The Six Biggest Job Applicant Lies

Although statistics vary widely, there is widespread agreement that a substantial number of resumes belong in the “fiction” section of the bookstore. The rate of fraud can be as high as 40% and higher according to different sources. Applicants certainly have the right to put their best foot forward, and puffing their qualifications is an American tradition. But when puffing crosses the line into fabrication, an employer needs to be concerned. When you hire an applicant who uses lies and fabrication to get hired, the issue is that the same type of dishonesty will continue once they have the job.

What are the six most common fabrications from job applicants? According to a nationally recognized background checking firm, Employment Screening Resources (, they are: 

  1. Claiming a degree not earned: Yes, believe it or not, applicants will make up a degree. Sometimes, they actually went to the school but never graduated. Some applicants may have had just a few credits to go, and decided to award themselves the degree anyway. On some occasions, an applicant will claim a degree from a school they did not even attend. The best practice for an employer is to state clearly on the application form that the applicant should list any school they want the employer to consider. In that way, if an applicant lies, the employer can act on the lack of truthfulness regardless of whether the educational requirement is part of the job requirements.
  2. Diploma Mills or Fake Degree: A related issue is diploma mills or fake degrees that can be purchased online. For those that actually attended classes, read books, wrote papers and took tests to earn a diploma, you apparently did it the old fashioned way. Now, getting a “degree” is as easy as going online and using your credit card. There are even websites that will print out very convincing, fake degrees from nearly any school in America. In fact, the author obtained a degree for his dog in Business Administration from the University of Arizona-and the dog had been dead for ten years. A transcript was even obtained and the dog got a “B” in English! Some sites will even provide a phone number so an employer can call and verify the fake degree. Some of the degree mills even have fake accreditation agencies with names similar to real accreditation bodies, in order to give a fake accreditation for a fake school.
  3. Job Title: Another area of faking is the job description or job title. Applicants can easily give their career an artificial boost by “promoting” themselves to a supervisor position, even if they never managed anyone.
  4. Dates of Employment: Another concern for employers is applicants that cover up dates of employment in order to hide “employment gaps.” For some applicants, it may be a seemingly innocent attempt to hide the fact that it has taken awhile to get a new job. In other cases, the date fabrication can be more sinister, such as a person that spent time in custody for a crime who may be trying to hide that fact.
  5. Compensation: A related issue is pay – applicants have been known to exaggerate compensation in order to have a better negotiating position in the new job.
  6. Lack of Criminal Record: Nearly every application will have a question about past criminal conduct. Although employers may not “automatically” eliminate a job applicant without a showing of a “business necessity,” if the person lies, then the employer would have grounds to deny employment based upon dishonesty.

The common denominator in all of these: they can be all be discovered by a program of pre-employment screening. To quote a phrase popular in the 1980s. “Trust, but verify.”


Lester Rosen has authored two books: The Safe Hiring Manual: The complete guide to keeping criminals, terrorists, and imposters out of your workplace,” and The Safe Hiring Audit: The employer’s guide to implementing a safe hiring program.”    He is a frequent presenter nationwide at human resources, fraud and security conferences om employment screening background checks, and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).  He was the chair of the steering committee that founded the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) and served as its first co-chair. He has testified as an expert in negligent hiring cases in California, Florida and Arkansas.