Lying on Resume: Consequences, Acceptable Lies, & What To Do If You Lied

It's never okay to lie on your resume -- but what if you already have? Our complete guide to lying on your resume has got you covered.

A photo of pinnochio with a long nose

We tell you time and time again: it's simply not worth it to lie on your resume. But do people still do it? More often than you might think. A 2020 survey revealed that nearly 80% of job seekers have fudged information on job applications and resumes. If you're part of the minority that hasn't, then you should keep it that way! But, if you're guilty of lying on your resume -- in a big or small way -- then read on for what you should do next.

Why Do People Lie on Their Resumes?

The majority of job seekers will typically use two types of lying to stand out. They may lie by omission, which is when an applicant doesn't disclose something relevant -- for example, stating that you were the head of your department when you were the only person in your department. The other type of lying, lying by commission, is a little more sinister. This is when an applicant is actively and knowingly using a false statement in their resume, such as claiming a job title that isn't theirs, or even a whole position they never had.

As for the most common lies, a survey found the following sections to be the most embellished on resumes:

  • Previous work experience
  • Skill sets
  • Previous responsibilities
  • Employment dates
  • Job titles
  • Academic degrees

No matter how common it might be, there are no acceptable lies you could tell on your resume.

Can You Lie on Your Resume?

You absolutely can. But you shouldn't. Employers are well aware of applicants fibbing on their resumes, with 85% of those employees having caught one or more lies. The chances of getting caught lying will depend on a number of factors, including the industry you're applying for to the organization reviewing your resume. Some people would bet their money on not getting caught. But if they do, unemployment is likely to follow.

What Happens When You Lie on Your Resume?

If you're caught lying during the hiring process, you’re unlikely to be considered for the position. Simple as that. You probably won't even be notified if you were caught lying. Instead, you'll just be added to a "do-not-hire" list. Now, if the organization discovers you lied after you've been hired, the employer has every right to terminate the employment contract. You shouldn't underestimate the skills of hiring managers and employers to investigate the authenticity of your claims. There are two useful ways they can spot a dishonest candidate before and after they hire one:

  • Conducting backdoor reference checks. Some hiring managers will research and call a candidate's former employers and colleagues to confirm their claims.
  • Conducting background checks. Even if they haven't checked your background at the first opportunity, they may decide to dig deeper if your work quality diminishes.

Getting caught can be as easy as having your "skills" put to the test. A recruiting professional will also be able to tell when your job titles and dates don't add up. What's more, the fact that you lied won't look too good for future employees. Which is why crafting an accurate – albeit shorter – resume with honest information is a much wiser choice.

Is It Illegal to Lie on Resume?

Technically, it isn't illegal to lie on your resume. However, in rare cases, your dishonesty could possibly result in legal action. If your false statements could harm a business in some way, there's massive potential for lawsuits there. For instance, lying about being a licensed professional in a highly regulated industry could put you in serious legal trouble. Let's say your employer decides to fire you for your lie, and you decide to file a wrongful termination claim. In that case, you would have no recourse against them if they have evidence against you. An employer can use this evidence as a defense, as this lie would eventually have led to termination.

Can You Lie on Resume About Your Work History?

Over half of Americans have admitted to lying about previous work experience on their resumes. As a result, employers are getting increasingly cautious. The most important thing you can do is to make sure you can do exactly what it is your resume says you can do. Any employer or hiring manager worth their salt will check applicants' work history, confirming information such as:

  • Previous companies they've worked for
  • Dates of employment
  • Previous job titles
  • Reasons for leaving

In some regions, it might even be legal for them to inquire about the salary they earned at each of those previous jobs Lying about your work history also involves tweaking or enhancing job titles and descriptions. Accurately reflecting your job titles is essential to successfully get your resume through Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). One single mismatched job title, and you could be disqualified from your dream job.

Lying About Education on Resume

Some people go as far as claiming to have obtained and/or finished a degree, or having graduated from a university they didn't attend. Listing an unfinished degree on your resume may not look as "professional" as you might like, but it's the truth. Besides, several job opportunities value experience over past education.

Lying About Employment Dates on Resume

If you have gaps in employment, entering dates can be the hardest part of crafting a resume. For this reason, many candidates either resort to making up random dates or not including dates at all. Both options are risky. The closer you are to a job offer, the more likely your new employer will be to verify your employment history. Yes, that includes the start and end date for each job. Which is to say, the lie will surface eventually. Importantly, many companies use an ATS to scan through resumes. If you choose to omit dates, the technology might decide you're not worth interviewing. The solution? Get better at explaining your employment gaps.

Lying on Resume about Degree

A 2022 study found that over half of employers always check job education credentials. Of those employers, 44% are interested in verifying a candidate’s degree title as a means to confirm that they have the necessary knowledge for the job. It was also discovered that about half of employees lie about completing a certain degree, whereas 40% lie about the type of degree they've completed. Your employers aren’t the bad guys here. They just want to make sure applicants aren’t lying about their degrees. Sadly, some people will only learn it the hard way.

Lying on Resume About High School Diploma

Haven't earned a high school diploma or GED certificate? Then don't claim you have. A standard background check can give employers all of the necessary information about you. All they have to do is speak to previous faculty members. Sometimes, even a quick Google search will suffice to uncover the truth. There are many jobs out there that don't require a high school diploma or GED. If you need one, however, your best bet is to pursue the necessary certificate if you'd like to apply for the desired job.

Can You Lie on Your Resume and Still Get the Job?

As it so happens, many people slip through the initial screening and sometimes even get the job. But that still doesn't mean they were given the all-clear. History is packed with CEOs and high-level executives who lost their prestigious positions – followed by their reputations – after being caught lying on their resumes. Yes, you might never get caught. But if established, influential professionals aren't off the hook, you wouldn't want to risk it yourself.

So, You Lied on Your Resume. What Now?

If you’ve lied on your resume and you regret it, take a deep breath. Not all is lost. There are a few paths you could take after submitting an embellished resume:

  • Catch up with the skills and abilities you've included. Whether that's a foreign language or writing skills, make sure there is truth behind what you've claimed and that you're willing to improve as you go.
  • Fix the "errors" in your resume. Tell the interviewer you've made a few mistakes, and submit a revised copy. Hopefully, you'll only have to fix a few dates and make a few minor tweaks.
  • Be honest. For some people, coming clear takes the weight off their shoulders. If that's you, tell the truth to the hiring manager as soon as you can. They might no longer consider you for the position, but at least you'll get your peace of mind back.
  • Just wait. Another option is to do nothing and hope you don't get caught. This option won’t work for everyone.
  • Withdraw your application. If you haven't been hired yet, withdrawing your application is the simplest way to deal with the situation. All you have to do is thank your employer for the opportunity and say you're no longer interested. No explanation needed.

Regardless of how much or how little experience you might have, it’s essential to craft a resume that accurately represents it. Plus, with the right templates, you won't need to lie to create a job-ready resume in minutes.

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