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Lies, Damned Lies, and How They Prevent You from Hiring the Best Candidate – Part 1: Résumés

People don’t lie for the sake of lying; they lie to accomplish goals. One important goal is to manage how the world sees us. Job candidates may use self-enhancing lies to manage the way they “look” to the hiring manager and increase their chances of being invited for an interview. Often, it works..

Resume LiesRésumé padding (in either a physical résumé or an online profile) is common, and some believe it is on the rise. That makes it difficult for managers to know which applicants are a good fit for the job, but selecting the wrong candidate can lead to public and embarrassing consequences.

You may have heard about George O’Leary, who was Notre Dame football coach for only a few days before lies about his degrees and his own football experience were exposed. Or Marilee Jones, who worked up the ladder at MIT to Dean of Admissions before admitting-after 28 years at the institution-that she did not have any of the degrees she had claimed to have. Or Janet Cooke, the journalist who falsely claimed degrees from Vassar and the University of Toledo (and who had to return a Pulitzer Prize in 1981 after her winning Washington Post article was found to be a fabrication). (Have stories about résumé lies to share, or want even more examples of résumé lies? Just email me.)

The amount of lying going on may surprise you. When CareerBuilder surveyed 2,000 managers, 58 percent said they have caught lies on résumés, and 33 percent said they have seen an increase in résumé lies post-recession. The Society for Human Resource Management estimated that up to 80 percent of résumés contain erroneous data like inaccurate job titles, enhanced skill descriptions, adjusted work tenure dates, and fake degrees and licenses.

You might think that candidates for managerial and executive positions would be less likely to lie-but you would be wrong. A study of executives found that 40 percent had lied about their education, 35 percent had lied about accomplishments, and 25 percent had lied about past job responsibilities and skills.

The lying seems to start early, too. In a survey of college students, 95 percent reported that they were prepared to lie to get a job, and 41 percent reported that they had already done so.

So what should managers do about the lies on résumés? First, understand that résumés are simply marketing tools. Think of a résumé as a seller’s description of a used car-read it, but don’t necessarily believe it. (President Ronald Reagan was fond of the Russian proverb Доверите а проверите: Trust, but verify.)

Next, recognize that résumés will not reveal whether candidates can do a job, if they will fit into the company culture, or whether their past experience has any value for the job.

Finally, consider ditching the résumé, as some companies have done. Instead, replace the résumé requirement with some other kind of ability indicator. Have job candidates create a product that is similar to what your job requires, or present a real problem and ask candidates to explain how they have solved similar problems in other settings.

If you decide to continue using résumé data in your decision making, be sure to spend the time and money to confirm degrees, work history, and background. Verification costs a lot less than a hiring mistake and could save you from unwelcome surprises.

In Part 2 of “Lies, Damned Lies,” we’ll take a look at the lies people tell during interviews-yes, it happens-and explain more about how to keep lies out of your hiring process.