.

The Art of Self Promotion – to qualify for a better position or increase their negotiating power, some candidates hitch themselves a step or two higher on the corporate ladder. Others actually get creative and make some of their titles up. Not to be confused with these fanciful titles are fancy-sounding but legitimate ones, such as the euphemistic ‘Environmental Sanitation Technician’ and increasingly popular ‘Director of Front Desk Operations’.

Increasing Self Worth – more often than not, candidates expect to be paid more in their next job than in their previous one. By inflating their compensation, they raise the base of negotiation. This is very similar to lying about job titles and both lies usually go hand-in-hand. The good news is, potential employers can often verify job titles and compensation through background checks.

Time to Move On – few candidates will say outright that they were fired, even if it was for unfair reasons. While this lie is rarely touched upon in the resume, be wary of ‘job hoppers’. Granted, many employees looking for work are casualties of mass layoffs or downsizing. However, many unscrupulous job-seekers use this highly plausible reason when explaining their unemployment. “It sure beats saying that you were singled out for poor performance,” says Sahadi. “Next on the list is saying you quit when, in fact, you were fired. And lastly, job applicants inclined to lie or distort the truth, will underplay or fail to mention a bad relationship with a boss.”

Been There, Done That – what employer would not be impressed with a driven, results-oriented candidate? According to Sahadi, the fifth most common resume lie can be found in the candidates’ enumeration of contributions to a project or segment of the business as well as to the company's bottom line. While less prevalent than the other four lies, overstated on-the-job accomplishments are the hardest to verify. This is because most previous employers will only confirm basic information about a previous employee’s work history, such as dates of tenure and positions held.

As many employers have learned, finding and weeding out candidates who lied on their resume is only the beginning. "If a candidate lies on a resume, they can lie during an interview, too," says Henry Strada, a freelance writer who specializes in HR and Benefits issues. For too many candidates, the desire to stand out from the rest of the applicants is more important than truthfulness. On one hand, knowing that lying among candidates is common make employers more diligent about checking out the best potential employees. The downside, however, is that the reality of dishonest job seekers has compelled interviewers to be too wary, and so they focus more on what might be wrong with what the candidate is saying instead of what might be right.

Helping Candidates Come Clean

Our goal is not to catch job seekers in a lie, but to work towards eliminating or clarifying any inaccuracies they may have – whether deliberately or not – supplied. “Even if you don't want to go through the time and expense of performing background checks, pre-employment testing, and drug screening,” says Strada, “you can still guard against being lied to by an applicant.” Strada recommends the following tips to minimize candidate dishonesty and maximize your chances of making a truly great hiring decision:

  • Protect your company using the application form candidates fill out. The form can state that supplying false information is grounds for not being hired or for termination. Make sure the candidate signs the form.
  • Make sure that the resume contains the phone numbers or e-mail addresses of the candidate’s previous employers. If you feel you need additional references, you might be able to verify candidate information by contacting them.
  • Ask at least one colleague or a member of your team to interview the applicant as well, and compare notes immediately after the interview to check for discrepancies in what the candidate said.
  • Keep your eyes and ears open – both for negatives and positives. According to HR experts, interviewers who keep in mind that candidates often lie are much less susceptible to being deceived. This is mainly because they keep their eyes and ears open for discrepancies and therefore ask more pointed questions
  • Ask the candidate for both personal and professional references and check each one to verify employment history as well as work output, work ethic, skills, knowledge and ability
  • Ask the candidate both technical and behavioral questions that directly relate to the job and accomplishments listed on the resume. “If you're unsure a candidate actually possesses the skills and credentials reflected in their resume, ask them questions relating to those skills,” advises Strada. “If the job requires technical knowledge such as accounting or computer skills, be sure to ask the candidate technical questions.”
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