Lying on a resume, according to a 2020 survey, is astonishingly common. A huge majority (93%) of the 1,000 people surveyed admitted they lied on their resume. The most common lies involved lying about:
• job experience: 25%
• job duties: 21%
• employment dates: 16%
• skills: 15%
• salary: 10%
Lies on a resume consist of embellishment, omission, or outright falsehoods (commission):
• Embellishment is the overstatement of accomplishments or qualifications on a resume. For example, your job involved mostly receptionist and scheduling duties. On your resume, you list your position as an “executive assistant.”
• Omissions involve not telling the whole truth, or only telling part of it. For example, your resume says you attended a state university, but leaves the impression that you graduated when you actually did not.
• Lies of commission are blatantly false statements. You claim you have a master’s degree in computer science and that you have advanced coding skills. Both are untrue, and you have lied on your resume.
Do You Know What To Do If You Get Caught Lying on Your Resume?
What would be your advice to a friend who said, “I lied on my resume and got the job”? She also confesses that “I lied in an interview and got the job.”
Your friend may be proud of her ability to deceive, but she may have an understandable sense of worry and guilt. Ethical considerations aside, the bad things we do tend to pile up a karma debt.
Society passes laws and sets moral standards to keep things in balance. When someone gains an undeserved benefit based on misrepresentation or lies, the balance is upset and bad results often occur.
“So how are you feeling about yourself now that you got a job through deceit?” you ask.
She replies, “I lied on my resume and got the job, and now I’m worried about getting caught. I also wish I had been honest, but I needed the job, so I lied. You used to work in HR, so can you answer a few questions for me?”
Here’s the list of questions your friend gave you:
1. Can you go to jail for lying on your resume?
The answer lies between “not usually” and “sometimes.” If you send a resume to a private company and are caught lying, the most they can do to you is either not hire you in the first place or fire you after you have been hired.
On the other hand, if you are applying for a federal job and lie, you could be prosecuted for fraud, fined, and sent to prison. If you are caught lying on job application about education, that is considered a felony in Washington State.
Then there’s the Stolen Valor Act of 2012. It is a federal crime for someone to claim they have received certain military decorations or medals in order to obtain some tangible benefit—like a job.
Finally, there are other legal consequences of lying on a resume. In addition to losing your job, you could be sued by an employer if your work performance results in damage to a client, who assumed you were qualified to do the work.
2. Can employees find out if you lied on your resume?
Well, that could happen, especially if one day your work station is empty and your fellow workers ask the manager where you are. The answer could be, “She lied on her resume and was immediately terminated.” Also, if your work performance doesn’t match up to the skills you listed, your fellow workers will find out soon enough.
3. Can you lie on your resume about work history?
You can lie, but you’ll only get away with it if the employer doesn’t check up on your references. Also, if your work history includes a run-in with a supervisor, or your being fired for any reason, the only way around that problem is to leave that job off your resume.
You could work around any resulting chronological gap in your employment by submitting a functional resume. Functional resumes emphasize your qualifications for a job and de-emphasize your employment history.
You could say something like, “Wait. I made a mistake there. Those dates are incorrect and my job description was, now that I remember it clearly, different than what I wrote. Please allow me to revise my resume.”
4. Can employers find out if you lied on your resume?
You can easily get caught in a number of common ways:
• Your job application, cover letter, and resume don’t match up. Lying has the unfortunate tendency to escape the scrutiny of consistency. You may be interviewed by someone who knows so much about the qualifications of the job you are seeking, that you’ll be caught out easily.
• During the interview you project subtle body language cues that experienced interviewers look for. That would include fidgeting or refusing to make eye contact with the interviewer. Interviewers also look for nose-touching, looking down when answering a question, or turning the body away from the interviewer.
• Your job titles and dates don’t make sense. You were careless with your math and chronology. Your resume data dump includes a statement that you have 15 years’ experience in something, but you are not yet 32.
• Your employer does a background check or just calls your previous employer who “damns you with faint praise” or says she wouldn’t hire you on a bet. Or maybe she says, “Yeah, he worked on our team, but he wasn’t the leader.”
• You forgot to clean up your LinkedIn or Facebook page. Your resume crashes down in flames after a Google search pokes holes in your lies and resume fluff. For example, your current LinkedIn profile doesn’t include a college diploma, but your resume claims otherwise. Maybe you posted some intemperate or politically extreme comments on your Facebook page.
• Some university course work is there, but the degree you listed is not. In fact, you never majored in anything. You may have even bought a bogus diploma from a “university” in the West Indies.
• The skills you claim you have are put to the test either during the application screening, or, worse, after you are hired. As you struggle to do the work, your job satisfaction and work performance slip drastically.
• In a moment of after-work, alcohol-fueled honesty, you let it slip that you lied on your resume. Your lack of qualifications has already hurt your work group’s productivity, so when your coworkers overhear your bragging, they have no problem with ratting you out to the boss.
If you are caught lying on your resume before the final hiring decision, you can usually plan on not getting the job. If you are already on the job, chances are you’ll be sent home immediately and another applicant will be hired.
So, the bottom line is that if you don’t want to get caught lying on your resume or during the job interview, don’t lie. Think about the consequences of lying on your resume. In addition to possible prosecution (see above), along with immediate termination, your legal rights as an employee could go away. For example, you could not sue your employer for discrimination or unfair practices if you obtained the job by lying on your resume.
5. Your friend says, “I don’t want to carry the guilt or suffer the consequences of lying on my resume or telling tall tales to my interviewer. How could I have been truthful, but increased my chances of getting hired?”
Pro tip 1: Always tell the truth, and learn how to leverage your qualifications.
It depends on whether or not you are qualified for the job. If you are, then get busy and tweak your resume to show that you are the perfect person for the job. If you lack some of the job experience or other qualifications, highlight how your other qualities outweigh those shortcomings. Here’s where a well-written cover letter comes in handy.
Pro tip 2: There are many ways to get past shortcomings in your work history that you’d prefer not to focus on. For example:
You lack the degree required for the job.
You can still apply for the job. Simply point out that your relevant skills and experiences make you an excellent candidate, and provide explicit examples in your cover letter.
Your experience does not perfectly match the job description.
Remember that a job description and a hiring call are just wish lists. You can say that you played a part in some related project without claiming you worked independently. Talk about collaboration and your contributions to the team.
You have a work gap in your resume.
If you want to stick with a chronological resume, be honest and upfront about the gap. You can fill the gap with a description of interim activities like education, volunteer work, or freelance gigs. Again, preparing a functional resume can be a quick fix, especially if the gap was six months or more.
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