The Truth about Resume Lies and How to Detect It

Apparently some executives aren’t only good at building companies.  Whether it’s ego, arrogance, or naiveté, many C-level folks seem to claim an advanced degree from an educational institution they’ve never set foot in.

Resume Lies Yahoo’s CEO Scott Thomson was the latest culprit caught for misrepresenting his credentials. Thompson claimed he held double degrees from Stonehill College, including one in computer science.  Apparently the school didn’t feel a few courses equals  a degree.

Thompson joins some good company, including V.P. Joe Biden, in stretching the truth about credentials.

According to Jude M. Werra, who has produced the Liar’s Index since 1995, reports that the number of executives he finds with resume lies and fabrications is at an all time high. According to his website, “For the second half of 2011 the percent of cases where education data has been fudged reached 27.27 percent, a new record, and the two-year running average also has reached a new peak, at 21.80 percent.”

Other estimates indicate that 10 percent to 50 percent of job seekers fib or flat-out lie on their resumes. According to a survey done by Forensic Psychology, 31 percent reported lying a resume. Research by Jobacle thought the number could be as high as 43 percent. And in 2004, the outplacement firm, Challenger, Gray & Christmas, reviewed 249,000 resumes and found 52 percent had discrepancies.

What do the 5 biggest resume lies look like?

  • 27 percent stretch the truth about salary.
  • 12 percent like about credentials (such as degrees obtained through diploma mills or just pure fabrications like Thompson).
  • 15 percent fib about job performance.
  • 19 percent embellish previous job responsibilities.
  • 17 percent claim to have job skills they really don’t have.

Back in 2005, I wrote about how Michael Brown, the embattled ex-FEMA director during the Hurricane Katrina debacle, was exposed for lying on his resume. Brown claimed he was director of a nursing facility but the nursing home administrator told Time magazine that Brown was “not a person that anyone here is familiar with.”  He offered his oversight of an emergence services division as proof of experience but in fact, he was only an assistant to a city manager.

Brown also listed “Outstanding Political Science Professor, Central State University” as one of his accomplishments. A director of university relations at the school, however, said Brown “wasn’t a professor here, he was only a student here.”

Other famous resume fibbers include Dave Edmundson, CEO of Radioshack; Ronald Zarrella, CEO of Bausch & Lomb; George O’Leary, Notre Dame football coach; and Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut’s Attorney General.

Does everyone who lies get disqualified or fired? Apparently politics is more foregiving than business or sports.  Biden and Blumenthal survived. So did Zarella for a while, But Edmundson and O’Leary were done.

For others it depends.  A whopping 94.6 percent of Werra’s survey respondents would pass over a candidate who falsified a degree. Approximately eighty percent of respondents disqualify candidates who falsify job assignments and titles. Werra found greater tolerance for lesser offenses with 41 percent of respondents forgoing candidates who falsified dates of employment; the remaining 59 percent would give a candidate a chance to explain. Claims of inflated results would be a total turnoff for 35.7 percent of respondents; 21.4 percent would categorically disqualify someone who omitted an employer from a resume.

Why is this lying happening? 

The Internet makes earning advanced education degrees, whether legitimate or fake, a relatively easy process. A global and mobile society means workers move smoothly from east to west and north to south, and to other countries, almost at whim. Downsizings, mergers, and a migration of managers from one company to another leave a void in human resources’ staff ability to verify references. Caution about lawsuits translates into a reluctance to give any meaningful information about ex-employees. Overwhelming managerial workloads forces many hiring managers to accept a resume at face value and a job seeker at his word.

What can you do to avoid resume fraud?

  1. Search the Internet. Use networking sites like LinkedIn. Make sure resumes match up.
  2. Confirm degrees before scheduling interviews.
  3. Confirm employers. Make sure names, places, and phone numbers are legitimate. Call the phone number and search the website.
  4. Verify professional licenses and memberships.
  5. Complete pre employment testing especially for technical skills.
  6. Complete a background check including education, residences, and criminal.

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Ira S Wolfe