Lying On Your Resume: Everything You Need To Know

By Ryan Morris - Mar. 21, 2021

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Regardless of what you might see thousands of politicians and corporate execs doing every day on national TV, lying is actually a bad thing.

In almost any situation, lying is a bad idea, and we don’t just mean from a moral standpoint. That’s because even in cases where lying can be justified in some way, it’s still incredibly easy to get caught.

Especially if the place where you’re lying is on your resume.

But how can resume lies, even mostly harmless ones, get you in trouble further down the line? And what do you do when you feel like the truth just won’t cut it?

We put together a few tips to help you deal with this situation.

How Lying On Your Resume Can Get You in Big Trouble (If You’re Caught)

We should preface this article by saying that not getting caught for lying is a distinct, albeit remote, possibility.

There are people who have lied on their resumes in a major way who have almost certainly never been found out, or at least never experienced any major consequences for their actions.

But here’s the thing: the longer you work for a particular place, the higher the chances are that someone will find out you’re lying.

And the longer you’ve lived with that lie, the more severe your consequences are going to become.

Any of the following things has the potential to happen after lying on a resume:

  • It might be discovered as early on as during the background check that your employer does on you, at which point you’ll more than likely be immediately disqualified from any job opening.

  • It could come up at any point while you’re working with someone, whether through everyday conversations that don’t add up, or even just through your own inability to do the kind of work that you should — according to your listed experience — be capable of doing.

  • Even if you end up working at the same place for decades, you might still be found out and fired at some point down the line.

  • And if you manage to get a job somewhere else based on experience at a job that you only had because of a lie, you could still get fired for having lied at the first job — again, if you’re found out.

Stretching the Truth vs. Lying

That being said, people stretch the truth every day on their resumes. Not only do they tend not to get in trouble for this, but a certain amount of stretching the truth is kind of expected by most hiring managers.

However, it’s very important to distinguish between stretching the truth, which you’ll probably get away with, and with outright lying, which you almost certainly won’t.

Truth-stretches you can probably get away with:

  • Start and end dates for positions, as long as you’re not off by more than a few months. Most hiring managers are aware of the fact that people don’t have the best memories, and won’t care if you’re off by a month or two here.

  • Skills that you can easily pick up, like basic HTML, Excel, or other programs that don’t require years of experience to become functional with.

  • Irrelevant experience that you’re able to sell as being relevant. This is actually a pretty important thing to do in many cases where your previous work experience doesn’t directly relate to the job you’re currently applying for. You won’t have a ton of directly relevant experience, so you’ll have to get creative with the experience that you do have.

Outright lies you will certainly get fired for at some point:

  • Saying you went to a particular school that you didn’t actually go to, or have degrees that you didn’t actually earn, is one of the easiest ways to get fired — even several years down the line.

  • Making up entire companies that you worked for. Even if your interviewer can’t directly prove that these companies never existed, the lack of evidence that they did exist will be seen as remarkably suspect, and can prevent you from getting a job in the first place.

  • Writing that you held a particular job title that you didn’t actually hold, regardless of how well your job experiences aligned with that position, is a particularly egregious lie that you’ll almost always get caught for. It’s just too easy to check.

Ways You Can Be Caught in a Resume Lie

Below are a few of the ways that you might get caught lying on your resume:

  1. Your former company/school can’t confirm your information. Looking up your past educational and professional experiences is background check 101 for recruiters and hiring managers.

    If they are unable to contact anyone who can definitively say that you graduated or worked a certain job title, you can expect the employer to assume you’re lying about those credentials.

    It may not happen until after the interview process, but save yourself and the company some time by not lying about these basic facts.

  2. Dates don’t make sense. Fudging your employment dates to remove any gaps in your employment history is a very common lie that job seekers make every day. A former supervisor might be willing to give you an extra month or two, but don’t expect people to lie about multiple quarters of fake work history on your behalf.

    Instead of extending your dates, fill in employment gaps with freelance work, volunteering experiences, or educational opportunities you took advantage of.

  3. Your job titles don’t add up. If you’re an entry-level or even a mid-level applicant, but your former job titles show executive roles, you can expect hiring managers’ and recruiters’ eyebrows to go up. They probably won’t even check up on these claims and just assume you’re lying based on context clues.

  4. Your references don’t validate your claims. Ultimately, this is how you’ll be caught in a lie most of the time.

    If you exaggerate your skill and experience level or tried to use white-lie soft language like “familiar with [process/technology],” you can expect hiring managers to figure out you’re not proficient with a few well-thought-out questions for your former boss.

  5. The employer runs a background check. This could be a formal in-house or third-party process, or merely a quick Google search. There’s a wealth of information about everything, including you, on the internet.

    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to catch obvious lies about employment history, education, criminal past, and other certifications.

  6. You’re given a skills test. References can verify your skills level, more or less. But some employers might want you to take a quick skills assessment to see where your experience level truly lies.

    If you’re given an on-the-spot quiz or even asked a few well-chosen questions, a good hiring manager should be able to determine that you haven’t accurately described your skill level on your resume.

Is “Embellishing” Your Resume Ever Worth the Risk?

The short answer to this is a resounding “no.” Getting caught for lying on a resume is extremely common, particularly with the internet being what it is today.

The exception this is small lies.

People lie every day about small things on their resume or in job interviews, particularly in regard to questions like:

  • “How long do you plan to be in town?”

  • “Do you take direction well?”

  • “How familiar are you with [insert basic technology or job skill here]?”

The trick is that you have to understand what a resume does — on a basic level, it tells a potential employer what sort of abilities you have and what sort of responsibilities you’re capable of taking on.

If they hire you and you’re unable to fulfill those responsibilities, that’s going to get your new employers wondering just how accurate your resume was in the first place.

What to Do if You Lied on Your Resume

Maybe you’ve arrived at this page after already submitting a resume with a couple of lies. It’s not too late to remedy the situation, although that job you applied for may no longer be an option.

here are some steps you can take after lying on your resume:

  1. Revise your resume and send it again. This might look a little strange, but it’s better than hoping your lie-laden resume passes muster. You don’t have to comment about the revised resume — just send a new one.

    This works best if you’ve fudged some employment dates, job titles, or responsibilities. If you want to include a message, simply state that you’ve updated your resume for accuracy.

  2. Come clean. You’re probably out of contention for the job if you admit to lying on the first document you sent. However, some hiring managers and recruiters might respect your integrity and give you a second chance.

  3. Stay quiet. You can just let it go and see what happens. If you get called in for an interview, you should take time to come clean, however. You still don’t want to get the job for questionable reasons, as that’s not a recipe for success for either you or the employer.

  4. Withdraw your application. No need to explain yourself on this one. Simply reach out the company and tell them you’d like to withdraw your application — no harm, no foul.

Consequences of Lying on Your Resume

Here’s what can happen if you lie on your resume:

  • You don’t get the job. The obvious consequence is that you simply don’t get the job because you’re found out as a fraud.

  • You lose your job. If you successfully lie yourself into a job, there’s always a cloud hanging over your head. You’ll constantly be waiting for the day when someone discovers your lie and you lose your job. Landing your dream job is not worth this level of continual stress.

  • Your reputation takes a hit. If a company catches you in a lie, you may be ineligible for any and all jobs they post from here on out. You’re essentially getting yourself blacklisted, potentially in a whole industry or geographic area.

  • You struggle at work. Even if everything goes well and you land your job with no chance of ever being caught lying on your resume, your life still isn’t great. You may have a tough time completing your basic tasks at work and people will question your suitability for the job.

    You’ll constantly be stressed trying to catch your credentials up to what you originally claimed. You may just rise to the challenge, but it’s still not worth the stress and risk of lying on your resume.

Final Thoughts

With all that in mind, here’s one simple trick to getting away with lying on your resume: Only lie about things that you can later demonstrate through work experience.

That means that if you want to lie about knowing HTML, that’s totally fine — just be aware that you might end up having to learn HTML in one night, or else risk your newfound job.

As long as you’re okay with that and able to do it, you’ll always be good.

Just don’t lie about your education experience — unless you’re planning on getting whatever degree you claimed to have during your spare time.

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Ryan Morris

Author

Ryan Morris

Ryan Morris was a writer for the Zippia Advice blog who tried to make the job process a little more entertaining for all those involved. He obtained his BA and Masters from Appalachian State University.

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