How Much—If Any—“Embellishment” on Resumes Is OK?

Proper training of managers and Human Resources employees on vetting resumes—including protocols on what to do when discrepancies are found—is essential.

Representative-elect George Santos has been in the news everywhere over the last couple of weeks after he was found to have greatly “embellished” his resume. He wholly fabricated his schooling and much of his work history. Most agree this level of embellishment is too much. However, that then raises the question of how much embellishment is acceptable?

For Human Resources and Learning professionals, these are important questions to consider. In addition to impacting the decision of whether to hire someone, a resume gives you hints for how much potential a prospective new employee has for development.

Sometimes embellishment is forward-thinking and aspirational. For instance, a friend back in the late 1990s told a company she interviewed with that she knew HTML, but, in reality, she knew very little HTML. A few years later, she got a specialized Master’s Degree in information technology, and in the process of getting that degree, learned about as much HTML as she had led her employers to believe she already knew. They joked that her IT knowledge had gotten to be just enough to make her dangerous.

Survey Says…

Some 55 percent of people admit to lying on their resume, according to a recent survey from StandOut CV. Other key findings:

  • Men are more likely to lie on a resume, with 59.9 percent of men admitting to lying, compared to 50.6 percent of women.
  • Younger people are more likely to lie on a resume than older people: Some 66.6 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds said they had lied, compared to 26.2 percent of those aged 65.
  • Nearly 16.9 percent have used fake job reference services, costing an average of $145 per reference, involving fake employers and paid actors.
  • Some 41 percent have lied about their college degree on their resume, with almost a quarter (24.5 percent) telling employers they had a degree when they didn’t.
  • Some 30 percent said they haven’t been caught regarding their job application lies.

A Sign of Darker Things?

Fake college degree certificates and transcripts can be bought online and cost an average of $270, StandOut CV notes. “Lying on resumes, or job applications, could be considered fraud, and employees can be made to pay fines to their employer,” StandOut CV cautions. Another friend, who later was disbarred for eight felonies related to embezzling, was censured by the bar association of the state where she once practiced law for lying on her resume. This tale, from among what must be starting to sound like an unsavory group of friends, brings up another important point to consider about resume embellishments. Are these lies harbingers of even worse things to come? Just as they can be signs that a prospective employee has high aspirations, resume lies can be a sign of much darker things to come. How do you know the difference?

Vetting the Resume

The first step is taking the time to vet the resume, which is easy enough to do these days—and making it difficult to believe no one bothered to do this to George Santos prior to his election. Vetting means picking up the phone and calling the records offices of the schools the applicant claims to have attended and graduated from. You can get a quick answer on whether the applicant attended those schools, and if they did, whether they graduated.

The next step should be easy, but might be trickier. It entails calling the companies where the applicant claims to have worked and verifying that this person was an employee, what their job title was, and how long they worked there. If you get lucky, you might even be able to verify what their official job responsibilities were while there. Policies at companies differ, so it is likely some companies will not give you this information. However, with the applicant’s permission, you should be able to get this information verified by the companies where an applicant claims to have worked. As part of your application process, you can ask for a contact at each of the companies where they worked who can verify their employment, or for them to give permission to the companies for this verification to occur.

If you find a discrepancy between what the applicant told you and what you discovered while vetting, it could be worthwhile to contact the applicant (if you like them very much) and ask them to explain the discrepancy. They may tell you it was a miscommunication, and that they did not intend for you to come away with the impression that they had a job role they did not have, or that they worked at a company full time when they were only a contract employee who did a few isolated jobs for the company.

Training for Managers and HR

If a person seems to have impressive potential in in-person interviews, it can be unfortunate to exclude them from consideration because of resume lies. Proper training of managers and Human Resources employees on vetting resumes—including protocols on what to do when discrepancies are found—is essential. You don’t want to hire a budding sociopath or criminal, but you also don’t want to lose an individual who just needs a little time to grow into the person they are on their resume.

Do you train managers and HR employees on a protocol to follow in vetting resumes and handling discrepancies that are discovered?