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updated 10/23/2005 5:53:38 PM ET 2005-10-23T21:53:38

A solid résumé will get you in the door. A lie on the résumé will get you kicked down the stairs.

Yet, a surprising number of job candidates lie, elide or stretch the truth on their résumé.

"Lies usually shake out during the interviews," says Jim Barnhill, an executive senior partner specializing in human resources recruitment for the Lucas Group in Atlanta. "If you don't have the experience, you can't speak intelligently about the topic."

People often lie on their résumé in the mistaken belief that puffery will improve their chances to take a giant step in their career or simply because they lack self-confidence. A few may have something to hide. Some say as many as 35 percent of job seekers have lied on their résumé.

A résumé isn't a legal document, but a job application is. So, if you don't repeat the lies on the job application, you're immediately unmasked as a fraud. But if you do, you could be shown the door after a background check.

Many job listings generate hundreds of résumés, and the initial screen is keyed to selected degrees or job titles. It's done manually or by computer, and up-or-down decisions are often made in a few seconds. Candidates without the needed key words or titles on their résumé land in the reject heap. For some, this is incentive to confabulate.

Barnhill says candidates frequently lie about their educational background, claiming a college degree they haven't earned or listing a master's degree after completing the coursework but not the thesis. Others claim job titles they've never held or inflate their salaries and accomplishments to turn a support role into a key position.

Employers like to hire candidates with solid work histories showing steady advancement. Some applicants, therefore, stretch employment dates to cover any gaps, even if they got the axe in a company downsizing and are blameless. Some employers may consider this a white lie, especially if it occurred several jobs ago and all other résumé entries are accurate. But most demand the truth straight up — even on minor details.

Barnhill's advice: Clean up all such fibs now and don't repeat similar exaggerations, errors or omissions in the future.

Lying or exaggerating on a résumé can be catastrophic when seeking a high-level job.

The recruiter has a vested interest in presenting top-notch candidates to his client, and companies want honest, trustworthy employees.

"If I find an indiscretion in an executive search, I tell the candidate that I've got an integrity issue, and I can't submit the résumé to a company unless it's corrected," Barnhill says.

Barnhill, who has a financial stake in placing candidates in jobs, says he's recommended that companies reject candidates after he's discovered a fabrication late in the interview process.

"The consequences of lying are greater than not getting a job or even getting fired," Barnhill says. "As you advance in your field, it quickly becomes a small world, and top people know each other. If you lie on your résumé, it will mushroom into other areas, and this will damage your reputation and harm your future prospects."

Companies filling high-level jobs routinely make background checks, including claimed degrees, honors, work experience and references. The smart candidate, therefore, won't claim to have studied with Albert Einstein at Equator State University, to have been Jack Welch's inspiration at General Electric, to have written killer code for Uncle Bill at Microsoft or even to have worked with the colonel in cooking up the secret recipe that made Yum! Brands' KFC chicken famous.

Don't laugh.

Barnhill says some executive assistants have the odd habit of claiming to be human resource directors. Funny how the salaries don't quite match, eh? Smart recruiters and interviewers notice these things.

Here's today's lightening bolt insight: Don't lie on your résumé.

It's nearly impossible to retract a lie after you've been hired and few try simply because the risks are too great.

Some applicants get away with lying through their teeth, at least for a while. This creates the need to continue the lie and perhaps embellish it in the future. The major disincentives for coming clean in your current job are embarrassment, demotion — or termination.

But there is a way to close the gap in experience or education — if you're willing to work. If you don't have a needed degree or experience, get it. You may not get the current job, but there's always something else in the future.

Writing a good résumé takes some skill, time and practice, and interview techniques always need polishing. A word to the wise: Keep your résumé short, to the point — and honest.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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