Mensa Membership, Kennedy Kinship Among Outrageous Resume Lies

By Kathy Gurchiek August 14, 2008

Nearly half of more than 3,100 hiring managers report they’ve caught a job candidate lying on his or her resume, according to a survey.

From claims of membership in an international high-IQ society to being part of the Kennedy family, some of the fabrications are memorable for the applicants’ pure displays of chutzpah.

But getting caught lying on one’s resume doesn’t bode well for candidates—57 percent of hiring managers said they automatically dismissed an applicant who did so. A little more than one-third (36 percent) still considered the candidate but did not hire the person, and 6 percent hired the person regardless of the resume lie.

Those are among the findings of a nationwide online survey conducted in May and June 2008 with 3,169 hiring managers and HR professionals and 8,785 full-tine U.S. workers.

Embellishing responsibilities was the most common lie discovered, but others included lies about the person’s skill set, dates of employment, academic degree, previous employers and job title.

Listing academic degrees never obtained or educational institutions never attended are the most common resume lies, according to a 2006-2007 research study by Career Directors International (CDI). The Florida-based CDI was founded in 2000 and until 2005 went by the name of the Professional Resume Writing and Research Association.

“No one thinks background checks are going to occur, and often, these checks do not occur,” with lies often going undetected for years, “until some other occurrence or incident in business brings the fraud to light,” according to the CDI report.

It’s hard to say why people pad their resumes, observed Rosemary Haefner, vice president of HR at, but reasons likely include applicants “feeling a little panicked, a little desperate” who are trying to stand out in a tough market and crowded field of applicants.

She noted that 43 percent of hiring managers said they spend one minute or less looking at a resume when first reviewing applications, and some job applicants may be counting on their fabrications going unchecked.

Haefner thinks the number of incidences of padding resumes has remained relatively the same over the past few years. But since its 2006 survey, is seeing an “increase in the [number of] people who are admitting to lying on their resume,” she said.

“I do think in general a lot of people just don’t think about it. They just assume that’s what you do,” she told SHRM Online.

Accu-Screen Inc., a Tampa, Fla.-based company that provides employment background screening, has noticed a correlation between spikes in resume falsification and economic downturns and weak labor markets in the 14 years it has kept track of such data.

Common areas of resume lies include salary level, professional licensure and criminal records, according to Accu-Screen.

“We’re seeing that the problem is bigger than has been previously reported,” Accu-Screen CEO and founder Kevin Connell said in a July 28 statement, pointing to company data that says 43 percent of all resumes and job applications contain lies.

Creative License

Taking creative license with their resume happens even among high-profile people.

In 2007, Massachusetts Institute of Technology admissions dean Marilee Jones resigned after it came to light that she had claimed science credentials and a doctoral degree she did not have.

In 2001, Notre Dame football coach George O’Leary resigned after admitting he lied about his academic and athletic background. Claims of earning a master’s degree from New York University and three varsity football letters at the University of New Hampshire were false, Sports Illustrated reported at the time.

However, some job candidates go beyond fudging academic credentials, such as “Dinner: Impossible” chef star Robert Irvine, whose claims on his resume included cooking for Britain’s royal family, USA Today reported March 10, 2008. Irvine ended up losing his contract with the Food Network.

Among the most memorable resume fabrications found in its survey:

    • Claiming to have attended a nonexistent school.

    • Submitting a resume with someone else’s photo inserted.

    • Claiming to be a member of Mensa, an international organization of more than 100,000 members with exceptionally high IQs.

    • Claiming to be a member of the Kennedy family.

    • Claiming, wrongly, to have previously worked for the hiring manager.

    • Claiming to be the CEO of a company where the candidate was an hourly employee.

    • Listing military experience dating back to before the candidate was born.

    • Including samples of work that the interviewer had performed.

    • Claiming to be Hispanic when the candidate was 100 percent Caucasian.

    • Claiming to have been a professional baseball player.

But while individuals are lying on their resumes as much as before, Haefner thinks the trend is toward staying within a “safe zone” of embellishments that can be harder to detect, such as overstating one’s participation on a work project.

“Embellishing their previous jobs or [activities], that’s where we’re seeing a slight uptick” since the 2006 survey, she said.

Industries that appear to encounter fraudulent resumes most often were hospitality (60 percent), transportation/utilities (59 percent) and information technology (57 percent). Government had the lowest incidence, at 45 percent, according to the survey.

Accu-Screen’s Connell worries that the recent increase in unemployment figures, combined with a weakening economy, will lead to even more resume falsifications as job seekers try to gain an undeserved competitive edge.

“Employers need to be especially vigilant during these periods,” he said. “Job seekers must know that more employers than ever use rigorous background screening procedures to vet the information contained on their resume.”

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at



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