Resume fudging: Top five reasons why people lie in their resume

Gear up for next year's appraisal, now.

Case 1: When President Bush nominated Michael Brown as the director of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 2003, there was little doubt about his caliber or experience. Brown was considered the best man to help, prepare, and protect the nation.

Post Hurricane Katrina, the same people who vouched for Brown, were found singing a different tune altogether. The famed FEMA director came under heavy criticism for his performance and scrutiny of his background.

An investigation by TIME followed and the results were startling to say the least. Owing to discrepancies in his online legal profile and official resume, Brown was relieved of his duties and replaced in that role by Thad W. Allen, Coast Guard's Vice Adm.

Case 2: Kevin Andrews, the Australian Immigration Minister, who commented on irregularities in the resume of an Indian doctor, Mohammed Asif Ali, was reportedly fudging his own resume.

Andrews's parliamentary and ministerial websites indicated that he co-authored three books before he entered the Parliament. But the publishers of those books never saw his role that way. According to them, the name Kevin Andrews did not ‘ring a bell.' The name never appeared on the title pages. It was later discovered that Kevin had contributed to no more than one paper, for which he did not even have a top billing.

Let's accept it, resume fudging is not a rare occurrence. People do it all the time – to secure a high-paying job for which they do not meet the stated requirements; to advertise (read "exaggerate”) their existing skill sets; or to simply jazz up their resume. This article tries to find out the reasons why people resort to such desperate measures.

Reason 1: Lack of ethical professional behavior
For some, a resume may be nothing more than advertising material with some high-sounding jargon thrown in. Also, the fact that it's not a legal document can encourage people to manipulate the facts.

According to Judith Herr, Principal at Well Chosen Words, "Ethical professional behavior is a topic I feel very strongly about. I think we should all work hard to avoid either unethical behavior or even the appearance of it – including misrepresentation of qualifications, personal or organizational conflicts of interest, and so on.”

"I caught someone who put a degree on their resume when they had started pursuing it, but had not finished. I suppose that somewhere along the line, someone could have left off the comment "in progress” or "anticipated 2009” – but I would not consider someone who was that careless. I would suggest that anyone who has begun work on a graduate degree and not completed it be very careful in the way they report the effort. Moreover, if they have done nothing towards the degree for more than two years, it should not be included on the resume, although coursework could. If someone was once registered or certified but does not keep the credentials current, that should be reported on the resume if the credential is listed (retired, expired, etc.)”

If the hiring company discovers that you faked your credentials, it can lead to serious legal implications (and it can leave an indelible stain on your career.)

Sangeetha Santhanagopal, Business Analyst Writer for Fidelity International (U.K.), commented, "People submit fake CVs or hype their experience to procure a job. There are different kinds of people who do that. People who don't have a job and who are searching employment, and people who want better opportunities.”

"Generally, in India even a small gap in your profession is considered a blemish. This is one of the reasons several people choose to cover the gaps by showing fake companies, experiences, etc. I am not aware of even one job consultant who will accept a lag in a candidate's work. In the West, they can choose to take a break from work for a couple of months and return to work. Nowadays, companies employ background-vetting agencies to scrutinize a candidate's background. I know of an MNC that has outsourced the background vetting process to some South East/ Middle East based agency. This company does not even trust a local Indian company for this work,” she laments.

"A layoff is considered to be a nerve-wracking incident in India. We don't confess during interviews that we were laid-off because of poor performance or due to some business decision. The society in general pushes us to either hype our skill set or never to be honest, because the result is never in our favor. I will squarely blame our system for pushing candidates to fudge CVs.”

Eddie Hollon, a US-based writer based in South Korea, retorts, "I don't think that's a valid excuse. Here in South Korea, there has been a wave of discoveries and confessions by professionals who did not have the credentials or experience that they claimed to. In most cases, they used the same excuse as the one posed here and tried to lay the blame on the high value this society places on academic achievement.

However, the ethical responsibility for a true representation of your skills, achievements, and experience lies directly with you. You are the person being hired and you are the person making the claims.

Every employer wants the best employee they can find (for the money they're willing to pay, of course) and they all want to avoid people with blemishes on their records. Recruiting companies want to make money by placing people, so they want to find and push the most talented and decorated individuals as well. This is natural.

At your end, the "lie” is either propagated by or upheld by your affirmation (or lack of denial). So, when the truth eventually comes out, no one else deserves to be held accountable.

As for society's involvement...they all have their ills. But, the evil deeds of others are never a leeway for your own. In my opinion, the way to combat your society's overstated perception of the "perfect” employee is just the opposite of lying. If enough prospective employees stick to the truth and represent themselves accurately while allowing the liars to fail and suffer the repercussions (and their employers and recruiters along with them), the society will normalize around a more realistic idea of who is employable. After all, what good is your achievement if it sets you up for public shame many years later, as is the case with the Koreans who have been exposed here recently.”

Reason 2: Influence of external market forces
During my research on this subject, I discovered that some outsourcing vendors deliberately asked candidates to fake their skill sets in order to grab deals from their existing or new clients. Karthik Kannan from The Writers Block, Bangalore, commented, "I personally know individuals who were forced to change resume according to their company's requirements for outsourcing. It's also encouraged by placement consultancies.”

In addition, previous work experience accounts for a major portion of these falsifications. Many people provide names of non-existent firms. Even recruitment agencies lure candidates into putting fake experience.

Projects undertaken, technical skills, certifications, and even salary details mentioned in the resume can be easily manipulated. To make matters worse, bogus claims regarding family background, educational qualification, and references are not uncommon.

Reason 3: Lust for lucre
Resume fudging became a norm due to the attractive salaries offered in the IT sector. Companies have now started to conduct stringent background verifications to curb these malpractices, despite the heavy expenses incurred. Many organizations, such as the NASSCOM and the NSDL, have already started collaborating to create a common database for employees that will ease the process of background checks.

Paula R. Stern from WritePoint Ltd., Israel, said, "I interviewed someone – the resume was was 50-50 if I would have hired her. Within a day of interviewing, I received her resume from a placement agency. For some reason that I can't explain, I opened the copy from placement agency even though I'd already seen it. The placement agency said she was a RoboHelp expert. The copy she gave me made no such claim (didn't even mention RoboHelp).

I figured that she knew I had a reputation of knowing RoboHelp and could prove that she didn't.

To me, this was "reverse-fudging” where I probably had the honest resume, but I didn't hire her because I felt that I couldn't trust anything else on the resume. It only takes one "fudge” to make a resume not credible.

We also had a student who lived a little far from the center of the country and hi-tech area. He decided to lie about where he lived so that it would not be an issue for a company (he was willing to relocate). I told him to leave the address off completely and if it came up in an interview, to tell the company that where he currently had an apartment is irrelevant, as he was willing to relocate.”

Jayanath Perera, a senior techie for Autodesk Singapore, shared his side of the story. "I have never written untruths about myself in a resume, but I have hidden facts - I wonder if this could be considered resume fudging," he confessed.

"For example, in my previous company I was a VP by designation. Although I was a VP, my responsibilities were more compatible with that of a team leader and my designation was bloated to enable me to forge relationships with other companies "at the right level”. When my company decided to offshore my job function, I was faced with a huge problem. I did not have the right skills or experience to work as a VP in another company, nor would my resume get past the screening process if I applied for a job I was more suitable for. Hence, I hid my designation and took refuge in a functional resume. To date, my current employer does not know what my previous designation was, and even if they did, it wouldn't matter to them anymore because I have fitted in very well and gained their confidence.

To date I do not think what I did was unethical. All I did was to provide "appropriate” information to my target audience and filtered out the parts that would distract them from the ultimate objective of my communication product, which is to get past the screening process and be attractive enough to get called for an interview.”

Richard Mateosian, a self-employed Computer Systems Consultant, offers an alternative to lying on your resume. He states, "A better approach is to send an honest resume with a cover letter that explains why you can do the job, despite the requirements. This can work if, as often happens, the requirements are not really requirements.”

Reason 4: When the desperation sets in
You need the job bad. Most of us do when we are jobless, or beginner, or in-between jobs. A lot of people go nuts, eccentric, or even end up dead from it. But the big question is: is it your plan?

Surag Ramachandran, Senior Principal Engineer for Honeywell, Bangalore, recalls, "One software developer was working for a small company. His performance was average. His pay was nominal. He tried in a bigger company and attended their tests and interviews during a mass recruitment drive. He failed to get through the interviews. Two months later, he tried once again in the same company.

The company mentioned that one should re-apply only after a year. This time the developer changed his phone number, email ID, look and feel of his resume, as well as some other content. He even came up with a new name without expanding his initials. He prepared himself with answers to some of the questions asked before. He answered all the questions and was selected.

He nodded affirmative in all the higher management meetings, even had some smart people to work for him. After a while, he joined a startup in even higher position. There he presented the standards, policies, guidelines, presentations, and so on from his earlier company with some tweaking here and there, giving an impression that he created all of them to the new management. Today he is a Vice President in that company.

I do not know the person in this incident personally, but I think such incidents do happen. If not, then why are there so many PHBs (Point Haired Bosses) out of Dilbert comics too?

Here is the answer to why people do resume fudging: Try to reach the top, using shortcuts.”

Reason 5: A matter of (Dis)honesty
Bill Swallow, Documentation Practices Leader for Pitney Bowes Software, candidly comments, "No matter how you slice and dice it, it boils down to dishonesty. I'm not HR, but I've been in hiring/interviewing roles for many years. I had one candidate at one point bring a document I wrote for a client in as his own writing sample. He was a little shocked not only to see me pull the document down from my bookshelf, but to see the interview end so abruptly. I've also caught people in lies by asking intelligent questions around their experience. In all of these cases, the candidates did not get the job (obviously).

And do know this - you take a big risk in lying on your resume or in passing someone else's work off as your own. HR and people in hiring positions are usually networked with similar people in other companies. People talk. If you take a risk at lying to get into one company and fail, chances are other companies will hear about it and not give your application consideration.”

Finally, I'd like to agree with Bill. You're not fudging anything; you're simply lying and things can get worse if you land a job that is too big for you. Your castle of sand can come down crashing anytime and before you know it, you will find yourself out of the business.


  1. Great article Rahul. The advice you've collected here serves as an poignant reminder to tech writers that need, greed, or shame simply don't excuse a falsified resume or CV. Keep up the good work.

  2. This is a great article.

    Best wishes!

  3. Great article.... but I would say at the risk of being outspoken ...that this malady afflicts almost all of the software technology world...not just technical writers...I know of people who have acclaimed themselves as experts or in the know of some tool or technology... but on getting a job come back to me and have asked for help understanding the very same tool or technology that they are an expert in... I initially thought that they were belittling my meager experience in the field or were being simply rude... But as they say fact is stranger than fiction... nevertheless point taken and thank you for the article

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