Several years ago, Facebook started allowing users to add ‘languages spoken’ to their profiles.
One thing became abundantly clear: I had, apparently, been living a life populated with polyglots.
All at once, everyone I knew started claiming to be multilingual – despite the fact that I had never heard these people mutter even a word of a foreign language before. (My favourites were the people who said they spoke both US English and UK English.)
This trend doesn’t end with Facebook profiles either. The embellishment seeps into the workplace, surfacing when people apply for jobs. On LinkedIn and in job applications, many people don’t think twice about slapping down a greatly exaggerated foreign language ability.
But can this backfire?
Language skills are easy to lie about
Of course, CVs have been riddled with little white lies practically as long as the modern labour market has existed, so this isn’t new. In a 2015 survey by CareerBuilder of 2,000 full-time hiring managers in the US, 56% said they had caught an applicant in a lie, like bloating past job titles and responsibilities to even listing an imaginary university. What’s more, they specifically said that 63% of applicants embellished a skill on their CV.
Another survey of 2,000 hiring managers by Hloom, a company that provides templates for cover letters and CVs, found that the second-worst lie an applicant could put on their CV was foreign language fluency – topped only by lying about the university they graduated from, and followed by academic major.
So, what is it about language skills in particular that makes people overinflate their worth?