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Candidates for School Jobs May Be Lying on Resumes. What to Do About It

This spring, Dazhon Darien, then-athletic director at Pikesville High School in Baltimore, was charged with theft, stalking, and disrupting school operations after he used artificial intelligence to create and circulate a “deepfake” audio clip impersonating the school’s then-principal making racist and antisemitic remarks about employees and students.

The fiasco could have been avoided entirely if Darien’s job application had been vetted more carefully before he was hired.

Darien had made several false claims on resumes he submitted for employment in the Baltimore County school system, including the one that landed him his six-figure salary, according to investigations by multiple local news outlets, including the Baltimore Banner, following his arrest. While the extent of Darien’s falsification is significant, lying during the job application process is fairly common among job seekers, including educators, data show.

Here’s a glimpse into lying during the job application process: how often and during what stage of the job application process it tends to happen most, whether AI will exacerbate the problem, and how to prevent or at least spot candidates’ embellishments.

How pervasive is lying throughout the job application process?

Findings from recent surveys indicate that an alarming percentage of job seekers lie or embellish their experience or qualifications throughout the job application process.

A 2023 survey by London-based resume-writing service StandOut CV polled more than 2,100 American adults in multiple industries, and found that high rates of fibbing occur throughout the job application process. Sixty four percent of respondents admitted to lying on their resume at least once, and nearly 30 percent said they lied about their college degree (mostly saying they had a degree when they didn’t).

Job seekers in the education profession aren’t immune to claiming falsehoods. In the aforementioned survey, 69 percent of respondents who identified as education professionals admitted to lying on some aspect of the job application process—third only behind those in the arts/creative and retail and hospitality industries.

False claims aren’t limited to any particular part of the job application process, either. In a 2023 ResumeLab survey of more than 1,900 U.S. job seekers, 70 percent of respondents reported lying on their resumes, 76 percent said they lied in cover letters, and 80 percent of workers admitted to lying during a job interview.

Will AI amplify cheating?

The rise of generative AI may make it even easier for job seekers to embellish or falsify information on application materials.

In the StandOut CV survey, nearly three-fourths of the working adults in the United States who were surveyed agreed that they would consider using artificial intelligence tools to embellish or lie on their resumes.

“I think that AI is making it easier for people to lie on their resumes, because tools like ChatGPT can easily be fed a job description and asked to create resume content that matches it—and of course, ChatGPT will not stop to ask if the person actually has the skills or experience being written,” Andrew Fennell, director of StandOut CV, wrote in an email to Education Week.

Brian White, a seasoned human resources professional in K-12 schools, offers a similar take.

“I do believe that AI can help to create or enhance information submitted in an application, including the resume,” said White, the executive director of human resources and operations at the Auburn-Washburn school district in Topeka, Kan. “AI can help to rewrite information to better match needed requirements or experiences [of a position].”

White believes this practice is especially common among “aspirational candidates,” or those applying for a promotion.

“Often they want to portray their current experiences as those that would translate well to that position, or be equivalent to the expectations for that position,” White said. “I can’t say that it is falsification, but there are times where their experiences may not match the breadth or scope of experiences required for the position.”

Using old-fashioned strategies to prevent and spot lies on job applications

Despite the prevalence of technology tools, sticking to some tried-and-true aspects of the hiring process may help spot or prevent candidates from stretching the truth, experts say. Conducting in-person interviews is a big one.

White recommends this form of interview, and advises recruiters to ask candidates situational- or behavior-based questions, which he says can help to determine the breadth or scope of a candidate’s experiences.

Meeting a job candidate in-person also allows hiring personnel to make important observations that may be harder to detect in a virtual interview—such as a candidate’s body language and their ease at developing rapport.

In a survey by Indeed, nearly 40 percent of job seekers say they feel less intimidated when interviewing remotely. Similarly, it’s probably harder for candidates to lie to someone sitting in the same room with them than it is to lie to a face on a screen.

Fennell urges employers to screen applications diligently, and apply “some old-fashioned human common sense” strategies, such as letting job candidates know that references will be checked—and then following through.

Moving forward, at least one school system is likely to heed this advice. Darien, the former high school athletic director in Baltimore who was arrested this spring, claimed to have earned several degrees from accredited universities. After his arrest, investigators called the universities listed on the man’s resume, according to local reporting—and none had any record of his graduation.

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