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How much lying on a resume is OK?

How much lying on a resume is OK?

I have read hundreds if not thousands of resumes, cover letters and selection criteria and found that a significant number contain untruths. Is it acceptable to tell a few white lies and if so how far can one push it before it becomes a flagrant violation of the truth?

It is estimated that 25% of candidates lie on their resume -  but which 25% and what are they actually lying about? It is not uncommon for a candidate to tell a prospective employer that he or she is on a higher salary than is actually the case - isn’t that how the games of negotiation are played and won?

The reality is that the role of recruitment has developed over the years from simply being about talent sourcing and selection to now include risk minimisation and credibility assessment. In bygone days, resumes were sent via the post or fax and the main source of verification was reference checking. The next phase was to call a candidate nominated referee (and of course this person was going to say only good things about the candidate).

Today, with technology advancing by the day and hour, we have many ways of scrutinising candidates without them even realising it. The ability to cross reference data from resumes, cover letters, selection criteria, LinkedIn profiles, Facebook and even the simple Google search will produce more information that you realise and therein lies the ability to identify discrepancies and potentially “constructed” lies even before a conversation is actually had with the applicant!

In the past, the cost of conducting detailed candidate background searches was very high and was employed only by large firms however with the advancement of technology, these costs are continuously falling to the point where a firm of any size can order background checks. However, the biggest change has been in the mindset behind these costs - no longer are they simply expenses that are written off but are now considered an investment in credibility and risk minimisation.

OK, let’s say you have passed the resume selection process and are now called into an interview. Besides your reference checks, what else is happening here?  Many firms now have “Background Checks” as a mandatory component of their process and if you are completing an online application there will usually be a statement indicating that you agree to have these checks undertaken should your application be taken forward. In many cases, an applicant is required to fill in additional forms that are then checked by a 3rd party such as First Advantage. These in-depth checks can include confirmation of employment (dates, position title and yes your salary!!!), police checks, education, personal identification, any industry accreditation or membership (or suspension), directorships, and shareholdings. All of this is done without jeopardising your current employment situation so no need to be concerned.

So, if you knew upfront that you were going to be under this much scrutiny would you still lie for a job? Clearly you would not. Well, there are some people who still do! In fact, the Western Australian Government in 2013 implemented a policy of applying a $5,000 fine to anyone who applies for a Chief Executive role in local government and who knowingly provided false information. Sounds extreme but when you consider that a Queensland Health employee (Joel Barlow) defrauded the government of $16 million after dubbing himself a Tahitian prince and was sentenced to 14 years in prison you may reconsider the seriousness of lying and the results. It has been widely acknowledged that this situation could have been avoided if better checks had been conducted such as conducting background checks in New Zealand and not just Australia.

Either way you see it, if you lie the end result is not good. If you get found out at the resume application phase you will be rejected and blacklisted (yes this happens) or if you get to the face-to-face interview or negotiation stage where background checks are a matter of course, not only will you lose the opportunity but also any respect and credibility you had. And for most businesses’ this is far more important.

So the next time you may be tempted by family, friend or colleague to even “white lie” remember what I have detailed above and resist anything that may jeopardise your reputation and your long term future.

Graeme Gilovitz has over 15 years Recruitment Industry experience & is a Director of SummitResumes, a job application specialist. Previously he was a Director of Summit Talent (a boutique Australian based recruitment agency with an international reach & client base) & has also worked in-house with some of Australia's largest companies. With a background in advertising & marketing prior to recruitment, Graeme possesses a unique perspective on communication, the recruitment process & how to ensure that you get the most out of your job search and applications.

For a FREE CONSULTATION contact Graeme & his team on (02) 9011-5877 /

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