There’s no way to hire right without putting in the time, effort, and money. The task often requires coordination (anyone who’s ever arranged a panel interview knows this only too well!), organization, and perseverance. Although many job seekers secure positions through the hidden job market, highly qualified candidates don’t just fall out of the sky.
So you put in the work, went through a thorough selection process, and your shiny new employee joined the team last month. Great news, right? Unfortunately, your good feelings of accomplishment were short-lived, because you just found out that this person lied on their resume.
So, just how common is lying on a resume? According to multiple studies, very common. A 2017 CareerBuilder survey found that 75 percent of HR managers have caught a job applicant lying on their resume about work experience. A HireRight study from the same year reported an even higher number of 85 percent.
In some cases, lying on a resume about work experience is easy to spot. Consider some of these amusing examples from CareerBuilder’s survey:
In most cases, however, it’s harder to know when someone has lied on a resume. Setting aside situations where someone has accidentally lied on their resume (due to a typo or forgetting an exact date), several subtle lies often slip through the cracks throughout the hiring process. Some of the more common lies include fudging dates to cover employment gaps, claiming accomplishments that actually belong to others, and faking degrees and other credentials.
Yes, the job market is tough, and more than one employer has been accused of searching for that “purple squirrel,” but even a little lie (or two) on a resume can signal big problems. That’s why ignoring your discovery isn’t an option. However, rushing into action could complicate the situation even more.
Technically, it is not illegal for an applicant to lie on their resume because a resume is not in itself a legal document. There are, however, many related legal consequences that could result from lying on a resume. This is particularly true where the federal government is involved. Someone who claims federal work experience could be charged with fraud if they used those lies to gain security clearances or other financial benefits. Falsifying degrees or certifications to support resume lies is considered document forgery in most states and can carry serious legal penalties, up to and including time in prison.
Perhaps you heard through your network that an employee didn’t really earn that impressive MBA or was actually fired from their last job for a cause rather than laid off. When faced with the possibility that an employee lied on their resume, the first step is to move from rumor to fact.
It’s become standard practice to receive consent for and perform background checks on candidates during the hiring process, but things can get a little trickier for current employees. According to the EEOC, while such searches are permitted, employers must remain mindful of employees’ rights. For example, if the employee’s original consent doesn’t extend to a background check for retention, promotion, or reassignment, it’s probably not wise to do a “lied on resume background check” without letting the employee know what’s happening first.
When it comes to light that an employee lied on their resume, the employer basically has two choices:
Depending on the scope of the deception and the employee's performance/potential, retention – and not termination – might make sense. If the employee accidentally lied on their resume or lying on their resume about work experience amounts to little more than creative exaggeration than outright falsehood, then the situation may be salvageable. On the other hand, lying on a resume about a degree or fabricating work experience constitutes a serious breach of trust and ethics. In such cases, termination might be the only wise option.
The point is, a careful weighing of the facts is needed before moving forward. While it can be frustrating to learn that someone who lied on a resume got the job, it’s important to follow a transparent and legally defensible process (more on that in a moment). Knee-jerk reactions are not recommended.
While it may be uncomfortable, it’s important to confront the employee directly once the facts are revealed. Tell the employee what you learned and give them a chance to clear the record. Be reasonable, be respectful, and remain calm.
If it becomes clear that the situation isn’t the result of a mixup or miscommunication, additional steps are necessary. Tell the employee if you intend to perform a background check at this time and what the potential consequences are likely to be if he or she lied.
Just because an employee lied on a resume doesn’t mean employment laws no longer apply. While most states are “at will,” there are plenty of exceptions to the law, and you don’t want to violate any. Before you take employment action based on the information you’ve received, make sure you’ve assessed the potential risks. And along those lines…
It’s normal to feel disappointed, exasperated, or even angry after discovering that an employee lied and that the lie may have significant consequences for the organization. However, don’t permit your temper to overcome you. It’s a mistake to take your employee’s alleged dishonesty personally.
Lying on the resume about work experience or degrees can seem like a terrible abuse of trust, and perhaps it is. Still, smart employers will proceed carefully when they learn about the deception, which is the only way to ensure that any decision promotes the company’s long and short-term interests. While the employee will most likely be dismissed for lying on their resume, it’s important to gather as much information as possible before taking action.