1 in 3 Americans admit to lying on resume

Updated September 7, 2021

Key Findings

  • 32% of Americans admit to lying on their resume
  • Resume lies are more frequent among higher earners
  • Most common lie is years of experience
  • 80% of people who lied were hired, but nearly half had the job offer rescinded after being caught

The U.S. economy gained 934,000 new jobs in July 2021, a sign that after months of pandemic-related job losses and upheaval, people are updating their resumes and sending them off to potential employers.

But how many of those resumes only contain the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? In a July survey, ResumeBuilder.com asked 1,250 Americans ages 18 and older if they had ever lied on a resume and found that roughly 3 in 10 have.

4 in 10 lied on resume after leaving previous job on bad terms

Aside from wanting to improve their chances of getting hired, 44% who have lied did so because they lacked the necessary qualifications for the job they wanted, while 41% did it to cover up being fired or parting on bad terms from a previous employer.

The ever-increasing reliance on Applicant Tracking System (ATS) software, which scans resumes for words and phrases relevant to the job description, also prompted some people to lie. Forty percent of people added inaccurate keywords to their resume.

Even if job-seekers are insecure about their experience or qualifications, there are better ways than lying to address those doubts, says Stacie Haller, who has over 30 years experience in staffing and recruiting, and now serves as a career counselor.

“Lying on a resume or during an interview is never a good strategy. What you perceive as a weakness may not be to the hiring manager,” Haller explains. “Many times there are transferable skills that can be used to market yourself to overcome other areas where you are not as directly experienced.”

Experience, education lied about the most

Respondents lied about their years of experience the most with 46% selecting this option. A similar number of (44%) lied about their educational background, while 43% lied about how long they held a previous position, and 40% embellished their skills or abilities.

4 in 10 people who lied on resume had job offer rescinded when caught

The majority of people who lied on their resumes say they did so to improve their chances of getting hired, and it appears that the tactic works—for some.

Eighty percent of people who lied on their resumes were hired by the employers with whom they were dishonest. However, among that group, 41% had their job offer rescinded once their new employer discovered it. Of these individuals, more than 70% had lied about their level of education.

Another 18% started their positions, but were then fired when they were caught. Twelve percent were caught and reprimanded, but allowed to continue working. Only 29% of people who were hired after lying on their resumes faced no consequences. Those who faced no consequences were most likely to lie about years of experience.

Haller isn’t surprised by the number of applicants who had their lies discovered, as there are multiple ways for hiring managers to vet resumes.

“Many employers use internal or external services to verify education, job experience or other certifications,” Haller says. “Behavioral interviewing can also detect falsehoods or exaggerations by asking candidates very specific, detailed questions to verify the information they provided. And then there is the backdoor reference, where someone may be asked about you through your own network, without you ever even knowing about it. Lies may be uncovered that way as well.”

Who’s lying? A demographic breakdown

Our survey found that individuals of different genders, careers, income brackets and education levels lie on their resumes at different rates, while other factors like age did not see any significant variation.

High-earners more likely to lie

When broken down by income, individuals who earn six figures lied more on their resume.

Forty-nine percent of people who earn between $100,000 and $149,999 annually say they lied on their resume, as did 46% of people who earn over $150,000 annually. Comparatively, 25% of people who earn $99,999 or less per year have lied on their resumes.

Resume lies most common among those with highest, lowest levels of education

Education also appears to influence whether a person is likely to lie on their resume. Our survey found that the most and least educated Americans are most likely to fib.

Forty-one percent of respondents whose highest level of education is middle school lied on a resume, as did 45% of people who have postgraduate degrees.

By comparison, 25% of people with a high school diploma, and 27% of people with bachelor’s degrees, lied.

Lying most prevalent among IT, finance workers

Our survey also found that the number of job applicants lying on resumes varies across industries.

The practice is most prevalent in IT-related fields like software, computer science, and telecommunications, where 55% admitted to lying on their resume, and finance-related industries, where 45% of employees lied. For job applicants in both fields, the top things to lie about are education credentials, years of experience, and previous employers.

While individual motives for lying on a resume vary, Haller explains it may be more common in these fields because they are more competitive.

“IT workers feel compelled to always be on the cutting edge,” she says. “They also tend to start their careers as gig workers, which leads to a more sporadic work history. “If they feel like they can’t compete with others in their field, these factors may lead some to embellish a resume.”

Healthcare workers and educators are among the most trustworthy job applicants according to our survey. Only 18% of people in the education sector, and 17% of those in the healthcare industry say they have lied on their resumes.

Men lie on resumes twice as much as women

Hiring managers receiving resumes from men may want to be extra careful in reviewing those candidates.

Our survey found that men are twice as likely as women to lie on their resumes, by a rate of 42% to 22%.

Men are more likely than women to say they lied because they lacked the necessary qualifications for the job they wanted (50% versus 31%), and more likely to fabricate facts to add more keywords to their resumes (46% versus 29%).
Men are most likely to lie about their education credentials (52%), length of time they held a position (46%), and their years of experience (49%).

Methodology

All data found within this report derives from a survey commissioned by ResumeBuilder.com and conducted online by survey platform Pollfish. In total, 1,250 adult Americans were surveyed. To qualify for the survey, respondents must have previously applied for a job using a resume. Appropriate respondents were found via a screening question. This survey was conducted on July 16, 2021. All respondents were asked to answer all questions truthfully and to the best of their abilities.

Reviewed by Stacie Haller