That perfect resume and glowing reference? Here’s how to find out if they’re fake.

It isn’t fair that honest, hard-working, quality applicants lose out on job opportunities to individuals who fake resumes and references. But they do.

The reality: you can’t believe resumes.

A stunning number of applicants lie on resumes. According to a February 2021 article posted on one of the country’s top hiring sites,, 40 percent of applicants lie on their resumes. The most common lies include lying about technical abilities, inflating titles, exaggerating accomplishments and previous salaries and falsifying dates of employment. A CareerBuilder survey reports an even higher percentage, noting that 75% of human resource managers have caught lies on applicants’ resumes. According to Business News Daily and HireRight’s 2019 Employment Screening Report, 87% of employers worry candidates misrepresent themselves on resumes and applications. An estimated 71% of employees state they uncovered problems during background checks.

Here’s a local example. When the University of Alaska asked me to check the references of six candidates for a key position, the UAA contact told me that expertise on a specific telecommunications system was needed. They told me that all six applicants had verified on their applications that they’d worked on the system for one to three years in their current or most recent jobs.

I called the applicants’ current and most recent supervisors and asked the supervisors about the telecommunication system. Three of the six supervisors had no familiarity with the system.

I called the three candidates whose supervisors had said, “I don’t know that system” and verified the answers the applicants had given in their applications. After asking, “why are you asking?” one said he’d read about the system on the internet and insisted he was a quick learner. Two others withdrew their applications.

Reference-checking works. It’s often an employer’s best protection against inflated resumes. But what happens if the references also turn out to be fake?

Fake references

According to a recent survey, one in five small businesses surveyed in a group of 1,800 discovered candidates provided them with false references. According to SocialTalent’s survey, 76% of over 1,000 surveyed employers discovered fake references from applicants and 17% of them discovered that current employees, particularly those holding mid-level positions, provided fake references in their application.

Multiple websites provide false references for a fee. Some will even provide applicants with a reference letter that incorporates the prospective employer’s job specifications and arranges a functional website for the phony company, along with access to a live HR operator who answers reference questions.

What can employers do?

Given the reality, don’t accept the information applicants provide in their cover letters and resumes at face value. When you interview top applicants, spend at least an hour interviewing them, ask in-depth questions and then reference check.

If you rely on applications, include a note at the bottom of your application that makes it clear you consider resume information accuracy important and may dismiss an employee who provides untrue information. That note gives some applicants cause to pause and strengthens your organization’s ability to discharge a newly hired employee who deceives you.

Realize that applicants may ask personal friends and family members to pose as former supervisors to provide references. Ask each reference: “what’s your supervisory relationship with the applicant?”

Some applicants swipe a former employer’s stationary and write fake references. If the latter occurs, you find this out by calling the references. If they’re no longer at that company, you can often locate them using LinkedIn.

Remember that you’re not limited to the references the applicant provides. You can ask each reference to recommend additional supervisor colleagues.

Check social media. Did the supervisor named as a reference work at the company during the time the applicant worked there and hold a managerial job?

If the applicant wrote his/her own reference letters, you’ll often see similarities between the cover letter’s language and the reference letters.

The consequences

Candidates that provide false references misrepresent themselves and breach the duty of trust implied in the employment contract. If you’ve clearly stated your employment offer is subject to satisfactory references, you can withdraw the offer. If you’ve already hired the employee, you may be able to fire the employee for misrepresentation or breach of contract.

The final truth — Honest job candidates deserve jobs and don’t deserve losing out to those who scam the system.