Lying On Your Resume

Embellishment is a common--and risky--practice.
By Jim Owen

Eager to win that coveted position, job seekers are sometimes tempted to be "creative" when writing their resumes. But that doesn't surprise Edward C. Andler.

"Cheating on resumes has become distressingly common," says Andler, a "resume detective" and the author of The Complete Reference Checking Handbook, published by Amacom Books. "And many people are getting by with it, which appears to be making others follow suit."

Increasingly, experts like Andler are being hired by U.S. companies, who want to hire truthful employees and who are eager to avoid costly lawsuits arising from crimes committed by workers hired without reference checks.

Andler's own surveys suggest that as many as one-third of all resume writers exaggerate their accomplishments, while up to 10 percent "seriously misrepresent" their background or work histories. In some fields, such as sales, the numbers are even higher.

"So many people are getting by with inflating their resumes that sometimes honest people feel like they also have to do it just to keep up," Andler says.

Typical "enhancements" include the addition of fictional degrees, bogus job titles, vastly inflated responsibilities and changing dates of employment to bridge periods of unemployment.

The Internet, with its many links to questionable firms offering embossed, certified "diplomas" for sale, may even be contributing to resume fraud, according to Michael G. Kessler Associates, a corporate investigation firm in New York.

Some resume lies, such as phony degrees, are easy to track. Other fabrications, particularly those that just stretch the truth, are harder to detect. "Most companies will only give you dates of employment, and that's it, no details," Andler says.

But Andler says he has other techniques that nearly always ferret out lies on resumes. Questioning former colleagues and other probing often reveals clues to past performance and potential problems.

Still, many get away with their fabrications. And that, according to Andler, is why so many people continue the practice.

"Our message to people who cheat is just don't do it," says Andler. "We may not catch up with you now, but sooner or later, somebody will."

Jim Owen is a freelance journalist who has written extensively for newspapers and magazines for over a decade.