Study: Lying on resumes and fake job references

How far are candidates willing to go to get hired?
 

Google searches for advice relating to lying on resumes rose by 19% at the end of 2023 compared to 2022.[1] The competitive job market means that the business of lying to get a job is not slowing down.

Candidates in today’s market are surrounded by the ripples of the pandemic and cost of living crisis and are looking for more ways to give them the edge in the job application process where only 2% of people who apply for a job are ever invited for an interview.

To help reveal the true extent of this misinformation problem in the hiring process today, we surveyed over 2,100 Americans to ask them about lies they may have told to get a job.

In addition to this, we also conducted further research into the world of fake job references and fraudulent college degrees and transcripts, and how much it would cost someone looking to lie their way to an interview. We also looked into the AI revolution taking place within careers, to see how many people would use tools like Bard and ChatGPT to lie on their resume.

We have compared all of this data to the previous results of this study from November 2022.

 

 

Key findings:

  • More than 3 in 5 (64.2%) people surveyed said they had lied on their resume at least once.
  • Men are more likely to lie on a resume with 65.6% of men admitting to lying, compared to 63.3% of women.
  • Younger people are more likely to lie on a resume than older people, 80.4% of 18-25-year-olds said they had lied, compared to 46.9% of those aged 65+.
  • 1 in 4 (25.4%) have lied about their employer references, and 9 in 50 (18.5%) of this group have used fake job reference services, costing an average of $128.60 per reference, which can involve fake employers and paid actors.
  • Almost 3 in 10 (29.6%) have lied about their college degree on their resume, more than half (54%) of those people told employers they had a degree when they didn’t.
  • This research found that fake college degree certificates and transcripts can be bought online and cost an average of $197.83.
  • Almost 1 in 5 (18.6%) say they haven’t been caught regarding their job application lies.
  • Nearly three-quarters of people (73.4%) said they would consider using AI tools in 2024 to help embellish or lie on their resume.

 

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How many people have lied on their resume?

Our survey found that on average, 64.2% of Americans have lied about their personal details, skills, experience, or references on their resumes at least once.

Taking recent figures of the number of people hired up to November 2023,[2] this could mean that an estimated 35.08 million Americans may have lied on their resume to get a job last year. This figure could be even higher for those who lie unsuccessfully and don’t get hired.

 

Which industries lie the most?

Those working in arts and creative industries were the most likely to lie (79.8%), followed by those working in retail, hospitality (76.7%) and education roles (69.8%). Those working in healthcare are the least likely to lie, which makes the most sense with them often having people’s lives in their hands as part of day-to-day activities.

The graph below reveals all industries analyzed and how much they lie on their resumes:

 

Graph showing which industries lie the most on their resumes

 

Lying on resumes by gender

Our survey also discovered that men were more likely to have lied on their resumes than women. However, both genders still lie in the majority.

For women, 63.6% said they had lied, and 36.7% said they hadn’t. Whereas for men, 65.6% admitted to lying on their resume compared with 34.4% who said they had never lied.

 

Graph showing how men are more likely to lie on their resume than women

 

Lying on resumes by age

When looking at age ranges, our study found that younger people were more likely to have lied on their resumes than older people. People aged 18-25 were most likely to have lied, with eight out of 10 people (80.4%) admitting to lying on their resume.

Almost two-thirds (64.9%) of millennial-age professionals — those between 26 and 41 admitted to lying, while 58.2% aged between 42 and 56 owned up to falsities on their resume. The majority of baby boomers — aged between 57 and 65 said they had never lied on their resume (59.5%), as well as adults over 65 (53.1%).

This is likely due to younger job hunters having resumes with no experience, making it more challenging to get their first job and the first step on the career ladder.

 

Graph that shows how lying on resumes decreases as you age

 

The kind of lies people tell to get a job

When it came to the specific things people lied about, our respondents were able to choose more than one answer. The most common thing people had lied about was their salary at previous jobs (32.8%), followed by their skills (30.8%), and their previous work experience (30.5%).

 

The most common lies told on a resume

 

Why would job applicants lie about personal details?

One personal detail people may lie about is their age. Age discrimination is a very real issue and putting your date of birth on your resume can lead to hiring managers consciously or subconsciously removing you from the hiring process, especially those nearing typical retirement ages.

Another reason someone may lie about their personal details is to avoid racial discrimination. One study from the University of Toronto [3] found that names with Indian, Pakistani, or Chinese origin were 28% less likely to get an interview compared to anglo-sounding names, and that’s with identical qualifications and experience.

We always tell candidates to include their full name, email address, cell number, and location on their resume. The city you’re currently based in is fine, there is no need to put your full address.

It is illegal in the U.S. for employers to ask about age, race, ethnicity, religion, marital status, gender, sexual orientation, or disabilities, so you also don’t need to include these on your resume. [4]

 

Lying about college degrees when applying for a job

Of the 29.6% who had lied about their college degree, more than half of those (54%) said they had lied about being a college graduate on their resume when applying for a job. This is likely because candidates believe they will never be questioned on the topic or asked to provide a real certificate. We took a closer look at this to see what the reality may be.

Of those who included false information about their college degree, over a third (35.1%) said that they did have a degree, but they lied about what subject their degree was in. Around a quarter (26%) lied about the grade they got, and 11.9% even lied about which college they attended.

 

Chart showing the most common lies people tell about college degrees

 

Fake college degrees and transcripts

With three in 10 lying about their college degrees, some may take this further and look to buy a fake college certificate and/or transcript online. Our own research of online fake (advertised as ‘novelty’) degree companies conducted alongside this survey found that for a fake degree and transcript from your chosen college, job hunters would need to pay an average of $183.50.

Almost half (49%) of American employers undertake some form of education verification,[5] to what extent they do this would determine how effective a fake degree would be. If it was simply a request for the certificate, perhaps candidates could get away with this fraud. However, it is simple to check with the college or university, which would cause the lie to become unraveled quickly.

 

 

Using fake references on a resume

Overall, 1 in 4 (25.4%) said they had lied specifically about the references on their resume. They might not know that you don’t need to include references on your resume, an employer can only contact your references once they have made you an offer.

Despite this, most commonly, people use a friend or family member (37.3%), with over a third (35%) making someone up, and 18.5% said they used an online service to create a fake reference.

 

Fake job reference services

As over 1 in 6 resume fraudsters are engaging in online reference services, we wanted to learn more about this industry.

There are a variety of businesses online supplying this trend, however, comparing our findings from 2024 to 2022 we found that around half of the fake job reference services have now closed down, possibly indicating a lower demand for this product. This is backed up by Google search data, which shows that searches in America for ‘fake job references’ are down 19% from 2022 to the end of 2023.[1]

 

What services do fake reference businesses offer?

Typically, customers will get a minimum of an email and phone call package with someone posing as their past employer. They will normally have a phone call to discuss the candidate’s skills, responsibilities, and salary based on the information given. While packages vary between businesses, the following were found to be typical of a fake reference service:

  • One month of answered phone calls with voicemail pretending to be your ex-employer
  • Fake company-branded faxes, emails, letters
  • Fake company websites and social media
  • Structured call-center style phone operator to direct recruiters to ‘relevant department’ of fake business
  • Fake pay stubs from ex-employer
  • Coaching for interviews is typically offered for an extra fee

 

How much does a fake job reference cost?

 

Visual showing 1 in 4 lie about job references

 

From our own research into fake job reference services available online, we found that they typically cost $128.60 for one reference, which typically comes with a fake employer website, a phone call with the fake boss, as well as written references.

For those who want to take this further, some offer voicemail services, call operator directing services, and even fax systems, all quoted as ‘verifiable by recruiters’. Some systems can appear hyperrealistic with actors as ‘receptionists’ putting recruiters on hold as they are passed to the fake boss.

 

Those who are caught lying on their resume

While 54.4% of people admitted to lying on their resume at least once, not all of these people were caught in the lie. Of those who said they had lied, 81.4% said they had been caught out at some point, be that through serious conversations, or caught on a little white lie, while 18.6% were never caught.

For those who were caught, most lies are uncovered before the job. The most common stage was during the interview process, with 38.4% of people being found to have lied on their resume during a job interview. Interestingly, 6.6% of people said they had been caught lying on their resume after starting the job and working at the company for some time.

 

Chart showing at which stage people get caught lying

 

The consequences of lying on a job application

We asked respondents who had been caught in the lie to tell us what the consequences were. The most common answer was that they got fired/had an offer withdrawn (54.9%), some were investigated by the police (14.5%), and others received a fine (13.4%). However, 15.9% of respondents said that even though they had been caught, no action was taken against them. This could be applicable if it was a small lie about knowing a software thoroughly for example.

 

Chart showing what happened to those who get caught

 

Performing the tasks of a job after lying

With 30.8% lying about their skills specifically, and 27.4% lying about their ability with equipment and software, there are likely various employees in a job they’re not equipped to do.

However, 84.1% of people who accepted a job offer after lying said that they could still complete the general daily tasks of the job with no problems. This is a testament to a successful job interview process to remove anyone without the necessary skills, but also likely reflects those who told smaller lies that wouldn’t affect their competency at work.

 

 

Would people lie in the future?

When asked if they would or wouldn’t lie to get a job they really wanted in the future, the majority (56%) said that they would lie, while 38% said they wouldn’t. A further 6% said they didn’t know if they would or not.

Despite this, people could agree more when it came to their finances, specifically the increasing cost of living and inflation. In 2023, groceries have increased in price by 5.3% compared to the previous year and these fluctuating costs are expected to continue to 2024.[6] Over half (56%) of our respondents said that rising costs and inflation would make them more likely to lie on a resume if it helped them to get a job.

 

Chart showing that half of people will lie to get a job in 2024

 

The AI revolution in resume embellishment

Artificial intelligence is rapidly developing, and technologies like Google’s Bard and OpenAI’s ChatGPT are being used in a variety of ways. Job applications are no exception, and our research shows that it is being used to embellish CVs. In fact, Google searches for ‘AI resumes’ are up 1,592% across 2023 – the public has never been hungrier for this kind of tech.

Almost three-quarters of respondents (73.4%) said they would consider using AI tools in 2024 to help lie on their resume, while more than half (51.6%), said they would consider using apps that generate answers to interview questions during a video or phone interview if it was affordable. While the latter technology is rarer at the moment, many are already using ChatGPT and similar chatbots to help generate or edit their resumes.

AI robot showing how 73 percent of people will use AI for their resumes

 

Should you use AI for resumes and cover letters?

Apps like Bard and ChatGPT are free for basic usage, while some other products we found for the AI-assisted job search can cost upwards of $20 per month. The process will typically be feeding the AI the job specification and then using it to write a resume or get some example interview questions.

It could be useful to highlight the skills needed for a job and to practice interview questions. However, we would advise against relying on AI to write you a compelling resume as it will not know everything about your personal skills and experience. Secondly, if the AI can write that resume in that style for you, there’s a good chance it will look very similar to another candidate’s resume who also used AI.

 

Lying in a job interview

As well as those who said they had provided false information on their resumes or job applications, three in five (60%) of our respondents said they had lied in a job interview. This is slightly higher than the 54.4% who lied on their resume. This could be something as small as discussing the depth of your project input, or could be completely lying about past work experience.

We asked our respondents how likely they would be to lie at their next job interview on a scale of 1 to 5, regardless of whether they had lied before or not. A vast majority (46%) said they would likely lie on their next job interview, while only 11.9% thought they wouldn’t.

 

Chart showing how likely people are to lie at their next job interview

 

Legal implications of lying to get a job

With 54.4% prepared to lie about some element of the job application process, there could be a lot of Americans prepared to get in trouble with their lies, which could be considered fraud.

While we are resume experts, legal matters are another thing. So to better understand the legal implications of lying in an interview, on a resume, or falsifying references, we spoke to Mark Sadaka, Principal Attorney and Founder of Sadaka Law based in New Jersey and New York.

Sadaka said “An employee faking a job reference will immediately be rejected. In some cases, the company may even blacklist them. This means that they can never apply for any job position at the company again.” He told us that “employees can be made to pay back their salary. However, it’s more common to just fire them.”

Sadaka continues stating that “Faking a resume is considered fraud. Thus, it is a criminal activity in most states. This means that the company could file a complaint against you. But because it’s a minor offense, there are a lot of ifs and buts attached to it.”

As for how this affects the law in each state, Sadaka stated “The laws differ from state to state, with some being a bit lenient. They may not file a complaint, or even if they do, the police may not investigate it. Still, it’s not a gamble worth taking.”

 

Is lying during the job application process worth it?

As we now know, there are possible legal implications, and ultimately, you’re more likely to get fired, removed from the hiring process, or blacklisted completely. In short, it’s not worth it to lie on your resume, references, or job interview.

So, should you lie on your resume? No. Definitely not

It’s better to properly learn how to write a resume, better represent your existing skills and put your best foot forward for your next job application.

 

Methodology

We surveyed 2,102 adults in the U.S. who have previously been employed in 2023 or who are currently employed in December 2023. Part of the analysis focused on a core sample of 1,349 Americans who stated they had lied on their resume and job applications. Respondents were asked questions relating to lying on resumes, interviews, and references.

Survey respondents were 50% men, 49.4% women, 0.4% identified as non-binary, 0.2% did not disclose.

Fake reference services and college degrees

To calculate the average cost of fake reference services and college degree and transcript services, we reviewed 20 services for each product and took the average cost in USD. Searches such as ‘fake job reference’ and ‘fake college degree’ or ‘replica college degree’ were made.

We specifically looked for U.S. job references and physical college certificates and transcripts delivered for U.S. institutions. This cost data was sourced on 12/15/23.

 

Sources

  1. Google Ads Keyword Planner, search volume, YoY comparison, for October 2022 (https://ads.google.com/home/tools/keyword-planner/)
  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ‘Hires levels and rates by industry and region, seasonally adjusted’ (https://www.bls.gov/news.release/jolts.t02.htm)
  3. Robert F. Harney Progam in Ethnic, Immigration and Pluralism Studies, ‘DO LARGE EMPLOYERS TREAT RACIAL MINORITIES MORE FAIRLY? A NEW ANALYSIS OF CANADIAN FIELD EXPERIMENT DATA’ (https://hireimmigrants.ca/wp-content/uploads/Final-Report-Which-employers-discriminate-Banerjee-Reitz-Oreopoulos-January-25-2017.pdf)
  4. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, ‘Prohibited Employment Policies/Practices’ (https://www.eeoc.gov/prohibited-employment-policiespractices)
  5. SHRM, ‘Conducting Background Investigations and Reference Checks’ (https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/toolkits/pages/conductingbackgroundinvestigations.aspx)
  6. USDA Economic Research Service’ ‘Summary Findings Food Price Outlook, 2023 and 2024’ (https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-price-outlook/summary-findings/)

 

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Further reading: Resume statistics 2023