Resumes are one of the most important tools for evaluating the experience and skills of job candidates — but unfortunately, they aren’t always what they seem.
Amber Eastman, owner of recruiting and hiring firm Eastman Group, says exaggerations and outright lies on resumes are more common than many people realize. She says it’s critical to verify all resume information through research, conversations with past employers and co-workers and by asking candidates to elaborate on the experience and skills they cite.
A skeptical eye toward a few common resume red flags can help identify a dishonest resume, Eastman says. Here are some warning signs that a candidate is not being completely honest.
Job Title and Experience Don’t Add Up
Eastman says inflated job titles are common on resumes. If a candidate only a few years out of college or who worked for a short stint with a company claims to have held an executive position, it could be a sign of something fishy, she says. At the very least, it warrants verification and careful questioning during an interview or screening process.
“People will sometimes give themselves a grander job title, but when you see someone with three years of experience become a practice leader or CEO, there should be further investigation,” she says.
Before contacting the candidate, Eastman says, she does her own research on the individual and the industry they work in to verify as many details as possible, such as on companies where they say they worked or divisions they say were shut down to precipitate a job change.
She says that some industries present special challenges when verifying information through reference checks because they can be insular ecosystems in which everyone knows everyone else. In some cases, she says, references may be unwilling to do much beyond corroborate what a candidate says on their resume. In these situations, Eastman says she turns to her own industry sources to verify as many of the resume claims as possible and to get an outside view on what really happened.
Job History Differs from Previous Resumes or LinkedIn Profile
Job histories help potential employers accurately evaluate a candidate’s experience and abilities. If a candidate’s work history departs from a previous resume they submitted, or is different than their work history on their LinkedIn profile, it could be a red flag, Eastman says.
“We often get multiple resumes from the same people,” Eastman says. “If there are discrepancies with dates or employers, then there should be a really good, detailed and verifiable explanation.”
Vague Details of Achievements
Eastman says this red flag is most commonly seen on the resumes of applicants for sales positions, but it occurs across all industries. For example, a candidate may brag about having increased sales by 200 percent at a previous position without giving any frame of reference for what the actual sales were or whether that mark met their sales goal.
“They don’t say the prior sales numbers were $50 and they sold $200 worth, versus prior sales of $2 million and they sold $6 million,” she says.
Eastman suggests asking the candidate to offer more context for these types of claims by having them tell the detailed story behind how they achieved their goal. The full story is more likely to come out this way and may well differ from the rosy picture presented on the resume.
An Overall Lack of Specifics
Eastman says she’s leery of resumes that contain general buzzwords without any concrete details that spell out the “what, how and why” of a candidate’s experience and successes. “It could be possible the candidate just added fluff to make their experience seem more impressive,” she says.
This is commonly seen in the education portion of resumes, Eastman says, where candidates will intentionally leave out the full context of their school experience. “Often people will list schools and course of study, but not specify that they did not complete a degree or certification,” she says.
Smart employers take the extra time to double-check.