9 Tips for Catching CV Liars

We live in desperate times. South Africa’s official unemployment rate is 33%, and the unofficial one is thought to be much higher. In a climate like this more and more people find themselves desperately seeking work and the number lying on their CVs is rising every year.

But lies on a CV are not the harmless fibs that applicants may think they are. Hiring someone into a position they are unqualified for can be extremely damaging to any business. Here then are 9 tips for detecting lies on your applicants’ CVs.

“No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar”

In a recent survey conducted by StandOutCV more than 50% of Americans admitted to lying on their CV. It’s a staggering number, and something that is taking place in a country where jobs are plentiful and finding work easy. 

Google searches on how to lie on a CV went up 48% in 2022 alone, and searches on how to fake a job reference went up 52% in the same time. 

While there is no such research on South Africa, business owners would be cautioned that a similar number is almost certainly to be expected here simply due to the tough economic conditions. The National Qualifications Framework Amendment Act 2019 makes it illegal to lie about qualifications on your CV in South Africa under punishment of a jail sentence and applicants can be made to pay back their full salary. Despite this there are a number of other ways that applicants can lie, which are not punished (e.g: past salary, job titles, and responsibilities) and which are therefore likely to be significantly more common.

9 tips for employers

It’s clear that lying on a CV is everywhere, so how can you as the employer protect yourself from this seemingly common scourge? Here are our 9 tips on what to look for to catch liars cold.

  1. What do people lie about most?

People lie on their CVs for many reasons. Some do it to avoid being stereotyped or simply to boost their egos, while others do it for far more nefarious reasons like earning a job they aren’t qualified for.

Studies have shown that the most common areas where people lie are: 1: Education level 2: Exaggerated salary 3: Date discrepancies 4: Job titles 5: Fake references and 6: Name dropping.

These are therefore the areas you need to focus on the most when trying to trip someone up in a lie.

  1. Look for telltale signs

Look for areas where people are not being specific. For example: Dates that go from year to year instead of month and year to month and year probably indicate there is something being hidden. Have they said they have a Bachelor’s degree from a specific university but not mentioned that it’s a Bachelor of Arts or Science? Look for skills that are listed but that don’t make sense for the claimed work history – why does this typist of eleven years have brick laying as their primary skill?

  1. Check LinkedIn and other online resources

Candidates will happily tell lies in the shadows to one recruiter they don’t know, but will they tell those lies online where all their past colleagues can see them? Unlikely. The LinkedIn version of their CV is almost certainly much closer to the truth than anything you see on paper. Double check, check other Social Media profiles, and Google for any other online mentions of the candidate.

  1. Call the references

These days it’s much more common for people to list their friends as their references and give you their telephone numbers, but this does not mean you shouldn’t check-up. Call and have a chat, ask questions – even if these references only guide you to areas you can interrogate in the interview, it has been worth it.

  1. I vs We

Candidates who are lying or embellishing their CV will usually continue to do so in the interview. While the use of “I” instead of “We” is not instantly damning it can be very suspicious depending on the position claimed and business they were previously hired at. Work done for larger organisations is usually completed as part of a team and if someone is claiming they did it all alone there is a good chance they are embellishing their CV or may not even know what the role entails at all. 

  1. Ask questions

Interview questions can be subtly set to probe the areas above where you don’t feel entirely comfortable. For example, instead of simply accepting dates of employment, ask the applicant to tell you again when they worked for a given company – it’s possible they could forget dates for their first job, but the most recent one is unlikely.

Don’t be afraid to ask specifics about job titles and co-workers either. If you can, research some names off the internet and ask the candidate if they knew them. Ask about their listed skills and ask how they came to be at the level they are. Often you will find they have listed skills they definitely don’t have. 

  1. Look for hesitation

People are going to be nervous in their job interview and this should always be taken into account, but they should also be able to answer simple questions about their work. “Where were your offices?” should be met with an immediate reply. This is not a trick question, anyone who worked at that company should be able to answer quickly. It may even put the honest candidates at ease. Hesitation on these sorts of questions, or vague responses should be treated with suspicion.

  1. Request tangible proof

The final definitive answer if you suspect someone is lying is to simply request tangible proof. They say they got seven exemptions in matric, ask them to bring in a certificate. They say they have a degree? They should be proudly able to show you copies. If they have done a TED talk they probably have a YouTube video. 

  1. Trust your gut

The last thing you should do – trust your gut. Some studies conducted at the University of California in Berkeley examined people’s gut reactions after just a few seconds of interview. Surprisingly they found that these initial uncomfortable feelings were actually more accurate than when interviewers were told in advance that someone would be lying and were trying to play detective. Admittedly, none of these studies has been wholly conclusive, but if you have done your homework, and are finding an applicant ticks the boxes above, your gut reaction may be the thing you need to make the final call. 

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