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How to tell when a candidate is lying on their CV

Lydia Smith
·Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
·4-min read
Tensed business woman sitting in front of panel of interviewers
Honesty is the best policy when it comes to job applications. Photo: Getty

Lots of people exaggerate on their resume, embellishing their responsibilities or achievements in an attempt to attract employers and land work. If you’re lucky, a white lie may turn out to be harmless. But if you get caught, a whopper can cost you a job and damage your reputation — negatively affecting your future work prospects.

Nearly half of workers said they knew someone who had lied on their CV, in a survey of 1,000 workers by staffing company OfficeTeam. Some 53% of senior managers suspected candidates often stretch the truth on resumes — and 38% said their company had turned down an applicant believed to have lied.

With so many skilled applicants, it can be tricky to spot if someone’s CV is more fiction than fact. So how can you tell if someone is lying about their previous experience, achievements or skills?

How to spot lies on a CV

​”It's not always easy to tell if someone is lying on their CV, without conducting relevant background checks,” says Lee Biggins, CEO and founder of CV-Library. “In most cases, you'll be asked to provide references for your last five years of employment; so if you have told a fib then you're likely to get caught out at this stage.”

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“Aside from this, most employers or recruiters will do a quick search on Google and look up your profiles on social media. If things don't match-up then this will naturally raise suspicions. Hiring professionals are savvy and know that if someone sounds too good to be true, they're probably not being honest.”

Another area that may arouse suspicion is the tone. “Vague language, such as ‘I was involved in...’ or ‘I am familiar with...’, on your CV makes the reader question what you actually did — so try to be specific,” says Victoria McLean, CEO of City CV, global outplacement and career consultancy. “Likewise, language that is really over the top or makes excessive use of buzzwords will raise suspicions.”

It’s also worth checking missing dates or gaps in an applicant’s resume too. These aren’t necessarily problematic, but asking someone to validate their working history will alleviate any concerns.

In some cases, a candidate’s references may raise questions about their experiences. If there are discrepancies between someone’s CV and what their referees say, it may be worth asking the applicant to provide further references.

The way someone acts in an interview may also suggest they lied in their application, such as hesitating, avoiding questions or changing the subject. It’s worth remembering that nerves can get the better of someone during a job interview too, which may explain certain behaviours.

Why lying on your CV is a bad idea

“It's definitely possible to get away with a little lie on your CV, but it's just not worth the risk,” Biggins says. “If you get caught out, you'll lose all credibility with the interviewer or your employer. If you want to get a new job, focus on researching the company in detail, tailoring your CV and practicing answers to potential interview questions.”

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While embellishing your CV might get you to ​the interview ​stage, most interviewers can spot that you've been untruthful as soon as they meet you. “And, according to our research, 68.5% of employers agree that lying is one of the worst things you can do in a job interview,” Biggins adds. “​So, you'll probably be taken out of the running straight away.”

Even if you do manage to secure the role​, but have lied about your capabilities and strengths, you might find that you struggle to do the job you've been hired for. Not only will this be stressful for you, it'll be obvious to your employer that you weren't entirely honest. You may lose the job and even worse, it may affect your likelihood of future employment too.

“At the very least you’re likely to end up in an unhappy and stressful situation, being expected to fulfil a role that you’re not qualified, experienced or suited to do,” McLean says.

“Of course, every recruiter expects candidates to highlight their achievements, rather than their failures, on their CV. Let’s say, you’ve worked on four big marketing campaigns or IT projects in your current job. Three were hugely successful and one wasn’t. In this situation it makes total sense to highlight the great results you delivered, rather than focus on the one that didn’t.”

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You need to sell yourself on your CV to stand out from the crowd, but work out what the employer is looking for and highlight the skills and experiences that demonstrate you are a strong candidate. “Honesty really is the best policy,” McLean adds.