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Lying on a Resume: Will You Get Caught?

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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 that 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 you 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 up to date on the best approaches to resumes, cover letters, and interview performance.

Polishing Up Your Resume Does Not Mean Faking It

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 is harmful to you and the company.

In most cases, lying on your resume is not illegal, but you’re likely to get caught. This will harm your ability to find other work. You should be cautious when you talk about your skills and education because overinflating these traits could be seen as lying.

Where 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:

  • Education: This is one of the most common areas for lying. Most jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree, if not more. Sometimes, an applicant will list a postsecondary school they attended but did not graduate from to look impressive. Of course, it is impressive to have attended an Ivy League college, for instance, but if you did not graduate from this institution, then even implying you did can be viewed as deception. Sometimes, applicants will outright say they graduated from a school they never attended.

    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. If you did not graduate with honors, do not make these claims either.

  • Skills: 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 the open position. It is normal to take the skills you have and list them in a way that matches the job you apply for. You want a potential employer to see relevant skills first.

    However, you may be tempted to list skills you do not have, like including software you used once and claiming to understand it. Many people list skills on their resumes that they have a passing familiarity with but are not proficient, but employers are looking for skills you are adept in so you can apply them to your new position.

    On occasion, 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 since the employer is hiring for this specific position. If you have no history of acquiring this skill, you will have no way to talk about it in the interview, so it will become clear you are not knowledgeable in this field after all.

  • Past salaries: If you want to make more money, you may read about salary negotiations, learn when it is appropriate in a job application to talk about money, and list your intended salary on your resume if appropriate. It is not appropriate, however, to lie about how much you made at a previous job. While this is something not many HR departments will ask about, it can be verified through previous employers.

  • Work history: Many human resources (HR) department employees are used to seeing dates misrepresented by accident on resumes. If you worked a job for five years, you may have forgotten your exact start date, claim it was a different day, or not list specific dates at all. HR employees tend to be forgiving, as long as you get the year right and are willing to be corrected. They will call your former employers and verify your work history.

    If you worked for yourself as a contractor, freelancer, or small business entrepreneur, you might want this time to look impressive. Listing your company name, clients, or that you were self-employed can be beneficial for some potential employers. Working for yourself shows you are a hard worker, dedicated, intelligent, and a self-starter.

    Making up a company, or a list of skills, to enhance this time in your life is also considered lying on your resume. Although it is harder to verify through an HR department, it can still backfire when you interview with the company.

    In rare cases, an applicant might make up 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 is impressive. They might even claim they worked at a company that does not exist.

What Happens When You Lie on Your 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 are likely to 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, so you may be dismissed suddenly with no 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.

A shocking 85% of applicants have lied on their resume at one time or another, so HR departments are using more sophisticated tools and training to spot these issues. These tools include:

  • Behavioral interviewing. HR leaders or managers are being trained to ask questions about your work experience while looking for specific, detailed answers. If you say you have 10 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 make a list of 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.

Instead of lying on your resume, find a great job on Joblist that fits your actual 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.

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