When you’re writing your resume, the temptation can be to embellish the truth a little and possibly even tell some outright lies.
This is particularly true if you’ve been on the hunt for a long time and you aren’t having much luck with finding a job.
In fact, our latest survey found that 55% of Americans have lied on their resume at some point during their career.
However, while you might think that little lies or exaggerations are harmless, these can land you in hot water with employers and can be detrimental to your career.
Still considering taking the risk? Then check out our guide below to find out the facts and consequences of lying on your resume.
- Can you lie about qualifications?
- Can you lie about work experience?
- Is it illegal to lie on your resume?
- Can you get in trouble for lying on your resume?
- What should you do instead?
Can you lie about qualifications?
In short, the answer is no. You cannot lie in your resume without risking some consequences.
Whether it’s your GPA, doctoral degree, GED or any other qualification, it can seem harmless to lie about your qualifications. This might mean adding a qualification you don’t really possess or raising your grades slightly.
Interestingly, this is one of the key areas that job hunters lie about on their resume for two reasons, either they feel underqualified for a role they want, or the employer has outlined a specific qualification in the job description, and they want to prove they’re a good match.
A recent study we carried out at StandOut CV found that 2 in 5 Americans have lied about their qualifications, making it the third most common aspect that candidates lie about, behind skills and work experience.
But with any qualification, no matter how or when you got it, you’ll be given a certificate or at least written confirmation of your achievements. This means that the employer can ask for proof at any time; they could even reach out to the accrediting body themselves if they wanted to check further.
And they are unlikely to be impressed once they find out that your qualification is fictional or exaggerated.
Can you lie about work experience?
If you don’t have relevant industry experience, it can be tempting to add in or embellish a past role to bolster your resume – and more than half of Americans have. This is even truer when every job description you read lists past experience as essential or at least preferred and you simply don’t have them.
But just like your qualifications, employers will easily be able to verify whether this is true or not. They might ask you for references, or they could reach out to the employer organization without your knowledge, to confirm whether or not you really worked there, what your job role was, and the length of time you worked for them.
If they find out you’ve lied or overstated your position, this can be very embarrassing for you, and it could cost you the job.
Is it illegal to lie on your resume?
The act of lying in your resume is a criminal offense in some US states, and even in the states where it isn’t, you could still find yourself in hot water legally if you are caught out.
In any state, if you make false claims about your abilities and then fail to perform in the job, some companies might view this as an act of fraud and could choose to purse you in court for breach of contract – resulting in a hefty fine for you if they win.
Companies will usually only take action in very severe cases (usually at senior) level, where the employees actions have had big negative impacts on the employer’s business – For example if a company director lied about their experience and ended up driving the company to bankruptcy.
So, though you might think the lies you’ve told are only small and there is the chance you won’t get found out, it is simply not worth taking that risk by lying on your resume. Honesty is always the best policy if you want to avoid any costly legal action.
Can you get in trouble for lying on your resume?
Let’s say that you’ve been caught in a lie; of course, this doesn’t always mean that the employer is going to call the police or take you to court. While it’s unlikely to land you in jail, you will still face some backlash for lying on your resume no matter what. If caught, you could possibly:
- Be black-listed by recruiters, agencies and employers – possibly costing you exciting opportunities in the future
- Have your application rejected immediately, something which is upsetting when you really want the job
- Face legal action, if you land the job, then fail to perform as your resume stated you should
- Lose the respect of others in your industry and burn bridges
- Be terminated from the job if you’re caught – out once you’ve already been employed by the company
Possibly one of the most worrying things about lying on your resume is that you never know when you’ll be found out, and the longer the lie goes on, the more damage this could do to your career.
You may get caught out at the interview stage
It’s unlikely that the recruiter will immediately spot a lie on your resume. This means that you’re most likely to get caught out during the interview stages.
Now imagine sitting across from a recruiter or possible employer, already nervous about the interview, when you’re faced with a question about your phony qualifications or previous experience. It’s going to be pretty obvious if you don’t know what you’re talking about.
And even if you believe that you can throw together a believable enough answer on the spot, your lack of eye contact or nervous body language is sure to give you away.
Remember, these are professionals in their field, and they will know if somebody isn’t providing credible answers.
You will be found out when you start the job
Let’s say you somehow manage to lie your way through the interview, answering the questions to a good standard and knowing just enough to make your lies believable – what about when you start the job?
Whether you’ve lied about your experience, skills or qualifications, your new employer will be expecting certain things from you, and if you can’t deliver, they might start to question why.
Essentially, your resume lays out your abilities, and if you are unable to bring the promised skills and experience to the table – they will become suspicious – and they might choose to dive deeper into your past by contacting previous employers or asking for proof of your studies/qualifications.
If you’re found to have lied on your resume after you’ve accepted the job, the employer is perfectly within their rights to let you go.
This is going to be embarrassing for you and a huge waste of time for the employer. Plus, this can have a larger and more lasting impact on your career at that point.
What to do instead of lying
The good news is there are plenty of ways you can bolster your resume without having to lie about your past.
By continuing to develop and grow and add to your skill set, you can instantly make yourself more employable.
You could take one or more of the following routes to achieve this.
Learn new skills
During the job search, you’ll be looking through lots of different job descriptions for similar roles, and it’s likely that you’ll spot similar lists of skills set out by the employer.
When you keep seeing the same skills cropping up, it can be tempting to simply include these on your resume whether you truly possess them or not.
But instead of pretending to have these skills, why not actually go out and actively work on them?
The great news is there are plenty of ways you can do this. You can find training or online courses, watch online tutorials, or even take on some extra responsibilities in your current role.
Whatever your preferred method, you’ll go further by boosting your skills rather than lying about them and getting caught out later on.
Get more qualifications
Similarly, if employers require you to have certain qualifications or certificates for the role, you don’t need to lie and say you have them when you don’t.
Through online courses, going to university part-time or taking an evening class, you can study and secure the qualifications you need to help bag your dream job – without having to take time away from work.
Of course, the method in which you gain these qualifications will vary depending on the role, but it’s better to get these in the bag so you can put your skills to real use in the future.
You can also add them to your resume before you actually acquire the full qualifications, by simply stating you are studying towards them.
Do volunteer work
Having experience behind you is great, but when you’re in the early stages of your career or perhaps you’re switching industries, you might not have any relevant past experience.
However, taking on some relevant volunteer work can be the perfect way to boost the experience and skill sections on your resume. It also gives you some great talking points in interviews and is the ideal way to highlight some of your key achievements.
Not to mention it looks great to employers as it shows you are passionate, hardworking and proactively trying to boost your skill set.
So, instead of lying on your resume and risking anger, humiliation and ultimately disappointment, why not take these positive steps to boost your career and employability.
This might mean going back to school, studying online or giving up some of your free time to volunteer, but it is worth it, in the long run, to know that you don’t need to lie about why you’re so great!