Competition for jobs is fierce.
You start by applying online, submitting a resume, cover letter, and references through email or an online application system. You hope the programs scanning your information pass you to a hiring manager. Once you get past this step, you have at least one interview, if not two or three, before you become a finalist.
This process can be lengthy and stressful. You want the perfect job and know you are a great candidate, but how can you prove this to the companies you want to work with?
The answer, of course, is to start with a good education and build up work experience in related fields. This may include unpaid internships, volunteer positions, and courses that keep you updated on the best approaches to resumes, cover letters, and interview performance.
Competition for jobs is fierce.
Is It Illegal to Lie on a Resume?
When crafting a resume, it's essential to present your qualifications and experiences honestly and accurately. Lying on a resume may seem like a tempting shortcut to secure a job, but it can have serious legal consequences.
Lying on your resume can lead to a range of legal issues, depending on the extent and nature of the falsehoods:
- Fraud: Misrepresenting your education, skills, experience, or certifications on your resume can be considered fraudulent behavior. Fraud is a serious offense in most jurisdictions, and it can lead to criminal charges and potential imprisonment.
- Breach of Contract: If your employer discovers that you provided false information on your resume, they may argue that you breached the employment contract. This can result in job termination, damage to your professional reputation, and even legal action.
- Civil Lawsuits: If an employer believes they suffered financial losses due to your resume inaccuracies (e.g., investing in your training or onboarding), they may take legal action to recover damages.
- Professional Licenses: In certain fields, such as medicine, law, or engineering, professional licenses are required. Providing false information about qualifications in these industries can lead to the revocation of your license and legal repercussions.
In short, you should never lie on your resume. Even if you want a job and know you can do the work, lying about your education, skills, or work experience harms you and the company.
In most cases, lying on a resume is not illegal, but you’re likely to get caught. Or, even worse, be set up to fail when you take a job that is well beyond your expertise. This could damage your reputation and affect your ability to find other work in the future. Therefore, you should be cautious when discussing your skills and education because overinflating these traits could be considered lying.
Where and Why People Lie on Their Resumes
When you submit your information on a job application, you give the company permission to investigate the truth of what you tell them. Most employers will verify your education and past jobs by contacting the company, a reference from a previous job, or the administrative office at your college, university, or trade school.
A lie on a resume does not have to be a blatant falsehood. Lies of omission, exaggerated job duties or skills, and embellished titles are all forms of lying on resumes.
These are the areas people tend to lie about on their resumes most often:
This is one of the most common areas for lying, as most white-collar jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree, if not more. Job seekers often exaggerate their educational backgrounds by claiming degrees they haven't earned. This might occur because they need to meet specific job requirements or believe a higher degree will give them a competitive edge.
As you put together a resume, you can list schools you attended but did not graduate from, but you must be clear that you did not earn a degree from the institution. Again, you are taking an unnecessary risk if you claim you graduated with honors but did not. These deceptions are frequently discovered when employers verify academic records, and any red flag is enough to pass over you as a candidate.
Employers look at the skills you acquired in school, via additional training, and on the job to determine if you are a good fit for an open position. It is expected to take the skills you have and list them in a way that matches the job you are applying for. You want a potential employer to see relevant skills first.
Some job seekers try to make themselves more appealing to employers by claiming expertise in skills they don't possess. This happens most frequently in tech-related fields, where specific skills are highly sought after. However, such lies can be quickly exposed during interviews or skills assessments.
Occasionally, a job candidate will list skills they do not have at all. For example, a candidate may claim to understand a specific computer programming language if the employer is hiring for this specific skill set. Unfortunately for these candidates, pre-employment skill tests are becoming increasingly common to weed out dishonest job seekers. A simple 20-minute test can easily reveal a lack of knowledge in this field or software.
Employment gaps can raise red flags for employers, so some individuals falsify employment dates to cover these gaps. They may fear that an extended period of unemployment will negatively impact their chances of being hired.
Many human resources (HR) department employees are used to seeing dates misrepresented by accident on resumes. If you worked at a company for five years or more, you may have forgotten your exact start date, claimed it was a different day, or did not list specific dates. HR employees tend to be forgiving if you've gotten the year right and are receptive to corrections. They will call your former employers and verify your work history.
In rare cases, an applicant might make up large swathes of his or her work history. They could claim they held a position at a company they did not, like saying they worked as a project manager when they were an assistant. They might claim they worked at a company when they did not because the company sounds impressive. They might even claim they worked at a company that does not exist.
In these above cases, people lie on their resumes because they believe it's their only way to secure a job in a competitive market. They may think that embellishing their qualifications is the only way to get noticed, despite the potential consequences.
How You’ll Get Caught Lying on Your Resume
HR departments are using more sophisticated tools and training to spot these issues. These tools include:
HR leaders or managers are trained to ask questions about your work experience while seeking specific, detailed answers. If you say you have ten years of experience as a team leader for a software company, but you cannot answer questions about the code used in projects, industry impact, or your own techniques, it will be clear you are lying.
Online Background Checks
Third-party companies can validate past work experience, degrees acquired, criminal history, and anything else you claim on your resume. More companies are hiring these specialists to do the research for them, and their highly trained investigators will find out if you lie on your resume.
Backdoor Reference Checks
You will list references who can vouch for you, but a potential employer will often look at other employees at companies you worked for and ask people if you were a good employee. If you lie about anything in your work history, this is a simple way for a hiring manager to find out.
Though AI software has recently been in the crosshairs related to ethical concerns, artificial intelligence is frequently used to weed out applicants. As reported by Forbes, studies show the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies rely on talent-sifting software, and 55% of HR teams use predictive algorithms to support hiring. These programs might automatically check, extract, and highlight some of your data. Even if you can fool the AI, count on a company using these tools to investigate your claims further.
What Happens If You Lie on a Resume
It is rare for lies on a resume to get past the first round of the hiring process. If a human does not catch something suspicious while checking work or education history, they will likely catch it during a phone call or in-person interview. Lies become evident when you are not able to talk knowledgeably about the skills or experience you have.
In rare cases, lying on a resume is not caught. This can lead to serious problems on the job, including:
- Continuing to lie to cover up previous lies
- Trouble completing required job duties
- Misunderstanding your current role in the company
- Confusion among other employees who may rely on you as part of the team
If you start to have significant problems on the job, you are at risk of being fired. Employers tend to have a zero-tolerance policy for this behavior, which means you could be dismissed suddenly without explanation. That is at the discretion of your employer.
Your reputation in that field will be damaged. You cannot list that employer on your resume, and they will not serve as a reference. With job boards and message groups connecting the world through the internet, the chances that you can find work with a similar company are much smaller.
How Common Is Lying on Your Resume?
More common than you might imagine. One survey found that a shocking 85% of applicants have lied on their resume at one time or another. Meanwhile, a report from Checkster, a reference-checking company, is even more disturbing. Their surveys polled 400 job applicants and 400 hiring managers, recruiters, and other human resources professionals.
The findings show that 78% of candidates admit they have or would consider misrepresenting themselves on a future application. This means only one in six employees reported not misrepresenting themselves in the application process.
Wondering what they lied about? Well, the survey uncovered that, too:
- Having mastery in skills they barely use (like Excel or a foreign language): 60%
- Working at a job longer than they did to omit a gap or hide an employer: 50%
- Having a higher GPA by more than half a point: 49%
- Holding a director title when the actual title was closer to a manager, or equivalent: 41%
- Earning a degree from a prestigious university when they were a few credits short: 40%
- Having a degree from a prestigious university instead of their own: 39%
- Earning a degree from a prestigious university when they had only taken one class online: 39%
- Claiming an achievement they didn't earn: 33%
Are 78% of the workforce bad people? No way! They simply want the job and will do anything to get it. It comes down to human nature. We would scrap and claw for our individual (or family's) basic needs in the wilderness. Survival by any means necessary — there's no difference in the modern-day work environment.
When writing our resume, most of us are positioning ourselves in the best light or putting a positive spin on things. However, there's a big difference between a polished account of the facts and an outright lie. Don't lie — because you'll more than likely get caught. Instead, practice some of these good techniques we've listed below.
Polish Your Resume Instead of Lying
The truth will often be all you need to land that dream job — you just need to sell yourself. Often, with so much going on in our personal and professional lives, our resume doesn't get the attention it deserves. Make sure it gets the proper amount of TLC.
The quickest way to polish your resume is to remember the advice of your grade-school English teacher: There is no place for passive voice or wordiness in a resume. Switch any examples of passive voice (e.g., "I was tasked with helping to recruit different professionals from various industries") to active voice ( e.g., "I recruited a range of industry-specific professionals") instead.
As Shakespeare writes in Hamlet: "Brevity is the soul of wit." Impress the hiring manager by being direct about your responsibilities, and you won't feel the need to lie. In most industries, numbers have a much more significant impact than text. If you increased sales by 10% or managed a team of five people, ensure it comes across in your resume.
Spruce up your experience by placing keywords strategically. Read and reread the job application for clues on what they might be looking for, and tailor your resume appropriately. Consider adding a skills section to avoid getting the axe from resume screening software and using SEO keywords to your advantage.
If all else fails, you could hire a professional resume writer.
Instead of lying on your resume, find a great job on Joblist that fits your qualifications. We can help you tailor your job search preferences so you spend less time scrolling through irrelevant listings and more time exploring appealing options.