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As unemployment continues to hover near 10%, the temptation to stretch the truth on a résumé is becoming harder for desperate job-seekers to resist.

That’s why experts say job applicants are doing more “creative writing” on their résumés these days. And hiring managers need to be more vigilant.

A study by business service provider ADP says that 46% of employment and education reference checks conducted last year revealed discrepancies between what the applicant provided and what the source reported. That’s up from 41% in 2006.

Lies vs. exaggerations  

Applicants lie most about their education, followed by their reasons for leaving past jobs, salary, job titles, scope of duties and criminal records. Those straightforward lies are caught with deeper drilling by HR and hiring managers.

The other type of “lie” is the vague wording that, in some cases, covers applicants’ flaws. Here are the top 10 vague phrases used on résumés (and the percentage of times used). If you see them, ask for details.

  1. Communication skills   12.6%
  2. Team player                   7.2%
  3. Organizational skills      5.5%
  4. Interpersonal skills       4.8%
  5. Driven                             4.3%
  6. Detail-oriented              4.2%
  7. Results-oriented           3.8%
  8. Self-motivated               3.8%
  9. Problem-solver             3.2%
10. Highly motivated          3.2%

7 ways to get the truth

Think of a résumé as the advertisement for a car. Something is being sold, and you need to adopt a “buyer beware” attitude before you drive away. Some tips:

1. Check for inconsistencies. Résumé-writing software can make anyone look good. Look for slip-ups in dates (such as overlapping start and stop dates) and contradictions between job titles and duties. Ask about time gaps in jobs.

2. Test skills. If an applicant claims to have proficiency in a computer program or can handle a certain machine, do a skills check. To avoid discrimination charges, test all applicants and ensure your test is business-related.

3. Check references, then ask for more. Demand that applicants provide phone numbers for all past employers, and make the calls. Also, ask for names of former supervisors, key vendors, etc.

4. Probe ‘self-owned business’ claims. Ask for details about their claims, including names and numbers of past clients.

5. Question academic credentials. Phrase some questions to determine whether the candidate really attended the schools listed. “Is James Smith still teaching accounting at that school?” If you made up the name and the person says, “He sure is,” you’ve got a fabricator on your hands.

6. Probe claims of supervisory duties. Ask questions like: "When you say ‘supervise,’ what did your duties involve? Did you assign work and evaluate the employees? Did you conduct performance reviews?" A true manager would have done that, and more.

7. Question claims of saving the company money or resources. Often, the claims are true, but they may be exaggerations. Comments like “made staffing change to cut clerical time” may mean he trimmed a half-hour off his secretary’s lunch hour. Follow up on such claims by asking for specifics.

Finally, don’t shrug off minor résumé exaggerations; they tell a lot about character and effort level. Also, don’t probe more deeply into the background of any particular group (females, minorities, etc.) or you’ll risk a lawsuit.

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