Is it really a big deal to lie on a resume?
The Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a free-speech case involving a former California official convicted under the Stolen Valor Act after falsely claiming that he received the Congressional Medal of Honor, even though he never served in the military.
Xavier Alvarez's lawyer has argued the law is a violation of his client's First Amendment free speech rights, but the case also underscores what is seen as a growing problem: lying about credentials to be more successful or get a job.
Nearly 35 percent of resumes are estimated to contain blatant lies about education, experience or the skills to perform a specific job. But with some 14 million unemployed vying for jobs, it's not difficult to understand what drives some people to fib their credentials, saysCharles Wardell III, president and chief executive ofWitt/Kieffer executive search firm.
The publicity surrounding Alvarez's lie about his military service has outraged many people, but it's not that uncommon. Even Wardell says he has seen it as he's checking job applicants' credentials.
"We had one guy who kept talking about being in Vietnam and how it had changed his life. He just kept on and on," he says. "It was just too much. When we checked it out, we found out he had never been there."
Of course, as employers have become savvier about lies on resumes, job seekers have become more adept at trying to fudge the truth.
Some people pay hackers to get into university systems and place them in a graduating class, Wardell says. Those kinds of lies can be rooted out by asking an applicant to name instructors or talk about specific classes.
Even those who may have graduated from college but change the name of the university to a more prestigious one can be found out.
How? Often it's simply when an applicant refers to a university by its formal name instead of a more common name real graduates use.
Wardell says the more difficult lies to ferret out are when job seekers are not honest about their duties in a previous position. These lies that many don't think are that heinous can get companies and employees in lots of trouble.
For example, you may have worked in a steel plant but never have been in charge of such a plant. But according to the way your resume phrases your accomplishments and skills, and the way you answer interview questions, you're very qualified to run the steel plant.
Unfortunately, when you're hired, you don't have a clue what you're doing.
Still, maybe you think you can bluff your way through the job by relying on the experience of others at the company.
"The problem is that the bench strength for many companies has been wiped out through layoffs," Wardell says. "There's nobody there to help you, and there's no time to train you."
When it's discovered you lied about your qualifications, whether you're running a steel plant or working at a receptionist's desk, the company is not going to be happy. They've invested time and money in hiring you, and you can't deliver.
In addition, other qualified candidates have moved on after being informed the job was filled, Wardell says.
"In today's world, that means they may sue the search firm who found them the candidate — or they can sue the candidate for damages," Wardell says.
Not to mention an applicant's reputation can be trashed easily once the lies are unearthed. That's why Wardell recommends that even if you've stretched your qualifications, you should own up to an employer or company where you've interviewed.
"Yeah, you may get fired. But you're going to get fired anyway when they find out. And they will find out," he says. "If you're not comfortable with what you've told a prospective employer, just shoot them a simple email saying you want to clear up what you believe it a misconception. Just tell the truth."