Just because your friends are stretching the truth doesn't mean you should

Are you an honest person?

Most people would respond with a resounding “Yes!” Aside from a few socially acceptable fibs, such as “I love that tie,” or “I'm only five minutes away,” professionals tend to believe that they are honest where it matters. 

Here's the big question, though: can you lie on a resume? Even the smallest thing can be counted as a lie. For example:

  • Overinflating numbers

  • Stretching out the timeframe you were employed at a company

  • Saying that you had a particular title when you were really a step below

  • Indicating the completion of a degree program when you're technically still enrolled

When you tell even the smallest lie on your resume, there can be some consequences – some are small, but others can be huge! Let's have a little chat about everything you need to know about lying on your resume. 

Will employers know if I lie on my resume?

Sure, you might lie to smooth over an uncomfortable interaction or to avoid hurting someone's feelings, but virtually everyone agrees that lying on a resume falls outside the benevolent “white lie” category. After all, what professional candidate would commit such a misstep?

Turns out, quite a few people do. A TopResume survey asked 629 recruiters to share their experience with lies, both small and big, on candidate resumes and during interviews. The findings may surprise you.

We're not the only folks doing research about lying on resumes. At the end of 2023, Forbes published an article with some interesting statistics, too. A whopping 70% of people lie about something on their resumes.

So, yes, they'll know because they're already looking for it. What do you think background checks are for?

The most common lies people tell on their resume

Nearly four out of five recruiters, HR professionals, and hiring managers have witnessed lying first-hand. Discovering those lies may result in a hard conversation during the interview or even an outright dismissal of the candidate with no chance of recovering.

Which offenses are most likely to cost a candidate the job? Here's the list of the top five lies that received the highest damage scores in the TopResume survey:

  • Academic degree

  • Criminal record

  • Certifications and licenses

  • Work experience

  • Technical skills and proficiencies

These parts of the resume, plus other quantifiable factors, are often verified through background and reference checks. 

So, can you lie on a resume? We strongly advise against it. 

Admittedly, completion of background checks is far from perfect (23% of respondents confessed to only doing the background checks sometimes, with 11% never performing them) but, if you lie on a resume, the background check is the most likely way to be found out.

Resume lies have serious consequences

If your answer to “can you lie on a resume?” is still hanging in the balance, it might help you to know what the consequences are if you get caught. 

Ever heard that something is only wrong if you're caught? Well, there's a chance that a lie might not compromise your candidacy, but that possibility is so small that taking the chance just isn't worth it. 

The getting caught part can involve several things, all with varied “prices” you have to pay. For example, 

  • If the company decides not to hire you, you may not know they found out about the lie at all

  • You may have to apologize and fix the error

  • If you've been hired before they find out, you could get reprimanded or fired

  • Depending on the lie, you could face legal ramifications

Perhaps the candidate states that she is fluent in French, even though this skill isn't required to perform the job successfully. If she then fails to answer a question asked in French but is otherwise well-qualified, some HR professionals may allow the candidate to move forward.

Hiring managers will also be able to find out details about your background by searching through social media. Did you put a link to your LinkedIn URL on your resume? That “can I lie on my resume?” question will immediately be answered if your profile and resume don't match up.

Let's say you fib about having a professional certification that's required for the job. Most licensing agencies have online research tools where your name can be searched. Not to mention, someone can simply call the licensing agency to find out the status of your credential. Since licensing is often a statutory requirement, there's a high chance that the company will have no tolerance for misrepresentation.

However, those are judgment calls that are situation- and manager-specific. As such, it's difficult to predict outcomes with any accuracy. It is possible that a “small” lie added to make a resume look more impressive or unusual might slide – or it might ruin a candidacy. At the very least, your professional reputation will likely go down the drain. 

Is it ever OK to lie on a resume or is honesty really the best policy?

When it comes to the hard facts on a resume, the answer is a hard “yes, honesty is really the best policy.”

From academic degrees to certificates, professional licenses, criminal records, positions held, and technical skills that are required for the job, the best approach is to tell the truth. In fact, experts recommend that candidates double-check all key dates and details on their resume to be certain that there are no unintentional mistakes (let alone bald-faced lies).

Can you lie on your resume about work history? 

Your work history will be one of the key things verified in a background check. Furthermore, you're likely to come unstuck if you claim to have experience in tasks that you're then unable to perform, so this is one of the worst possible places to lie on your resume. 

Can you lie on a resume if you have a gap in your employment?

If your resume has a gap in employment, you're probably worried about looking like an undesirable candidate. This is especially true if you were fired from your last job. Can you lie on your resume, then? How about stretching the truth?

You should avoid lying even to cover up an employment gap. You can sometimes hide the gap by changing the layout of your resume and using YYYY on your dates instead of MM/YYYY. 

Get ahead of a potential issue by using a cover letter

There's already a mechanism in place that you can use to explain perceived issues in your resume. Rather than lying, use your cover letter to talk about what happened during a gap or discuss when you'll be finishing up that degree program you mentioned. 

Don't be afraid to ask for help

Can you lie on your resume, or should you get a professional writer to write it without the lies?

If you're uncomfortable with certain parts of your professional history, you should know that there is a way to present them favorably. Work with a professional resume writer. An experienced specialist can help you to frame your professional history in a way that puts a spotlight on your candidacy without taking the risk of the lasting consequences of lying on your resume.

Want to make sure your resume is showcasing you the right way? Let TopResume give you a free, objective resume review.

This article was originally written by Natalia Autenrieth and has been updated by Marsha Hebert.

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