Reporting on a recent executive recruiting snafu by a high visibility organization should provide job candidates with a cautionary tale about resume exaggeration, especially if you have to resubmit your resume three times to correct verifiable errors.

According to news reports, here is what happened:

  • He said he worked for a law firm as a legal assistant, leaving in August 2016. He actually left eight months earlier, fired for “just not showing up,” according to a partner at the firm.
  • He claimed to have worked 275 hours as a volunteer in a religious organization. He then revised that downward to 150 hours in a second version of his resume. By the third submission, it disappeared altogether.
  • He claimed to have served three years as a Vice President for a fraternal organization. A spokesman for the organization said it was more like 1.5 years
  • He listed a master’s degree on his resume. The university listed on the resume said he had not completed his course work

A couple of years ago, in a speech to healthcare executives, I said that apparently, at long last, everyone seemed to have finally gotten the memo on resume fraud – the practice of deliberately misrepresent facts on your resume to induce an offer of employment. At the time of that speech it had been more than a year since I had personally experienced, or read about, a high profile case involving blatant resume misrepresentation and I was hopeful that “phase” had passed.

In the not too distance past one of the most common types of misrepresentation was listing academic degrees or professional credentials that the perpetrator had not earned. After a particularly egregious case in which a head football coach at a well-known, religiously affiliated university, was forced out after an investigation revealed he did not have the master’s degree he claimed on his resume and that the details about his athletic career were fabricated, there was a rather dramatic falloff in this type of employment fraud.

This recent case, which I hope is not an indication that we are about to enter a new round of resume misrepresentations, nevertheless offers an important lesson for otherwise aspiring managers, executives or political appointees:

Do not do it. And if you are foolish enough to try, apply to a small company that may not have the resources to do robust background vetting, not a high profile policy position in the federal government. 

Even if you are not a high profile applicant and the vetting is going to be done by someone other than the FBI, do not get carried away. It is usually the little stuff that will trip you up. The academic and professional credentials are easy to verify, there are national databases that keep up to date records of college degrees. Professional associations are only too happy to provide assistance since it protects the quality and value of their credential.

The hard stuff to catch is what we call “accomplishment creep,” taking a few nice successes and accelerating their importance by exaggerating the size, scope or impact of an applicant’s work. Let’s face it, a mere Vice President claiming credit for a $20 million turnaround in a division within a period of 18 months is the kind of claim that raises eyebrows. Do not laugh, someone tried that. Or, if you have multiple felonies and you are applying to be a corporate officer in a publicly owned facility, you might not want to get too excited about landing that job since any executive recruiter worth his or her salt is going to check your background.

It is the subtle claims that are harder to catch because it requires a recruiter or researcher to vet each significant claim.

Employers can afford to be more demanding regarding background checks given that in industries like healthcare, publishing and other sectors that are experiencing disruption of their business models, there are frequently many, many more highly qualified candidates than there are top jobs.

If you have background issues — several short tenures or a termination — there are people who can help you address those professional warts without further damaging your brand by lying on your resume.

The scrutiny is only going to intensify.