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The Truth About How to Handle Resume Lies

When twenty perspective hires are handing you a list of their accomplishments, how do you tell a slightly embellished resume apart from a complete fabrication? It’s certainly possible that the applicant knows the ins and outs of Excel, but did they really come up with the Apple logo?

Do people really lie on resumes? Yes, resumes are full of exaggerations, and often even outright lies.

Wagepoint’s Small Business Expert Series has highlighted CEOs, founders, specialists and business owners across North America. We asked them,

What is the most outrageous or obvious lie you’ve seen on a resume?

In addition to some of the resume fibs our experts have encountered, we’ll also outline how to spot lies on a resume, what questions you should be asking about a candidate’s resume and how to avoid resume lies altogether.

Now back to the root of it all – the resume lie.

Fact or Fiction?

“Proficient in Microsoft Office”

Max Yoder, CEO and Co-Founder of

A study conducted by The Society of Human Resource Managers concluded that 53% of resumes and job applications contain falsifications and that 78% of resumes are misleading.

Do you feel like you’ve caught lies in 50% of the resumes you’ve reviewed? Probably not. Many resume lies go undetected.

How to spot a resume lie

Business Know-How author, Tim Parker, cites the following 6 common resume lies to look out for:

  1. Schools that sound iffy
  2. Companies you’ve never heard of
  3. A job title that seems overinflated
  4. Far-fetched self-acclamations
  5. Name Dropping
  6. Gaps or vague details

“I wouldn’t say it was a lie, but we once had our own job posting plagiarized with particular chunks of it showing up on this individual’s resume.”

Ryan Lazanis, CPA, CA, Xen Master at Xen Accounting Inc.

What questions should you be asking?

If there’s something on a resume that doesn’t make sense to you – ask.

Iffy Sounding Schools

Phony degrees are real. There are plenty of websites that offer fake diplomas. We’ve never completed one of these purchases, but we can guarantee it’s much cheaper than a 4-year college degree.

It can be tough to tell a high-quality phony degree from the real thing, but outlines some tips on How to Know Real From Phony.

“GPAs! Why don’t companies ever just call the university to confirm?!”

Josh Bland, Digital Media Specialist at TechnologyAdvice

Ask your potential hire about their education, where they studied, if they had to travel from their hometown, if the education was recent, and what courses they enjoyed most.

Make sure they are comfortable talking about their education.

Mysterious Companies

If you’ve never heard of the company your potential hire comes from, it’s worth a quick Google search. Chances are you will find the company online, and if not, you’ve got a perfect question for your interview.

Pro tip from Business Know-How: If you are hesitant, call the company itself instead of just the job reference to ensure the company exists.

Overinflated Job Titles

Overinflating is expected.

It wouldn’t feel like a resume if the candidate claimed he/she ‘played a minor, inconsequential role in x project’ or ‘was one of 200 others that completed the same tasks.’

“The most obvious lie I have seen is someone who claimed to be a CFO, but had no real-world experience to back it up. It’s not like looking for a CPA, where you generally know who and what you’re getting. With our incoming CFO’s we take great pains to vet each candidate to make sure they have the background and the financial acumen to back up that CFO title.”

David Ehrenberg, Founder of Early Growth Financial Services

You want your potential hire to be able to paint a bright shiny picture of himself/herself, but you should also expect some accuracy. If a job title doesn’t seem to fit, it never hurts to ask. If you’re still unsure, you can always call the previous employer to confirm.

Far-fetched Self-acclamations and Name Dropping

“‘Helped solve world hunger.’ – They volunteered at a foodbank, so technically I don’t think they are lying but perhaps stretching the truth a little.”

Matthew Davis President and Thought Leader of Virtustructure Inc

Did your potential hire really solve world hunger? Because if they did, you should definitely hire them. But chances are high that these are just far-fetched acclamations.

By looking for claims such as, “was the first person to,” “spearheaded,” etc., you can spot these exaggerations on a resume.

“Oh man – I wish I could upload the entire resume! Highlights include: Chief of the Bank of Canada and Bank of Israel (not at the same time), lunged and exercised horses, and negotiated the takeover of a petroleum company. All in day’s work.”

Josh Zweig, Co-Founder of LiveCa

Gaps or Vague Details

Large resume gaps should always alarm your ‘spidey sense’. There should be an explanation for any vague or missing sections on a resume.

Gaps aren’t always a bad thing, but they should be justified.

Maybe they were away for a year volunteering across the globe. Or maybe they had an ill family member they needed to take care of.

Ideally, your candidate will include an explanation for any gaps in their employment, but when in doubt – ask!

Is there a better way?

There’s no sure way to spot every lie on a resume, but you can do your best to pick out the most obvious ones. If a potential hire has made up something on their resume, it will be tough for them to talk about it in genuine detail.

It’s important to have a company policy when it comes to dealing with resumes. What’s your company’s approach for fictional resume claims? Does your hiring team have a strategy for weeding out these resume tales?

“It seems like every single business candidate I’ve interviewed “knows” HTML. Knowing bold tags does not count.”

Mike Preuss CEO & Co-founder of VisibleVC

As hiring technology advances, companies have more and more options.

Many companies are now going beyond weeding out the lies and are making the switch to more in-depth hiring tools.

Small Business Expert Sonia Varkey of says, “to find out who someone really is, you’ll need to use personality/psychometric testing.” She says, “a good test will assess someone for fit – culturally and related to the actual demands of the job.”

With reliable personality and skill tests, a company has the advantage of avoiding resume lie altogether; “A good test gets into who someone is without asking questions that the user can fake.”

Here’s a list of five things to look for when choosing a personality/psychometric testing tool.

It’s ultimately up to the employer or your company’s hiring team to decide what’s most important.

“I think my biggest resume peeve is not necessarily a lie because that might be hard to catch. My biggest source of annoyance is when people submit resumes that have NOTHING to do with the job description.”

Shrad Rao, CEO of Wagepoint

Does it matter what school your candidate graduated from if their Java skills are out of this world? Does it matter that they only have two rather than three years experience when their personality is a perfect match for your team?

When approximately 80% of employee turnover can be attributed to bad hiring decisions, it is an HR function that employers have to pay attention to, more so if you run a startup or a small business.

Work culture and team cohesiveness is more important to businesses than ever before.

There’s no one-way to weed out every resume lie, but there are ways to catch or prevent them.

What are some of the craziest lies you’ve spotted on resumes? What is your company’s strategy to weed through resumes? Leave us your comments below.