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Will You Be Caught?: The Art Behind Catching Résumé Liars

Will You Be Caught?: The Art Behind Catching Résumé Liars

With résumé puffing almost a national sport, business schools keep a sharp eye for inventive applicants

Dan Macsai / Business Week

Watch out, would-be fibbers. In the wake of last year’s cheating expulsions at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business and May’s scandal over alleged cheating on the GMAT, business schools are scrutinizing applications harder than ever. And so-called résumé puffing, or exaggerating your work experience and qualifications—even slightly—to appear more desirable, could cost you an acceptance letter.

In recent years, admission officials at several top business schools, including the University of California at Los Angeles’ Anderson School of Management and Duke, have found a growing number of lies and half-truths in the résumés they review. To be fair, it’s hardly an epidemic: Administrators contacted by BusinessWeek estimated that, annually, just under 1% of business school applicants are caught faking it (though the actual number of fibbers could be much higher).

But as applicant pools widen and competition intensifies, résumé puffing is becoming a serious issue, says Mae Jennifer Shores, assistant dean and director of MBA admissions at Anderson. “These candidates are going to great lengths—sometimes too great—to differentiate themselves,” she explains. “We [the admissions staff] have essentially become watchdogs.”

A Sharper Edge

Unlike buying live GMAT questions or plagiarizing an entrance essay, résumé puffing is something of a national sport. In fact, of 8,700 job applicants recently polled online by CareerBuilder.com, nearly 10% admitted to stretching the truth. During a separate survey of 3,700 hiring managers, roughly half said they had caught a lie on a résumé. Of those, 28% considered the applicant anyway.

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These numbers are “understandable,” says Stan Walters, a leading lie-detection expert and author of The Truth About Lying, a layman’s guide to lie-detection. When you’re applying for a competitive position, he explains, “you naturally want to pump up your image.” Late comedian W.C. Fields was more direct: “Anything worth winning is worth cheating for.”

For less confident applicants, this edge is especially enticing. Top MBA programs attract premium prospects, most with sky-high GMAT scores and several years of experience. Accordingly, people with fewer credentials and personal insecurities “don’t feel they’re good enough,” says Liz Riley Hargrove, associate dean for admissions at Fuqua. Albeit risky, résumé puffing is a quick fix: The difference between a “junior” and “senior” title, for example, is just two keystrokes.


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