How to Tell if You’re Being Catfished by an Employer

It’s not uncommon for people to stretch the truth in their online dating profiles.

Perhaps they add an inch or two to their height, remove a year or so from their age, or claim to like classical music when the reality is that they couldn’t distinguish Beethoven from Berlioz. In some cases, people go full-catfish and create a fake online persona to lure others into a relationship based on a lie.

Sadly, the truth is often similarly stretched in job-seeking and recruitment. While much has been written about how the majority of jobseekers fudge a detail or two on their resumé, people who have been in the industry for any length of time know that employers are equally guilty, particularly when writing job descriptions and during the interview stage.  

Mistruths can range from insignificant to major. For example, discovering that a “sleek, modern office” is older and dingier than expected might be disappointing, but isn’t necessarily a reason to quit. But suppose you have uprooted your family and moved to a job in a different state only to discover that the promised bonus structure was a lie?

Why do employers lie when hiring?

Employers lie because they want to attract the best quality candidates, maintain their competitive edge, and not fall behind in the (often desperate) race for talent.

No doubt a link can be found between business performance and a willingness to lie. If a company is in financial trouble, desperation may cause a hiring manager to go to any length to secure someone talented enough to fix the situation, thus (hopefully) making good on their promises.

Other employers will omit crucial facts in job descriptions and interviews; for example, they won’t mention that the job is a revolving door with multiple employees quitting in quick succession or quantify the unusually long hours associated with the role.

Some lies are unintentional – for example, a time-poor talent acquisition professional may republish an out-of-date position description without reviewing it, even though the role has evolved significantly.

What do employers lie about?

Here are some of the most common lies employers use to attract candidates:

  • Responsibilities/what you will be doing daily.
  • Opportunity for advancement.
  • Bonus structure.
  • Training and development opportunities.
  • Flexibility and remote working.
  • Who your manager will be.
  • Opportunity to manage others.
  • Exciting versus boring work.
  • Team culture.
  • The job is above or below your skill level.

Risks involved in lying to candidates

The most obvious risk involved in lying to candidates is that they will leave when they discover the truth. After all, a probation period works both ways and offers new employees a chance to get out fast if something doesn’t feel right. This leads to more time and money being poured into the recruitment process, along with the opportunity cost involved in leaving a position unfilled.

People talk. The story of an employer’s hiring mistruths may be spread by word of mouth in a small industry or posted online on sites such as Glassdoor for everyone to see, leading to reputational damage.

If someone decides to stay despite being lied to in the recruitment process, employers will suffer the consequences that flow from broken trust – lower engagement, a negative attitude impacting the team culture, and lower productivity.

Then there’s the risk of litigation based on the concept of promissory estoppel in contract law. Essentially, this means employees can sue employers for false promises, even if they were not formalized in a contract. If an employer made you a promise they did not keep and you faced a loss of money or another form of loss as a result of believing in the promise, you can sue for false representation.

How to detect lies when jobseeking

There are several ways to detect a lie when reviewing a job opportunity. Trust your gut. If something doesn’t look right or seems too good to be true, it’s probably worth checking on. Use online tools such as Glassdoor to read employee reviews or connect with former employees to get the truth. With LinkedIn, it’s easier than ever to find and chat with the person who previously held the role. 

If you are offered an interview, review the job description carefully and make a note of any claims that you would like to confirm or clarify. Keep an eye out for deliberately vague language or glaring omissions. Then, make a list of open-ended behavioral questions that will prompt the employer to give further information. For example, you may ask them to tell you about how someone they hired for a similar role has advanced in their career, or what specific training opportunities they were given. Listen to their response carefully. Do they seem genuine or do they appear to be making it up? Are they trying to dodge the question?

Lying to attract candidates isn’t worth the risk and ultimately fails to benefit the employer and the employee. Starting from a position of honesty will put both parties on track for a great hiring outcome with a strong foundation of integrity.