Coburg Banks | Multi-sector UK recruitment agency

The 10 Most Common Lies That Job Candidates Will Tell You

By Mark Wilkinson | Sep 25, 2015 | Assessing Applicants

Woman with a nose growingAre you a suspicious hiring manager?

Do you ever think that the people you are interviewing are lying to you?

They probably (definitely) are.

In fact, figures show that 50% of jobseekers admit to lying on their CV.

But do not fear! Today, we’re revealing the 10 most common lies you’ll come across and how you can dig deeper to root out the truth.

1. Employment dates

Employment gaps look terrible on a CV. Or so jobseekers are told on a daily basis.

So those who have gaps that aren’t easy to explain are left with two choices; trying to tell the truth in a more appealing way on their CV and possible not even getting a call-back for jobs or to risk it, lie and hope for the best.

As you can imagine, many people choose the latter.

Recruiter Pro Tip.

Don’t immediately write off a candidate with unexplained unemployment gaps on their CV.

There could be a variety of personal and professional reasons why they’ve not been in work, things they may not want to plaster all over their CV. You never know, if you don’t ask.

If a candidate looks really appealing, but you’re concerned about their work history, you could schedule a telephone call to find out more – make sure you ask specific and investigative questions, to reveal as much information as possible.

From adding a couple of months onto their employment dates, to exaggerating the hours they worked at a position (from part-time to full-time) it really does happen regularly.

In fact, I know someone that managed to lose an entire job he wasn’t proud of (2 years of his career) and fudge the end-date of one job and the start-date of another on his CV to bridge the gap.  You have been warned.

What should you do?

When you send off for references, ask the candidate’s past employers for their start and end dates and contractual hours.  Easy.

2. Education

hand holding up a scroll of paper

scottchan at

No one would have the audacity to fabricate an entire degree on their CV would they?

You’d be surprised.

Studies have revealed that 20% of candidates lie about education on their CV!

Let’s be honest, an exaggeration or white lie is one thing, but completely making up a grade, or even degree is something else and I certainly wouldn’t want someone working for me who was willing to do this.

What should you do?

If educational qualifications are really importance, then ask for certificates from your job candidates.

Be wary though, this can slow down the process and you might get some candidates who drop out from the sheer hassle (do you still have a record of your GCSE results?)

3. Skills

57% of job candidates embellish their skill set, to help them get a job.

That’s pretty outrageous, isn’t it?

Recruiter Pro Tip.

Sometimes, the only way you can really tell if a candidate is lying or not is by asking a blunt question and reading their body language as they answer.

Your gut instinct is a huge part of the interviewing process and you really mustn’t ignore it. If it feels wrong, it probably is, so dig deeper.

A few weeks back, we wrote a blog post on the 8 Ways to Spot a Liar in the Interview to give you a helping hand.

What should you do?

If a certain skill is absolutely vital for the general functioning of the job role, then it might be worth setting up a test or task during the interview.

For example, you could set a written task for copywriters or a technical task for programmers.

Otherwise, a little investigation is the key. Look up their job description, ask referees for an outline of their duties and ask behavioural questions (tell me about a time…) based on the skills they’ve stated.

4. Salary

money falling all over a happy man Probably one of the most common lies told on a CV, candidates often feel the need to inflate their salary.

For obvious reasons, this will put them in a better situation to negotiate for a higher rate with you.

What should you do?

You’re well within your rights to ask for your candidate’s salary from their previous or current employers… but that doesn’t mean they have to give it to you.

Unfortunately, following that, the next best thing is to check their previous payslip on arrival at the new workplace – which is a little too late perhaps!

5. Weaknesses

Do you ever ask this horrible cliché at interview: ‘What’s your greatest weakness?’

You’re bound to get some god-awful reply along the lines of… “well, I’m a bit of a perfectionist.” Yawn.

Not only is this sickeningly predictable, it’s also probably a big, fat, lie.

What should you do?

  • Don’t ask it in the first place.
  • Make the question harder, for example, “what are your three weaknesses?”
  • Be upfront; “yes, but that’s not really a weakness is it?  Could you give us another answer?”

I wouldn’t bother asking the question at all; it puts candidates off and is pretty much useless unless they’re honest – which people rarely are.

6. Relationships

office fight No one wants to come across like an unmanageable or unsociable worker.

So, of course, candidates will lie, if they didn’t particularly get on with co-workers or managers even if it’s not their fault – some bosses are just genuinely horrible.

Of course, if anything went ridiculously awry, it should come up in their reference.

If your candidate isn’t offering a reference from their most recent employer, you might wonder why.

What should you do?

You’re going to have to use your initiative on this one…

Delve deeper, ask investigative questions, certainly ask why exactly they’re leaving their current position.

Any candidates who badmouth bosses and colleagues should be culled.

7. Interests

What do you do in your spare time?

What they say: “I play the violin, am training to run a marathon, host charity events, read industry news…”

What they do: “I get home from work, whack on some joggers and have a 6hr marathon of Walking Dead?”

What should I do?

Dig deeper. Ask some investigative questions like… ‘so tell us some more about your charity events’ and then expand and see how long they can hold the conversation.

You could also be really mean and test them to prove it, for example, if they say they speak German, ask for a demonstration!

8. References

blond baby in suit working with laptop

“Yes… this is the Marketing Manager.”

Yes. People actually lie about references.

In fact, in this recent study, 1 in 5 smaller businesses admitted to receiving fake references from candidates!

So, when you think you’re receiving a glowing reference from the Head of Sales, you could be speaking to Mike, from down the pub.

What should I do?

If you feel at all worried about a reference – perhaps they’ve only included a personal email address and mobile number – I’d Google the company in question and look for their main number.

Call that directly and ask to speak to the referee in question. If they don’t exist, then you have your answer.

For more tips, check out this article from MLP Law.

9. Commitment

Unfortunately, the job market is riddled with time-wasters.

Some are just putting themselves out there to see what happens, some are merely trying to negotiate a higher offer at their current firm and others are just desperate to find any job, until something better comes along.

What should I do?

We have a four-step interview technique to avoid this very problem.

You’re going to have to use your initiative and suss out your committed (and non-committed) candidates from their interview answers, communication, body language and other key information.

10. Reasons for applying

interview fingers crossed behind backInterviewer: ‘Why did you apply for this job?’

Interviewee: “Because I’d really like to work for this company…”

Perhaps, for a large, super-successful business this would be true of every single applicant, but often, it’s simply the stock answer (lie) that candidates think you want to hear.

What should I do?

Chill out! Not all candidates are going to be mega interested in your company, the industry and the job role.

As long as they can show passion and commitment, then there’s no reason to sack them off outright.

You can tell whether they’re genuinely committed by using the four-step technique we mentioned earlier.

NB: We always recommend that candidates learn these 8 things before interviewing – if your candidates don’t know them, they’ve clearly not bothered to do their homework.


So – that pretty much covers everything that could come up in the recruitment process! Scary right?

When you consider recent reports showing that a bad hire could cost “anywhere from four times annual salary for supervisors all the way up to 15 times annual salary for vice presidents and executives” it’s pretty clear how on the ball you have to be during the interview.

Recruiter Pro Tip.

Honestly, (pretty much) every jobseeker will lie about something.

Whether they merely exaggerate their profile for your benefit or completely fabricate an entire degree, the lies are there.

What’s important is that YOU can recognise the difference between a little white lie and one that could genuinely affect their ability to do the job.

The best way to do that is to firstly, do your research thoroughly and secondly, ask left-field questions as well as the easy cliche ones!

If you haven’t already, but would like to discover more top-notch interview questions and insider recruitment secrets, sign up to our blog here.

We’ll send over a short weekly update, keeping you in the loop with the latest.

Good luck interviewing.

- Mark Wilkinson
Mark Wilkinson

Mark Wilkinson

Mark is one of the founders of Coburg Banks and heads up the permanent recruitment division of the business.  Every day he helps companies with their recruitment projects, sourcing the very best individuals for their vacancies.  He understands recruitment inside-out.

> More blog posts by Mark Wilkinson

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