How Data Proves You Don’t Need to Lie on Your Resume

May 8, 2020 | Job Search Strategy, Resumes

You have what it takes! When you lie on your resume, you risk way too much. Here’s how data proves you should be honest and believe in your qualifications instead.

By: Katelyn Skye Bennett | Contributor for Let’s Eat, Grandma

Once upon a time, Talia was looking for work. She had just graduated with an associate’s degree in business from her local community college, and she wanted to land her dream job in marketing. Her days in retail were nearly over!

But when Talia sat down to update her resume, she was bombarded with choices — choices that could change the path of her job search and potentially get her hired… or later fired.

She read a comprehensive 2017 CareerBuilder survey that said 75% of hiring managers have caught lies on job applications, and she wasn’t sure how she felt about that. What if she just fudged a little? Should she Google what happens when you lie on your resume to play it safe? What counted as a lie, anyway?

Lies About Education Won’t Make the Grade

The blue light of the laptop reflected off her glasses as she pinned her hair away from her face so she could focus on the education section. A bachelor’s would look better than an associate’s, wouldn’t it? Or what if she said she graduated from the state university instead of her city college? She’d taken a couple classes there, after all. 

According to Checkster’s December 2019 research on 400 job applicants, 78% of survey respondents outright lied or misrepresented themselves on resumes and in interviews. This real data is similar to the (also real) 2017 research our fictional Talia had discovered.

Checkster showed that 39.5% of people reported listing a degree from a prestigious university when they were actually a few credits short. 39.25% also listed a degree from a prestigious university instead of their own, and 39.25% listed a degree from a prestigious university when they had only taken one class online, as Talia was considering doing.

However, her degree from the community college was also valid and had saved her thousands of dollars. She decided to own that fact.

Was her GPA high enough though? Nearly 50 percent of survey respondents listed a GPA that was higher by more than half a point. Thankfully, Talia did some research and discovered that GPA is not necessarily worth listing on a resume. It’s not a key component.

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Fake Skills Won’t Pay the Bills

Skipping to skills, Talia felt her heart rate increase. She wanted to make sure she had enough skills listed for her resume to pass through the ATS to the employer! But surely she didn’t need to overdo it. She wanted to go into marketing; she knew which resumes looked pleasing to the eye and which ones looked too busy or redundant.

Narrowing down on her experience, she wondered if she should say she was proficient in Salesforce. She’d actively used it for a couple of months at her summer internship. Talia decided to say she was familiar with it instead.

A screenshot of video editing softare on a computer.

No matter how important a technical skill is for the job, don’t exaggerate your proficiency in it.

But what about InDesign and the Adobe Suite? Those were more key to the jobs she wanted. Should she exaggerate her experience there to boost her resume? 

According to Checkster, 60% of applicants surveyed reported mastery in skills they barely used. However, Talia knew employers would find out the truth soon enough. 

She heard her mentor’s voice echoing in her head: Did she want to start off the relationship being thrust into something she was unprepared for, being known as untrustworthy, or left hunting for jobs because the employer wanted someone honest?

Don’t Lie to Close the Gaps

Talia wrestled with this as she went to grab a snack. Her food was dwindling since she was staying home to save lives, but she had a mask and hand sanitizer ready for her next grocery trip.

Returning with a glass of water and her last bag of chips, Talia reflected on her work over the past couple of years.

She was young and didn’t have a lot of job experience yet, and there was a gap from when she took that one semester off to focus on school instead. Still, she knew she could address this in her cover letter if she needed to, and employers would understand this when they interviewed her. 

But she was stuck on one thing: She was hoping to move to another city for work, so how should she state her location? 

Just over 50 percent of people said they had worked at some of their jobs longer than they did in order to omit an employer. 42.25% made up relevant experiences. 34.5% lied about their current location of residence when they could have followed this advice instead!

Honesty is the Best Policy

Talia is a fictional character, but these facts are real, current, and accessible here

I do know someone who was actually fired from a restaurant for doing his job in the kitchen too well. Due to his concern for thoroughness, he was let go in the interest of saving the business time and money.

This person laughs about it now and respects the manager who made that decision, but because of this experience, he now has the option to lie in an interview to say he left for a better opportunity when in reality he was let go. According to the Checkster research, 45.75% of people said they would give a false reason for leaving a job, after all. 

However, lying is still wrong, and this person’s honest explanation for being fired might get him hired at a company that cares more about attention to detail and values his thoroughness.

The Checkster report found other instances of either rounding up or flat-out lying in resumes and interviews. It’s surprisingly common and a little scary.

41.25% of people surveyed adjusted their title to “director” when they were actually managers. Nearly 50% said they significantly inflated their role on a key project, and 34.5% inflated their job outcomes. 32.5% even claimed achievements that weren’t theirs at all.

Almost 40% of respondents said they inflated their salary by over 25% during the hiring process, but the good news is that asking about one’s salary history is actually illegal in many states! These new policies are part of ongoing efforts to close the gender pay gap.

So… What Do Hiring Managers Think?

A stock photo of two women talking as part of a job interview

A few hiring managers said they’d hire candidates with lies on their resumes only if they have a good explanation… so just be honest!

Despite the abundance of lies on resumes and in interviews, 66% of 400 employers surveyed by Checkster reported they would still hire candidates caught in a lie or exaggerationbut with certain conditions.

About a third of the time, the hiring manager said they would still hire the person if they had a good explanation. Since this is true, why not be honest from the start? You especially should when you learn that percentage shrunk when it came to false references or lies on one’s background. Those lies are more likely dealbreakers.

Like we learned in grade school, “honesty is the best policy.”

About 14% of the time, the hiring manager would only hire an applicant who lied or misrepresented themselves if they couldn’t find anyone else. Sometimes it depended on the other staff making the decision, and often they simply didn’t want to hire the person at all.

(Full disclosure: the 400-person Checkster applicant survey was majority white (63.5%) and female (60%), with an average age of 32. The survey of 400 employers was 56% female and 63.75% white, with an average age of 37. You can find more details on the report itself.)

All in all, it’s not worth it to lie on your resume — or even to exaggerate, in case you missed that.

By having an ATS-compliant resume with a clean design, strong language, and accomplishment-focused content, you’ll already be miles ahead of most of the competition. Like Talia, you’ll be making career moves in no time.

You’re not alone — either in this pandemic or your job search. Let’s Eat, Grandma has experts ready to help if you feel uncertain or are simply too swamped. Just be honest in your job applications and honest with yourself. We’re here for you.