How to spot a fake resume

August 15, 2018
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4 min

A quick google search will show you that people all over the world are willing to embellish their employment history in order to get ahead of other candidates during the hiring process. Unfortunately, some people are willing to manufacture their entire resume for the sake of landing a high-paying job that requires a more experience than they have. This post aims to walk you through what I look for in a real and fake resume.

It’s easy to beat an ATS screening tool

Most ATS systems that handle a high volume of applicants will screen out any resume that doesn’t have a specific set of keywords. This means that all it takes to avoid your resume being tossed in the trash is a few (hundred) extra technologies in the later bullet points. Many fake resumes will be packed with keywords, and oftentimes the technologies listed in a group of bullet points would never be found within 10 miles of each other in a real company. For a less extreme example, you can expect that many of the skills listed in a resume are things that the candidate has seen at least once, but doesn’t necessarily have any experience in.

In my experience, the best candidates have less bullet points, not more, because…

Experienced candidates have stories

A humble and experienced candidate will often mention technologies as a way to add detail to a story about tackling projects at work. I like to see entries like, “led a small engineering team to build Acme’s first-generation internal analytics tool – introduced React into company stack” than something mechanical like, “built Acme analytics tool with React, ElasticSearch, MongoDB, Java, HTML5, CSS, and Grunt”.

If you’re concerned about whether a candidate is overstating (or lying about) an achievement, you should ask behavioral questions: “What was it like working on this project? What would you do differently?”. These questions are incredibly good at teasing out fake entries because it’s really hard to make up a convincing story about timeline, coworkers, and consequences on the spot.

It’s worth noting that candidates who make themselves appear like a human get extra points. Small notes about hobbies and extracurriculars go a long way (and are usually easy to verify if they are true). Fake resumes tend to make the candidate look like a robot who works and sleeps in non-stop 12-hour blocks.

Pay attention to mismatches

Just like when you have to bring along a stack of documents to verify your identity when getting a passport, candidates should have social media, content, references, or a portfolio that adds another layer of support to the claims on their resume. When someone says that they worked at a company that you can’t find, you should dig in. If someone says that they worked at a top tech company and there is no record of their employment online (Facebook photos, Linkedin account, open source, etc), you should definitely dig in.

Something else that sticks out to me, thanks to my experience in this industry, is probably not as easy for younger recruiters who are non-technical. I am able to pick up on mismatches between technologies and companies. Sometimes a candidate will say that they were building an app with NodeJS when I know that the company in question is notorious for only hiring people with Microsoft-stack experience (C# / .NET). Other times a candidate might claim that they did highly-specialized projects in the past, but are now looking to get a job in something far more entry-level. This suggests that the candidate doesn’t actually understand what they were lying about. It helps to learn as much as you can about what engineering teams do so that you can catch little details like this.

Be careful with references

It’s pretty easy for candidates to get away with fake references, especially if you don’t have a close relationship with hiring managers at your company. As one candidate recounted, “I bought 5 simcards and put them in 5 old phones. There were 2 occasions where they checked, I just simply answered them myself, changed my voice a bit and gave myself an excellent reference.” In addition, references for older jobs are mostly useless.

It’s best to not guess at all

Why bother rolling a dice on someone when you can test them on their performance right up front? That’s what really matters. Sometimes you’ll find that candidates with poorly-written or underwhelming resumes are actually great hires.

Nowadays, technical recruiters are turning to take-home tests, data challenges, and developer events to build a shortlist of high-performing candidates before peeking at a resume. In addition, software like Filtered is built to screen, test, and rank candidates all at once. Any one of these techniques will drastically improve the quality of your hires. You’ll be able to sleep at night knowing that even if someone gave you an entirely fake resume, at least they will perform well in the workplace.