5 ways candidates stretch the truth in job applications
Honesty may be the best policy, but many candidates will stretch the truth when applying for a new role.

We put the question to candidates to find out whether they’re willing to distort facts on their resume, and how.

As it turns out, 71% of candidates admit to not being entirely honest in their applications, our research reveals – ranging from mild embellishments to more serious false claims.

So, where does fiction take over from the facts?

True or false

Candidates are more likely to stretch the truth in smaller ways, such as workplace responsibilities, rather than more serious misrepresentations, such as lying about a job they’ve had, our research finds.

The top five ways candidates stretch the truth are:

  1. Said I’m interested in certain things that I’m not (47% male, 43% female)
  2. Responsibilities that I’ve had (39% male, 31% female)
  3. Used referees that are actually friends – I’ve never worked with them (35% male, 29% female)
  4. My years of experience (30% male, 21% female)
  5. Number of people I’ve managed (29% male, 16% female)

Who’s telling tales?

Younger people are more likely to stretch the truth generally, while those aged 35-44 are more likely to have fabricated their income specifically, the research shows.

“Younger candidates may be more inclined to stretch the truth in ways that they think will impress an employer, such as their interests or their responsibilities, because they want to move to the next level in their career,” says Fraser Gordon Sydney Branch Manager of Adecco. “For older workers, money may be a higher priority due to bigger financial commitments that tend to come with age.”

Alex Jones, Hays Regional Director, says while salary is important to younger candidates, they’re often more willing to trade off a higher salary for flexible working conditions.

“Companies once competed on salary and now they know that they need to offer candidates more than this,” he says. “We know that flexible working conditions are an expectation of younger candidates in particular.”

Red flags on a resume

While it’s difficult to spot a fabrication on a resume, Jones says there are some classic red flags that hirers can look out for.

“If a candidate doesn’t include the specific month that they joined a company and just lists the year, this may suggest that they are stretching the truth about how long they actually worked there,” he says. “This sort of vague detail can also mask a short-term job that they may have had in between longer-term roles. Candidates know that employers look for length of tenure on a CV and they may not want to include a job that they only had for a few months.”

Another warning sign is when a referee is not a candidate’s direct line manager, Jones says. “A candidate’s previous manager is generally the best person to vouch for their work ethic, responsibilities and general performance,” he says. “If a referee is not a direct manager, that is potentially a red flag.”

Other signs to look for include sketchy details and lack of evidence to support claims, Jones says. “If a resume lists key technical skills, have they listed a course or a training program where they hay have gained those skills?”

Getting to the truth

Sometimes an interview is the best way to tease out the truth, Gordon says. “Competency-based interviews are a great way to gain insight into a candidate’s skills and experience,” he says. “The questions tend to be open ended and the onus is on the candidate to use examples of previous work situations where they have applied their skills to achieve an outcome. I think it would be difficult to stretch the truth convincingly in these sorts of interviews.”

With the majority of candidates admitting to stretching the truth in job applications, employers should be finely tuned to warning signs. “A little exaggeration about personal interests may be harmless,” Gordon says. “However, if a candidate lies about a job that they’ve had or about their level of education, it’s hard to consider them trustworthy.”