New Study: Resume 'Embellishment' A Major Problem Among Job Applicants

Is resume padding an epidemic? A surprising new survey paints a worrying picture.

Padding: It’s not just for mattresses, undergarments, and the soles of your slippers. Occasionally, you find it on a resume.

Actually, according to a recent national survey conducted by Harris Poll for Career Builder, padding turns up there a lot more often than you’d think.

The survey, which polled more than 2,200 human resources professionals from a wide swath of industries, found that 57 percent had encountered candidates who’d “embellished” skill sets, 55 percent had encountered candidates who embellished responsibilities, and 42 percent had encountered candidates who fudged dates of employment.

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You may be thinking, “Um, yeah, who doesn’t exaggerate?” But consider the percentages of participants who had encountered falsified awards (18), places they’d worked (26), an academic degree (33), and a job title (34).

Call us naïve, but it sounds like people are taking some serious liberties when it comes to the ol’ rezzy these days, and resumes have always been—more or less—a fixture of integrity. We reached out to two human resources/staffing/executive search pros for their reaction. Here’s what they said.

Don Zinn, Managing Partner of Exigent Search Partners Inc.

“The concept of telling a lie on the resume is an interesting one: The temptation is to describe yourself as what you want to be seen as, which is not always the same as what you actually are. That some employers (the survey says that 40 percent said a dismissal would depend on what the candidate lied about) would possibly overlook a lie makes me incredulous. Integrity is not measured in percentages—it is or it isn’t, PERIOD. An employer should not hire or retain an employee who lied. 

I review resumes with any candidate we are working with and ask this question prior to submitting a resume: “Is there anything in this resume that cannot bear the light of day?” If there is I will not submit the resume unless those gray areas are removed and/or clarified. While I dvise resume writers that the resume is “not the place to be humble,” I also remind them to mak sure they can back up everything they say. Push it to the limits, get the employer to challenge and say, “How could you have done that—it is amazing,” then the candidate is able to tell their story and this is the key to interview success.”

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Luba Sydor, founder and CEO of Person2Person, LLC

I have experienced situations where applicants “fabricate” facts on their resumes. Because the competition in today’s job market is so fierce, desperate job seekers will literally do whatever it takes to stand out from the crowd. There are two ways to guard against resume padding: interviewing and checking references.

The Interview: If you’re unsure a candidate possesses the skills and credentials reflected on his or her resume, ask questions targeting those skills. If the job requires technical knowledge, such as accounting or computer skills, be sure to ask the candidate specific, technical questions. This is critical—if you’re not asking technical questions, you’re missing the boat. Of course, if a candidate lies on a resume, he or she can lie during an interview, too. That’s why it’s a good idea to have more than one person interview a candidate. Afterwards, it’s a good idea to sit back with everyone who interviewed the candidate and comparing notes to check for inconsistencies.

Employment History: Checking references can help fill in any gaps or date discrepancies found in a candidate’s employment history. Even though many employers are fearful of giving out too much information, most will verify the dates someone worked for them.

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