Resumes posted on the popular professional networking site LinkedIn contain fewer lies about work experience than traditional, paper copies of resumes, researchers from the Cornell Social Media Lab said in a study.
Because LinkedIn resumes are posted online and are visible to former employers and co-workers, the researchers –– Prof. Jeff Hancock, communication and information science, and Jamie Guillory grad M.S. ’10 –– thought that people tell the truth more often on public LinkedIn profiles than on traditional resumes.
To test this idea, the researchers surveyed 119 Cornell undergraduates who had not previously created a profile on LinkedIn –– one-third of whom were asked to create a public online LinkedIn resume for an international marketing consultant position. The position offered “attractive international office locations,” along with a high starting salary and sign-on bonus.
A third of the participants created a private LinkedIn resume, while the control group typed a resume on a Microsoft Word document.
“This job description was embellished so that it was supposed to be difficult for an undergraduate to meet the qualifications,” Guillory said, noting that the job required three to five years of work experience.
After participants created their resumes, the researchers asked them to report any information that was not the entire truth. When asking participants to disclose false information they had included on their resume, Guillory said that the researchers “provided them with statistics from other studies that demonstrated people lying often in their resumes and reminded them that lying on resumes is a common behavior.”
According to Guillory, more than 90 percent of participants in the study lied at least once on their resumes.
“We did see overall that it was more common for people to exaggerate and tell subtle lies than to tell outright lies,” Guillory said.
Resumes that were created on Microsoft Word or were private on LinkedIn had more exaggerations about subjects’ previous work experiences than the public resumes posted on LinkedIn by the experimental group. However, the public resumes contained more lies about participants’ interests.
Participants with private resumes did not lie as much on their resumes because “they can only lie so much,” Hancock said.
“Our thinking is that they’ve already accomplished what they wanted to do,” Hancock said. “They’ve already lied about previous jobs, so they don’t want to feel like a liar … We don’t know for sure, but that’s what we think.”
Some participants in the study lied about the length of time worked at a particular company. Other lies, such as specific interests or recreational activities, were difficult to verify with other people.
“It’s really difficult for someone to say, ‘I know you’re not interested in traveling or learning a different language,’” Guillory said. “[The participants] chose to lie in a way that is safer for them, but makes them look slightly better.”
Hancock said that job applicants might be more inclined to lie on resumes tailored for competitive jobs.
“If they tried to get a ... less attractive job, they probably would have lied less,” Hancock said. “They lie for specific goals, like self-presentation.”
The types of lies observed included bending the truth — for example, altering the length of time worked at a job — omitting information and outright lies. Although researchers did not specifically study the type of lies found in resumes, Guillory said that they did not see many outright lies.
“We didn’t seen any differences in the amount of deceptions across groups in the way that people lie, which shows that people are lying with similar frequency, but about different types of information between the different experimental conditions — private versus public conditions,” she said.
Although the study showed that people occasionally lied on public LinkedIn resumes, employers might still find online resumes useful, Guillory said.
“You see that this employee has a lot of connections from people that are trusted and who can see and verify their information,” she said. “It should push more people to be more truthful on their resume … whereas on a paper resume, there isn’t the same level of verification from employers.”