If you’re struggling to find a new job, you might be tempted to embellish your experience, qualifications, skills, or education. But is it okay to lie on your resume? And what happens if an employer catches you being untruthful?
Continue reading to learn whether it’s all right to stretch the truth when applying to jobs, what happens if you get caught falsifying your employment application by an employer, and other factors to consider before you embellish your career.
Why Do People Lie On Their Resumes?
For starters, what might motivate you to lie on your resume or job application?
As a tech career coach who has reviewed more resumes than I can count, I’ve discovered that resume embellishment most often happens when someone has been long-term unemployed, feels like they’ve exhausted all their other options, and decides that lying about their qualifications is the only way to find a new job.
Cathy Lanzalaco, an executive career coach, multi-award-winning resume writer, and former human resources executive, says that “People lie on their resumes because they are insecure about their ability to impress an employer and win an interview, especially in highly competitive markets or when applying to the coveted companies.”
In other words, while there are alternatives to lying, it can sometimes feel like stretching the truth is your only viable option.
4 Common Resume Lies
Resume lies often fall into one of the following four buckets, which I’ll break down further.
- Embellished job titles
- Incorrect employment history dates
- Exaggerated skills
- Falsified education
Resume Lie 1: Embellished Job Titles
One of the most common resume lies I see is embellished job titles. If you’re targeting a higher-level leadership role and have never held one before, you might find yourself tempted to swap out your current or previous job title for a more impressive one. However, I caution against this practice and instead recommend including your actual job title, at the very least in parenthesis, since transparency is key when looking for a new job.
For instance, if your role was “Unicorn Administrator” and you managed a group of unicorns, you might consider listing your role as “Unicorn Manager (Unicorn Administrator)” on your resume. That said, it would be deceptive to list yourself as “Vice President of Unicorns” if your peers were managers, and you reported to a director.
Note: If you’re switching functions or industries, it’s accepted practice to use relevant keywords from the target job posting to describe your role and accomplishments. However, it’s deceptive to change your title to a higher-level one without disclosing your actual title.
Resume Lie 2: Incorrect Employment History Dates
Another common reason you might fabricate information on your resume is to conceal a career gap. While the COVID-19 pandemic helped to normalize gaps in employment, you might still experience carer gap stigma and feel the need to falsely address them by fudging your employment dates.
While on the topic of work history, you want to be mindful that your start and end dates are correct. And if you’re unsure about accuracy, reach out to your former employer before sending off your resume or submitting an application.
Tip: You don’t need to include your entire work history on your resume; it’s not an autobiography. However, what you do include needs to be factual and consistent.
Resume Lie 3: Exaggerated Skills
You also want to be cautious when it comes to describing your skills on your resume or job application. According to Lanzalaco, another common resume lie is overstating one’s level of proficiency with a program like Microsoft Excel. She warns that if a skill is critical to job performance, such as Excel for a finance role, employers may require you to complete a skills assessment to confirm your level of proficiency.
Resume Lie 4: Falsified Education
Lastly, if a role has certain educational requirements, you may find yourself tempted to list one you don’t possess or haven’t completed.
Again, honesty is best here. If you’re working toward a certification or degree but haven’t completed it, you want to be forthright by listing your remaining units or saying the qualification is “in progress” on your resume.
Is It Okay To Lie On Your Resume?
Lanzalaco argues that it’s never okay to lie on your resume, and I concur, but let’s dive deeper.
If you’ve watched Judge Judy, you’ve likely heard Sheindlin’s catchphrase, “Don’t pee on my leg and tell it’s raining.” In other words, don’t try to sell her a lie. Similarly, a savvy interviewer can decipher a lie. While the details may seem minor, they can quickly snowball during an intense interview process, as the truth has a way of revealing itself.
Additionally, many companies conduct comprehensive background checks that will verify your employment history, education, and credentials, which can further reveal discrepancies. And if the inconsistencies don’t surface immediately, you’ll have to keep up with the story you fabricated, which can be difficult in the long run. As Judge Judy also likes to say, “If you tell the truth, you don’t need a good memory.”
Moreover, consider the impact the lie could have on your brand, reputation, and career. “If you would lie to get the job, what would you lie about to keep it?” asks Lanzalaco.
Simply put, don’t lie on your resume. Honesty is your friend and will benefit your career in the long run.
What Are The Consequences Of Lying On Your Resume Or Job Application?
Finally, what happens if you get caught lying on your resume or job application? While every situation is unique, you can quickly find yourself in hot water if you choose to deceive a potential employer.
In fact, many employers require you to confirm that the information you’re submitting into their applicant tracking system (ATS) is truthful to the best of your knowledge, which protects them if they later learn you falsified information and decide to take corrective action.
Lanzalaco, who spent 15 years in human resources, says that while her company would check references, education, and previous employment status during the hiring process, it could be years until a lie was discovered. “Even after that amount of time, we could discipline or even fire employees when that happened,” she says.
Final Thoughts: Lying On Your Resume
My goal here isn’t to scare you, but instead to alert you to the potential consequences of bending the truth. If you find yourself tempted to lie on your resume or job application, here’s what I recommend:
- Consider the negative impact lying may have on your reputation and career.
- Identify and market your transferable skills and accomplishments.
- Target companies and roles that more closely align with your qualifications.
Remember that being honest on your resume will be easier in the long run, as the truth will ultimately reveal itself. You’ve got this!