Scales of Justice - indicating justice that awaits those who tell lies on CVs

Fake news! The 5 most common lies that people put on their CV.

[activecampaign]We look through a lot of CVs here at Blues Point, every day.  Some are well presented, some are not.  Some contain spelling mistakes, some do not.  Some have pictures, graphs, and pie charts, and others do not.

We’ve spoken about the rights and wrongs of these approaches before (e.g. here).

But what do all of these CVs have in common?


Yes – they all use words, mostly in English, and usually in the form of a series of statements.  Recruiters read these statements, and they use them as a basis for making decisions.

CV lies

Pinocchio illustrating the CV lies that people tell

But how do we know that these statements are true?

Without making further checks, it’s impossible to know.  And checking everything on a CV takes time – far more time than we actually have available.

Our approach is to assume that most of the statements are, in fact, based on fact.  If we started with the opposite point of view, we’d never get anywhere.

We verify certain things during the process.  We ask for proof of identity, and at some point down the line we will take references.  If there is a wild mismatch between our expectations based on the CV, and the reality once we interview the candidate, then we’ll look at why that might be, but beyond this we work mainly on trust.

Are we being naïve?  According to a recent US survey, up to 85% of job applicants lie on their CVs!  Here’s another recent article about that.

So here are the top lies that we have seen on CVs over the years, in reverse order – along with some suggestions for alternative, truth-based, approaches:

  1. Making up references

It’s becoming more and more difficult for recruitment agencies and employers to take meaningful references, mainly because HR departments are reluctant to give much away, for fear of being sued.  We try our best to take a verbal reference, but this isn’t always possible either.  So there is a temptation to fabricate entire reference letters, or to list a colleague / friend as a referee, instead of a manager.  You might get away with this, but it’s a small world, and you might not.

ALTERNATIVE – build up your LinkedIn profile, and ask for recommendations.

  1. Claiming a permanent role was a contract

CV lie 2 - temporary roles as permanent

We will usually ask the reasons for you changing jobs, and we will go back to previous job history if you have changed companies frequently.  If you were only in a permanent job for a short time, it can be tempting to claim that it was just a temporary role.  But bear in mind that if anyone takes a reference from that employer, the truth will usually come out.

ALTERNATIVE – be honest; after all, anyone can make a mistake (I once took a permanent job but resigned after 2 days!).  Explain the circumstances in a covering letter.

  1. Adjusting dates of employment

Watch that illustrates CV lie 3 - adjusting dates on cv

It’s fine to have a period of time between jobs.  From a work / life balance point of view, it makes perfect sense.  And if you’ve been made redundant, you might have taken a few months to confirm your next move.  Don’t worry.  It’s better to have a few short periods of time between jobs than it is to squeeze them out of your CV by stretching the employment dates to cover the gaps.  Remember – if you’re found out, it will undermine your credibility later.

ALTERNATIVE – if you’ve had a significant period of time away from work – focus on any non-work activities you have been doing.  Studying, travelling, recovering from a car accident, caring for an ageing parent, having children – these are all valid.

  1. Exaggerating qualifications

Graduate illustrating CV lie 2 - inflating your grades

I know – you deserved a 2.1, so why not claim it?  And you’ve been on all the Microsoft courses, so who’s to know if you didn’t actually take the exam at the end?  Often we will see a section on the CV called ‘Qualifications and Training’, which mixes them all together, so it’s very difficult to tell which is which.  There might be one qualification for every six training courses listed.  This isn’t actually lying, but it’s a bit sneaky.

ALTERNATIVE – tell the truth about your qualifications and remember that actual work experience is usually more relevant than qualifications.  Focus on that.

  1. Up-selling your responsibilities

A cup that illustrates CV lie 1 - exaggerating job title and responsibilities

If you’ve worked on a large project in a junior role, it’s very unlikely that you were responsible for the whole thing, but we see this claim all the time.  People even give themselves a promotion – from Assistant IT Manager to IT Manager, for example.  It’s easy to overstate your role in a particular job, and it can be difficult for an interviewer to establish the truth – but an intelligently-worded reference request might expose you.

ALTERNATIVE – stick to the truth.  If you don’t have the experience you claim, you’ll come unstuck eventually.

But what’s the problem, really?

So what’s the problem with telling a few white lies?  Probably not much, in most cases.  If you’ve exaggerated your responsibilities, changed a job title, or claimed to be able to speak German, but you got the job anyway and you’re doing OK, then it may be that no harm has been done.

But if you’re found out – even with the smallest lie – the consequences can be severe.

My advice?  Don’t lie at all.  Your conscience will be clear and you’ll know that you have got the job on your own merits.

And you’re unlikely to be sacked for telling the truth!