I called some of the big names who made news when their stretching of the truth became public, like George O'Leary, the former Notre Dame Coach who lied about his education and college football career and David Edmondson, the former CEO of Radio Shack who lied about a college degree on his resume. Maybe they'd want to talk to us and provide a cautionary tale to any job seeker who might be thinking of embellishing or outright lying in these recessionary times. Not a chance. They weren't interested or didn't return my calls.
Andrea Stanfield said it's not like she sat down and formulated a plan to lie. Locked in a battle for custody of her young daughter, she was desperate for a well-paying job but every position said "bachelor's degree required, bachelor's degree required," she repeated during an interview outside her St. Petersburg, Florida home. So the Ohio native added "B.A. Business Administration/Akron University" to her resume when she only had a high school diploma. The college is actually called the University of Akron.
"We called it Akron U," she said. "I never realized that I reversed it." And she never got caught.
A job as a stockbroker led to a position as a business manager and then to the title of second to the chief financial officer at an engineering firm with a salary plus bonus over $100,000.
"I thought the bigger I got, the harder I could fall and I never felt like any of it was mine," the 36-year-old said. "Every paycheck I made, I would spend it because I thought they would come take it."
The mounting guilt, she says, led to paranoia and severe anxiety attacks. "I knew why and I couldn't tell anyone why, I was completely alone," she said. "I couldn't call anyone and say, 'Hey, you know I lied on my resume.'… I had to suffer all by myself, even my psychiatrist didn't know."
Ultimately, when her boss was accused of embezzling millions from the company and an investigation was likely, she quit because she feared she might get caught and could no longer handle living the lie. Her husband at the time was shocked by the revelation, she says, and their marriage, this her second, quickly came to an end.
"I think he felt so lied to and so deceived for so long," she said with some sadness. "I think he was probably hurt and maybe looking at me like, who is this and why didn't you tell me before."
Thirty-four percent of people lie on their resumes, according to the firm HireRight, which does background checks on applicants for companies. Experts believe that number is only likely to climb as more people feel desperate enough to embellish, stretch the truth or outright lie to get a job at a time when unemployment nears double-digits.
Greg Slamowitz is co-founder of the Ambrose Group, a firm which provides human resource services to companies, including counseling clients about the need for background checks. He says the level of fraud has grown in the last 12 to 24 months, and that his own company was almost fooled a year and a half ago by a candidate who won rave reviews from 12 different people at his company.
"We were very excited to hire this particular candidate," Slamowitz said, but then a background check raised suspicions about her college degree and her diploma.
"At first glance, (the diploma) looked good," he said, but then closer examination revealed that "ninety" was misspelled and the governor who allegedly signed it, Edmund Brown, was not California's governor at the time.
"A background check is like getting into a car and putting on your seatbelt," he said. "You don't hire somebody without doing a background check."
Nationwide, 96% of companies do background checks, up from 66% a decade ago, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.
And many companies are doing more in-depth background checks than ever before, according to Ben Allen, President and CEO of the security firm Kroll.
"People are asking us to check more things than they have historically so it would suggest they're more concerned about it," he said.
Andrea has plenty of advice for anyone who might consider lying to get a job in the tight labor market: "Don't do it."
"You'll lose your integrity, you'll lose friends, god forbid family along the way," she said. "You'll always have an Achilles heel that you can be taken down at any moment and no one wants to live like that."
The single mom with a 12-year-old daughter is now the proud owner of a successful dog rescue company who's trying to earn back every ounce of integrity she lost ten years ago.
"I don't want people's pity but I did lose part of myself, part of my life, you can't get that back," she said. "I lived ten years of my life deceiving everyone I knew. They might say to my face they forgive me and love me but I wonder if they wonder in the back of their minds if they believe anything I say," she said with a slight chuckle. "And who could blame them."