How to spot a lie on a resume

There are many reasons why someone would lie on their resume, but there are just as many signs that indicate that certain portions are fabricated, or that job applicants have embellished their work history and credentials. HR managers have seen countless resume lies given their involvement in the interview process, and over the years they develop a certain detective 6th sense when it comes to spotting dishonest candidates.

The purpose of a resume is to concisely list one’s aptitude, previous work experience, and other relevant information, but some job seekers see it as an opportunity to portray themselves as someone they are not in order to secure a job interview. This article is dedicated to the reality prospective employers face when going through the resumes of job applicants.


What is a lie on a resume? 

A lie on a resume is any distortion of truth that misrepresents a candidate’s qualifications, experience, or education in the hope of gaining a job title  for which they do not necessarily possess the requested aptitude for.

Unlike what dishonest job seekers may think, lying will not increase their chances of getting a position, but will conversely raise red flags and work to the detriment of their reputation. For instance, someone who claims to be proficient with spreadsheet systems, such as Excel, only needs to be put to the test to confirm their claim of proficiency. Many companies leverage aptitude tests to assess the skills of workers before hiring them.


How to assess the problem-solving capabilities of your team


Why would someone lie about their resume? 

The reasons why someone would lie on their resume are manifold. Dishonest candidates may be in a precarious situation and need a job expediently, or the offered position is their dream job, but they lack the required work history. These complex scenarios are a possibility, just as they could be unscrupulous individuals.

Unfortunately, many individuals are solely driven by self-advancement without considering the repercussions of their actions. Some dishonest candidates distort their dates of employment to appear more experienced in a domain, and some invent bogus job titles to appear more prestigious (e.g. assistant to the regional manager). Someone could also lie about their resume by omitting compromising information. 

Recent studies have shown that employers often pick up on signs of dishonesty within a few minutes of meeting a candidate for the first time — as early as 30 seconds into an interview. These clues can include things like looking away during eye contact and not making full use of their body language. 

Suppose you’re carefully reading between the lines of a candidate’s answers and evaluating whether what they’re saying is hanging together logically and consistently. In that case, you might be able to pick up on these signs. Even if it’s not deliberate dishonesty, you might also notice red flags if a person is acting suspiciously nervous.


How companies test leadership qualities


The most common lies on a resume 

Since the information found on a resume is pretty standardized, dishonest candidates can only tweak certain information. These are the most common lies on a resume:

  •     Work experience
  •     Dates of employment
  •     Job titles in a previous role
  •     References
  •     College education
  •     Previous responsibilities
  •     Internship experience


5 signs a job candidate is lying a resume 

Here are 5 signs a job candidate is lying on their resume:

  1. References share conflicting information;
  2. Questionable or missing dates;
  3. Negative cues or answers to interview questions;
  4. Vague job descriptions;
  5. Refuse to take an ability test.


While it’s unfortunately still the case that many people lie on their resumes and cover letters, some subtle signs can make their deception flagrant to the trained eyes of an HR specialist.


1. References share conflicting information 

Asking for the contact information of references is common practice as part of a selection process. It is important for these references to be named, and to know their relationship with the job applicant that provides them. Certain dishonest candidates give the phone number of their friends to vouch for them and to pass for a previous manager. Therefore, check references and their legitimacy in the first place. 

Once the reference is deemed credible, asking open questions about the job candidate will help cross-examine the information on the resume with the one being given. A back and forward with previous employers can help you verify if a job applicant truthfully possesses the skills they claim to have.

2. Questionable or missing dates 

A hiring manager can only scratch their head when they find suspicious gaps or missing dates on a resume. Of course, there are valid reasons to have periods of unemployment, but sometimes dates just don’t add up or may conceal more sensitive information. A quick call to a past employer is all it takes for someone to find out if a lying candidate got laid off in January, not June.

3. Negative cues or answers to interview questions 

Dishonest candidates rarely get to the interview process since their deception is usually found earlier in the job application procedures, but HR managers and staff do not bring down their guard. During the face-to-face interview, they remain attentive to the answers given to interview questions, as well as the body language that contextualizes their responses. Lying on paper is much easier than lying in person!

4. Vague job descriptions

As mentioned earlier, resumes are meant to be concise yet descriptive documents. When job seekers write long prosaic descriptions of their responsibilities, hiring managers can’t help but wonder why they are reading the Iliad under the job title “assistant manager”. Although an employee’s position is complex, it can usually be resumed in a few words without fancy embellishments.

Just as words can be used to communicate something clearly, sometimes they are employed for more sinister reasons, such as concealing or fabricating facts. If you stumble upon a resume with vague job descriptions, either contact the previous employers or simply bring in the job candidate for an interview.

5. Refuse to take an ability test

Testing job applicants is one of the most straightforward ways of measuring their capabilities in the skills they claim to possess and that are required for the position. Most of the time, the mere mention that examinations will be held to screen out job seekers will deter dishonest candidates to apply altogether. Given that there is a wide selection of standardized tests, hiring managers can easily gather their own data about job applicants.


Situational judgment test for human resources management advisors

The ID-Human Resources (Grh), previously Situational Judgment Test for Human Resources Management Advisors (HRMA-SJT), is a tool that assesses the ability to react adequately to situations likely to be encountered in a human resources management position. Through situations representative of the tasks carried out by a human resources consultant, the exercise makes it possible to measure essential criteria for working in this type of position.

With the services of HRID, not only will you be equipped to test the aptitudes of prospective candidates but will also be able to assess your current employees’ skills for the purpose of career advancement. This standardized and non-biased way of measuring the competencies of individuals reduces human errors in companies while creating a transparent and meritocratic work environment. Our tools will make the difference! 

Contact us