When Candidates Lie: We Will Find You (Eventually)

In the job market, we’ve all come to accept a little bit of exaggeration. We don’t like to think of ourselves as liars, but whether it’s to make ourselves or someone else feel better, save someone from trouble, or to make a story all the richer, human beings come with the baggage of having to lie for a number of reasons. Lying is bad, lying can be good; lying can lead people to disastrous situations, lying can save a life. It’s the definition of a necessary evil. Fibbing on your resume or interview feedback sometimes serves the greater good (a hire!)

In the world of recruiting, lying takes on similar roles, but the outcomes are, for the most part, negative. It’s tempting for candidates to puff themselves up in order to get higher-paying or more satisfying jobs, just as it is for employers to assuage candidates they’re turning away to prevent themselves from feeling like the bad guy. But, while candidates might think they’re doing themselves a favor by making themselves look good and we might think we’re also doing them a favor by letting them down softly, in both cases candidates and recruiters alike lose.

Some candidates lie. It’s hard to know just how many of them lie, but we know they do. Up to 53% of resumes contain some sort of lie (that we know of), and college students looking to enter the job market are an easy sector at which to point the finger; 70% of them say they would lie on their resume if it meant getting the job. The most frequent lies candidates tell have to do with their skills; they’re better at writing, have more hard and soft skills, and have more experience working in their field than they let on.

This makes it easier to catch them when these skills are non-negotiable, such as in the finance or IT industries, which rank as having the highest rate of catching people in their lies. And in general, 40% of HR managers have upped their efforts to pinpoint liars and catch them. But if they know they’re going to get caught, why do they do it? Often, the biggest factor is that they think they’re cut out of the job, but don’t have the necessary experience to shine during the interview process.

This may be true and could lead to some excellent hires where on-the-job training isn’t difficult to implement. In fact, considering how egregious lying on a resume can be, only about half of all employers would immediately dismiss someone who lied on their resume, which is interesting to think about. But for the most part, a candidate making themselves look better will lead to higher expectations from their employer, and will at some point result in a conversation about why they weren’t able to live to them. It’s not going to do wonders for your career, either.

When Employers Lie: Beating Around the Bush

You have to be compassionate when letting someone down, I get it. No one wants to come off as mean-spirited, and leaving a bad impression on a candidate can prevent them for applying in the future when you might need them. And when it comes to being in HR or hiring in general, you can get into a lot of rough spots hires and recent employees. John Whitaker, (@HR_Hardball), Fistful of Talent Contributor, highlights how employers and HR can get stuck in the middle so often:

"Ever been through an acquisition or merger? Are the rumors and innuendo you hear throughout the workplace generally of the optimistic or fatalistic variety? As the HR “insider,” we are often the point of contact for many employees trying to gain more certainty of their future. The universe will not tolerate a vacuum of information—so we stretch, embellish, guess, hypothesize (i.e., lie) to employees instead of telling the truth, many times because we are handcuffed from sharing sensitive information."

We lie because we care, believe it or not, but this doesn’t make it a good idea. When recruiters tell candidates their resumes are on file, that they’ll get back to them after an interview regardless of what happens, or that you’re simply not looking for their skill set right now, you’re setting them up with false hope, which leads to inevitable disappointment, which again leads to the bad experience, making them less likely to apply in the future.

Perhaps a little bit of exaggeration is acceptable. You may not have the heart to tell a candidate that their Scooby-Doo necktie isn’t the kind of work attire you’re looking for. But if you’re not going to hire them, the best thing to do is to be honest with them and say they aren’t the candidate you’re looking for. Candidates take note: if you’re lying, chances are the hiring manager will know it.  


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