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Lying on your CV: The self-promoter, the snake oil salesperson, and Pinocchio

By Nick Wilson | |7 minute read

Putting your best self forward in a job application is fine, even expected, but observing the line between puffery and deception is crucial. In the age of LinkedIn and behavioural interviewing, employers are more in the know than ever.

According to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), conservative estimates have it that 25 per cent of people lie on their résumé, while a study of Fortune 1,000 executives found that roughly 33 per cent of résumés contained fraudulent material or lacked vital information. Though the figures vary, one thing is clear: people lie.

For job applicants, it’s important to observe the line between puffery or exaggeration and outright deception. Lying in a job application can attract penalties ranging from job loss, industry blacklisting and humiliation to criminal recourse. Famously, liars have faced criminal liability for lying about their credentials.


Consider the case of Veronica Theriault, who, in 2019, was sentenced to 25 months in jail with a non-parole period of 12 months for lying her way into the role of chief information officer for the South Australian government’s Department of Premier and Cabinet. On her CV, Ms Theriault lied about her work history and education and attached false references.

HR Leader spoke to Geoff Baldwin, consultant lawyer at Stacks Law Firm, who told us it’s important to remember that these criminal cases represent one extreme of the spectrum. More often, suspected offenders are simply laid off or excluded from the recruitment process.

In cases like Ms Theriault’s, it’s likely the case that the circumstances of fraud were particularly egregious and that the position is highly paid or of significant public interest. Certain roles, said Mr Baldwin, will attract different kinds of penalties – for instance, public office or professions with codified standards, such as the legal profession.

A fine line

So, where is the line? Resume.io’s website reads: “One thing we do recommend is finding ways to make it abundantly clear to the hiring manager why you are the right fit for the job you’re applying to. At times, this requires finding new ways of reframing your previous experience so there’s no doubt about its relevance.”

Though this is followed by a reminder that there is a line between reframing and misrepresentation, some might take issue with the idea of “reframing” at all.

“I think the best rule of thumb is to ask whether you’re able to back up what you’ve claimed,” said Lauren Karan, director of Karan and Co. “This can be one of two things.”

Firstly, there are qualifications. Before putting any qualifications on your CV, said Ms Karan, you should make sure you have some way of proving them should the employer ask.

“I’ve seen employees get caught out where they might have completed 80 per cent of the degree and just didn’t finish it,” she said.

Secondly, there are the experience claims. Employers have methods to detect whether a candidate has the experience they claim to have. For instance, many employers use “behavioural interviewing”. Also referred to as “competency-based interviewing”, employers will ask questions designed to test for the specific skills and competencies required for the role.

As explained by the University of Sydney: “They will often start with phrases like: ‘Tell me about a time when …’, ‘Describe a situation where …’, and ‘Give an example of …’, prompting you to talk about a specific situation in your answer.”

Even if a candidate can satisfy an interviewer, they will have to back up their claims by performing on the job.

“Nobody wants to get into a position where they’ve embellished their résumé,” said Ms Karan. “I’ve heard of employees going into an organisation that said they know something, and then, once work is thrown at them, it’s clear they have no idea how to do it.”

“It’s great to play to your strengths and pull out what you’re good at on your résumé, but if you’re making up that you’ve done something, you will be caught out,” she said.

Lying by omission?

What about omission? Does excluding a relevant fact from a job application count as deception? Naturally, an A4 sheet of paper and a 30-minute interview require some degree of omission, but what are we entitled, indeed expected, to cull, and what must we include?

It depends.

Ms Karan said she often hears of people omitting a job from their résumé because they only worked in it for a short period of time. It can be tempting to exclude short-term stints because of what they might say about us as job candidates.

“I know a lot of people who omit putting a job they’ve only worked short term. That is a danger zone too … it just breeds a little bit of mistrust,” she said.

If at all relevant to the current position, previous experience, no matter how brief, should be included in an application.

Lying in the age of LinkedIn

In a digital world populated with fraudsters, scammers, and hackers, it might seem natural to presume that dishonest job applicants are also on the rise. According to Ms Karan, though, it’s important to remember that, in the recruitment field, everyone has a digital footprint. Among the strongest protections against fraudulent applications are the networking features on platforms like LinkedIn.

“You can see mutual connections quite easily. You can jump in and see who you might know [who’s] worked with them in the past. That’s the technology. And interlinking has never been available before like it is now,” said Ms Karan.



An employee is a person who has signed a contract with a company to provide services in exchange for pay or benefits. Employees vary from other employees like contractors in that their employer has the legal authority to set their working conditions, hours, and working practises.


The practice of actively seeking, locating, and employing people for a certain position or career in a corporation is known as recruitment.

Nick Wilson

Nick Wilson

Nick Wilson is a journalist with HR Leader. With a background in environmental law and communications consultancy, Nick has a passion for language and fact-driven storytelling.