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Dishonesty in Hiring

Research suggests that neither job candidates nor hiring managers are fully honest during the hiring process.

It’s no surprise that job candidates lie to get ahead. According to a recent survey from Resume Builder, a resume services company headquartered in Seattle, 32 percent of Americans admit to lying on their resume—the most common lie being the amount of experience they have. Another survey conducted by Checkster, a reference-checking service based in Novato, Calif., found that among the job candidates they surveyed, a full 78 percent say they had misrepresented themselves to potential employers.


Some of those inflated claims include mastering skills about which they had only basic knowledge (60 percent), excluding previous employers (50 percent), giving a false reason for leaving a job (45 percent), fabricating experiences (42 percent), using a director rather than manager title (41 percent), and having a degree from a university more prestigious than their own (39 percent).


“Many job seekers operate believing that if they can just get in front of the hiring manager, they’ll be able to impress them enough to receive a job offer,” says Amanda Augustine, a certified professional career coach and resident career expert at TopInterview, an interview coaching firm headquartered in New York City. “Or, if they are just given an opportunity to do the job, they’ll be able to learn what they don’t already know. 


If a candidate is caught in a lie, Augustine says, they could lose the opportunity they’re pursuing. Or, if they are caught later, they might be fired. “Even if someone is able to keep their lie off the hiring manager’s radar and land the job, their employment can be terminated if the lie is uncovered at a later date,” Augustine says. “Once a candidate is outed as being dishonest about their career story, their professional brand will also take a hit." 


According to the Resume Builder survey of 1,250 workers, there are consequences if job candidates are caught misrepresenting themselves. Of the respondents who said they had lied on their resumes, 41 percent who were subsequently hired said their job offer was rescinded once their lies were detected. Eighteen percent who were hired were later terminated when they were caught; 12 percent were reprimanded but kept their jobs. Only 29 percent of those hired said they suffered no consequences.

'Most people lie to the hiring managers. It happens during every interview, to a degree. But that's not necessarily a deal breaker.' —Biljana Rakic

Nevertheless, many career experts say they tend to give candidates the benefit of the doubt when they stretch the truth. The Checkster survey revealed that 66 percent of hiring managers are willing to accept a lapse in ethics. “If you say to a candidate, ‘Tell me about a time you made a critical mistake,’ they may try to soften the story about the time they botched a project that cost the company millions,” said Eric Mochnacz, SHRM-SCP, director of operations at Red Clover, an HR consulting firm in Kinnelon, New Jersey. “It doesn't make them a liar; it just makes them a strong and adept interviewer. In my 20-ish years of managing interviews for individuals across all levels of an organization across a variety of industries, I have only encountered one individual who turned out to have completely lied through the extent of his interview process and eventual employment.”


Biljana Rakic, vice president of human capital at CAKE Inc., a work management software provider based in Palo Alto, Calif., holds a similar view. “Most people lie to the hiring managers,” she says. “It happens during every interview, to a degree. But that’s not necessarily a deal breaker. Some ‘lies’ aren’t complete fabrications, but harmless omissions. In any case, most resumes are embellished to showcase the candidate in the best possible light.”

When Hiring Managers Are Dishonest

Perhaps more surprising, while dishonesty among job candidates is prevalent and even accepted at times, many hiring managers also admit to lying during the hiring process. In fact, according to another Resume Builder survey of more than 1,000 hiring managers, the vast majority (80 percent) say lying is very acceptable (14 percent) or somewhat acceptable (66 percent) at their company.


Resume Builder reports that 36 percent of hiring managers admitted they’ve lied to candidates about their company or the role they are seeking to fill. Of this group, 75 percent said they were dishonest in the interview, 52 percent in the job description and 24 percent in the offer letter. Their most frequent lies were about the position’s responsibilities and growth opportunities.


This lying apparently works, when you consider that 92 percent of hiring managers report that a candidate they lied to accepted their job offer. “With the pressure to bring on talent in this market, hiring managers are also lying about the role and responsibilities as well as growth and career development,” says Stacie Haller, chief career advisor at Resume Builder.

'No one who is tasked with recruiting candidates wants to admit that their company is dysfunctional or its work environment is toxic.' —Amanda Augustine

“Most often, hiring managers try to minimize or gloss over any issues with the work culture,” says Sarah Doughty, vice president of talent operations at TalentLab, a talent recruiter for technology companies based in Ottawa. “The match is less durable, and often the candidate will leave within the first year. This costs employers and causes more ripple issues like over-burdened teams and more expensive/time-consuming recruitment in the future.”


In her experience, Augustine says she has seen hiring managers often omit details or stretch the truth about an open position when they think they’ve found the right candidate. “No one who is tasked with recruiting candidates wants to admit that their company is dysfunctional or its work environment is toxic,” she says. “Rather, they’d prefer to avoid talking about such facts and embellish others to keep a good candidate from rejecting a job offer—even though this decision will often come back to haunt them later.”

Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

Just as lying can hurt a job seeker’s reputation, it can do the same to a company. “This incident could end up tarnishing the employer’s reputation,” Augustine says. “Anyone with internet access can broadcast their negative experience on company review sites like Glassdoor and on social media.”


Amy Feind Reeves, founder and CEO of HireAHiringManager, a career consulting company in Boston, says hiring managers lie—or at least omit crucial details—about positions that are challenging to fill. “There are roles that are hard to fill because the work can be grueling and [lead to] high burnout,” Feind Reeves says. “However, in general, hiring the wrong person for the job is only going to cost a hiring manager, the same way a candidate lying their way into being hired for the wrong job is going to cost a candidate.”


Lying could be a symptom of a rushed and disorganized hiring process, says Craig della Penna, managing partner and founder of Aesop Partners, a management consulting firm, and the founder of HireBest, a talent recruiting firm, both based in Concord, Mass. In the rush to fill an open position, a majority of hiring managers don’t take adequate time to thoroughly understand what they need in the role or take an honest assessment of the hiring situation they’re facing.

'Once either side realizes that the other is lying, all trust is gone, and the relationship is hard to recover.' —Stacie Haller

“This has two possible downstream effects: First, the candidates that are sourced might be starting off the hiring journey as a poor fit. [They are] either underqualified or overqualified for the job in question,” della Penna says. “Secondly, it results in hiring managers succumbing to their conscious or unconscious biases and hiring a candidate that is not a good fit for what they actually need. When newly hired employees discover that they were sold on a job that is different than the one they thought they took, that creates feelings of frustration and distrust moving forward.”


When interviewing for a job, it’s critical to be as honest as possible, Augustine says. “Good faith is essential for a healthy and productive work environment. Hiring the wrong candidate for a job or accepting the wrong opportunity is an expensive mistake to make for either party.”


In the worst-case scenario, uncovering a lie can negatively impact a candidate’s or a company’s reputation for the foreseeable future. “The corrosion of honesty is alarming, and we must shine a light here,” Haller says. “As for the hiring managers lying, the responsibilities are also with candidates to do their due diligence and information gathering on the companies they are considering joining. Once either side realizes that the other is lying, all trust is gone, and the relationship is hard to recover.”


Kylie Ora Lobell is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.


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