Resumes, lies and repercussions

Most employers overlook job candidates' white lies—and worse.
By: | March 6, 2020 • 2 min read

New research by the talent-decision tech company Checkster shows that more than 78% of job applicants say they fudge or outright lie in their resumes, interviews and references—and that’s OK with most hiring managers.

According to the survey, hiring managers say they would hire candidates who inflated their experience 66% of the time.

The ethical standards study focused on 400 applicants and 400 hiring managers, HR professionals and recruiters. More than 60% of applicants said they have claimed mastery in skills they had only basic knowledge of, and more than half said they worked at some jobs longer in order to omit an employer. Other findings include:

  • 42% made up relevant experience;
  • 45% gave a false reason for leaving a job;
  • 41% gave a director-level job when the actual title was manager; and
  • 39% said they held a degree from a prestigious university instead of their own.

Among hiring respondents, 92% said they would still consider hiring a person who inflated their GPA by more than half a point. Flexibility for such fibbing seemed to skew slightly with age, with 69% of hiring managers under age 35 saying they would hire dishonest applicants at least some of the time, compared to 60% of those over 45.

These stats throw into question the institutional value companies place on ethics, while showing that finding the right—and honest—candidate in a tight job market can be tough.

“What is important is to understand the fact that the ethical standard of what is acceptable or not is also different for different people,” says Yves Lermusi, Checkster’s CEO. That means “white lies” may be considered different than larger untruths.

While most might intellectually agree that hiring people who misrepresent themselves is a bad idea, recruiters and hiring managers need to be aligned with the company’s ethical standards, Lermusi says. The pressure on recruiters to find appropriate candidates can also contribute to them “brushing off” any inconsistencies they find that could suggest lies in the application.

“I think, as an organization, it is important to just say, ‘Hey, where do we draw the line?’ It is a discussion that that we haven’t had in the industry [about] what constitutes [the] ethical and non-ethical,” he says. “There are some people who say, ‘We will never hire someone who created fake references,’ or they just say, ‘Sometimes it’s OK.’ Where do you draw the line?”

Checkster developed a free ethical-hiring benchmark questionnaire to help companies understand where inconsistencies in hiring practices could lead to hiring unethical employees.

“When we developed the study, we didn’t know if people would really admit that they [misrepresented themselves] as much as they do,” Lermusi notes. “When the results came back, we were stunned.”

Maura Ciccarelli is freelance writer based in Southeastern Pennsylvania. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.