Lying during the job hunt is never acceptable. But some tall tales are worse than others and could cost you the job, according to a recent survey.
This summer, career site TopResume asked 629 professionals to rank the seriousness of 14 categories of job hunt and resume lies, from work experience to technical capabilities. Those surveyed included HR professionals, recruiters and hiring managers.
While 97 percent of those surveyed said they'd reconsider candidates with any type of lie, there were three categories that could cost an applicant a job: lies about academic degrees; lies about criminal records; and lies about certifications and licenses.
We talked to career coaches and interview experts to get their take on these common job hunting lies — and what any candidate feeling the pressure to fib should do instead.
Applicants lie about degrees because they don't want to be counted out of the search process. In fact, it is one of the most common resume fibs jobseekers make, says TopResume career advice expert Amanda Augustine.
While education is the most common lie, it's also among the most dangerous because it's easily verified during background checks. Lying about your degree is useless, says Augustine.
It's also the most serious lie an applicant can tell. According to the TopResume survey, 89 percent of hiring managers would rethink a candidate who lied about this qualification during the job hunt.
What you can do: If you don't have a specific degree yet, focus on the training you do have on applications, on resumes and during job interviews. You can also switch up your job hunting strategy. Seek out listings that consider equivalent work experience or target companies that place a heavier premium on skills rather than academia.
If you think a criminal background will change how a hiring manager will see you, you're right. "There's definitely a bias against criminal convictions," says Augustine.
Still, lying about this topic won't boost a potential employer's trust because this information reliably shows up in employee background checks.
A criminal record is also the second most serious lie applicants tell. In fact, 88 percent of hiring managers surveyed by TopResume said they'd rethink a candidate who lied about a criminal background.
If you have a criminal history, there's no reason to bring it up until you're explicitly asked, says interview coach Barry Drexler. Even then, he adds, most states have strict laws that prohibit discrimination against those with a criminal background.
Employers can address criminal convictions that come up on background checks, especially if they're job related. If you're applying for a job as a bank teller, for instance, and you were previously convicted for robbing a bank, the employer would likely be able to make a case for why you aren't suitable for the position.
What you can do: Should you find yourself needing to explain a criminal background, be honest. Explain how you've changed and what you've achieved since then. For example, you could say: "I was arrested for this crime while I was very young. I wasn't thinking and I take full responsibility for my actions. Since then, I've stayed out of legal trouble and managed to put myself through school where I graduated at the top of my class."
Employers typically ask for specific certifications and licenses as a way to prove you've got the skills necessary for the job, notes Augustine.
In some cases, the certification is so important, it might be legally required. To practice as a registered nurse, for example, state laws stipulate that you must have the required nursing licensure. Working without the proper licensing or certification in some professions could lead to lawsuits for you and your employer and even criminal prosecution.
In jobs that aren't as tightly regulated, lying can still land you in hot water. If you say you're certified in a particular software program when you're not, you might not perform like others with that training do. Your employer will discover this quickly and could have cause to fire you for lying during the hiring process. Of those surveyed by TopResume, 85 percent said they'd reconsider a candidate who lied about licensing.
What you can do: If you're working toward a certification, be upfront about this. If you're self-taught, be ready to speak to that and remember that this fact might be equally impressive to certain employers. If the certification is truly something you'll need to attain, make sure you attain it so you don't feel pressured to mislead people.
The best strategy in any situation is to simply tell the truth. "So many people assume that others have flawless resumes so they want to fib," says Augustine, but they forget that every candidate has strengths and weaknesses. Ignore the pressure to be someone you're not, she says, and focus instead on the unique skills only you can offer.
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