Rep. George Santos (R-Nassau/Queens) leaves a House GOP conference meeting...

Rep. George Santos (R-Nassau/Queens) leaves a House GOP conference meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 25. Credit: AP/Andrew Harnik

ALBANY — Lying on resumes in the private sector — and the cottage industry it has spawned — shows that fabricating work histories extends well beyond the political scandal surrounding Rep. George Santos, according to business analysts and academic researchers.

Fifty-five percent of job seekers admitted they lied on their resume, according to a survey last year by business consulting firm StandOut CV.

“It’s just so prevalent,” said Joey F. George, an emeritus distinguished professor from Iowa State University whose research field is known as “deception and credibility assessment.”

“I’d say 30 to 60 or 70% of resumes have something that is just not true,” George said after analyzing data from human resources departments. “There is probably a lot of stuff that isn’t getting caught … I think HR professionals now just expect there will be something on there that isn’t honest.”

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Lying on resumes in the private sector extends well beyond the political scandal surrounding Rep. George Santos, business analysts and academic researchers said.
  • Fifty-five percent of job seekers admitted they lied on their resume, according to a survey last year by business consulting firm StandOut CV.
  • The StandOut CV survey found that 17% of job seekers in the United States hired fake job reference services with paid actors at about $145 a pop, while 41% lied about a college degree. Some purchased phony college certificates.

The StandOut CV survey found that 17% of job seekers in the United States hired fake job reference services with paid actors at about $145 a pop, while 41% lied about a college degree. Some of them purchased phony college certificates at about $270 each.

“There are huge numbers of companies and freelancers offering these services now, and 1 in 6 of the people we surveyed had used one,” said Andrew Fennell, director of StandOut CV. The London-based, global company provides services to improve resumes to reflect an applicant’s best and truthful first impression. “But, of course, it must also be driven by a big demand of job seekers who feel the need to lie on their resume.”

'It’s all made up'

That’s where entrepreneurs such as William Schmidt come in.

In his companies based in Atlanta, he can tweak, overhaul or create out of whole cloth your resume and list of references.

But the key is what follows. When prospective employers check on the references for a client and on past companies listed on his or her resume, they will find active websites. Phone numbers for references will have the phony company’s area code, and the call will be answered live by a worker posing as an operator. Email addresses will use a URL that matches the fake company’s name.

Then the prospective employer will be contacted by one of Schmidt’s employees posing as the applicant’s former boss, human resources executive or co-worker, who will relay glowing things about the applicant and verify the dates of employment, titles, skills and responsibilities on the resume.

“It’s all made up,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt said he and his companies, CareerExcuse and WorkReferences, charge prices that range from $199 to $399 for a subscription, with monthly renewals between $25 and $100.

Companies operating in this field say they operate legally by using fake companies and the names of fictional company executives.

“Lying on a resume, cover letter, or job application isn't technically illegal,” said Christian Eilers, a resume expert and career advice writer, in an article for the online career adviser Zety. “These forms aren't legal documents, so usually you can’t get prosecuted for lying on them. However, if you falsify documents that ‘back up’ claims of educational history, for example, that could be grounds for trouble with the law.”

Job applicants who lie in an application that must be signed to verify the truth of the information could face civil charges. Lying about a professional license, a degree at a real college or expertise critical to the job could result in a misdemeanor for the job applicant, business consultants said.

Chance of getting fired

The more immediate threat to resume liars is getting fired after the landing the job and the faked information is revealed, or including a line that is discovered in a background check that raises a red flag about the entire resume.

The reason resume fabrications work "is called ‘truth bias,’ ” George said. “Evolution has gotten us to the point as a species where we tend to believe what people tell us, even if we don’t know them. We tend to believe strangers … it’s just our default.

“I think people like George Santos and other people understand that,” George said. “People will believe this stuff and people who know that will automatically take advantage of that tendency.”

Schmidt said his clients don’t seem troubled about securing phony credentials.

“I don’t think many people are concerned,” Schmidt said. “I think they are more concerned about putting food on the table.”

He said some lies on resumes are aimed at overcoming an unfairness by employers. Business consultants and academic researchers have found that some people lie on their resume to avoid being rejected for their ethnicity, race, age or gender. Still others come from past jobs where the policy is to refuse to confirm or deny the past employment or performance of workers out of fear of lawsuits.

Workers, especially after economic shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic, try to cover up gaps in employment from layoffs or out of health fears or because they took a chance on an entrepreneurial adventure that didn’t work out.

Many employers also use “check-a-box” applications that prompt some people to lie rather than list a past conviction, said Michael Corwin, a retired private investigator who used to do preemployment investigations.

“In the old days, an employer would basically ignore any candidate who had that. I don’t think that’s right,” Corwin said. “There’s been a cottage industry that claims everybody should have a second chance. While I believe that’s true, I also believe in transparency.”

Some lies indefensible

But there are also baldfaced lies, which seem indefensible, George said.

As a result, companies have hired “third-party verifiers” to check resume claims. Computer “applicant tracking systems” automatically reject hundreds of resumes for a single job by searching for keywords and gaps in a lexicon developed through years of weeding out applicants that artificial intelligence deems unsatisfactory.

“They haven’t been able to come up with any silver bullets,” George said.

For these experts in the field, the Santos saga of lying about his education, work history or his parents ethnicity comes as no surprise.

The Santos scandal “highlights the fact that people out there are lying on their resumes — no matter what their industry or background — and that all employers need to be cautious and put rigid background checks in place for all of their new hires,” Fennell said.

Some suggest Santos also reflects something about society today.

“He's what we are now,” Schmidt said. “Everything is basically made up. Everything is fake. Everyone is a story. He’s just the culture.”

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