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Lying on a Resume & Job Application: Can You? [99% Do!]

Lying on a Resume & Job Application: Can You? [99% Do!]

You’ve been at the company for years, now.


You’re the top performer, on the fast-track for yet another promotion, and everyone there adores you.


Tomorrow, you’ll be fired.


Wait, what?!?


That’s right, you got fired. You were let go because of some falsity, some fabrication, they just found out about.


You had lied on your resume.


If this cautionary tale isn’t enough to get you to reconsider, read on as we talk more about lying on resumes, cover letters, job applications, and employment interviews.


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1. You WILL Get Caught


That 99% number from the title?


We lied. We made it up. However—


According to the latest CareerBuilder study, 75% hiring managers caught a lie on a resume (the remaining 25% clearly don’t read resumes—but that’s our interpretation.)


Okay, there is a small chance you’ll get away with lying on a job application or on your resume.


It’s probably safe to say most of us embellish facts we present to the prospective employer.


Perhaps your resume lies were inconsequential, or the company doesn’t bother to check your story out, or you just don’t stay at the company long enough for the truth to spill out.


But these are “best-case scenarios” (for you), and the odds are quite against you.


Here are some of the common ways you could get caught:


  • Background check
  • Your cover letter, resume, and/or job application don’t match, story-wise
  • They make a simple phone call to your old job
  • You let the truth slip to your boss
  • You let the truth slip to your coworkers
  • The skills you listed on your resume are finally put to the test
  • Your university denies you’ve graduated or took that major/minor
  • Dates, fake job titles, etc. don’t add up or make sense
  • A simple Google search reveals the true story


These are the typical ways you’ll get found out, but by no means all of them.


Pro Tip: Don’t lie on your resume!


If you want a resume that’ll get you the interview without resorting to lies, check out our resume tips, resume dos and don’ts, or our complete guide on how to write a resume.


Mani Goulding, former Director of Talent Management and owner of HR consultancy Career Passion, has no room for gray areas.


 2. Are There Any Acceptable Lies?


“In my experience, there aren't any instances where lying in an interview or resume is justified.”


Out of the dozens of career experts I reached out to, common phrases included unequivocal ‘no,’never, and non-negotiable.


If you know your statement to be false, whether on a resume, cover letter, job application, or at the interview, then leave it off!


Pro Tip: Don’t lie on your cover letter!


Need to write a cover letter that wins them over without having to use untruths? Read our great cover letter tips or our complete guide on how to write a cover letter.


3. Here’s What the Experts Have to Say About Lying


I reached out to find actual experts, including HR managers, consultants, and recruiters, to see what they have to say about lying during the employment process.


Here’s what they have to say.


Kathleen Steffey, founder and chief talent officer for Naviga Recruiting, starts us off with her no-nonsense take: “There are no instances where lying would be justified. If you lie on a resume or application, there are so many easy ways that the employer can find out if the applicant is lying, especially through references and formal background checks. However, I do suggest that there are instances where information shouldn’t be disclosed up front to prevent discrimination—for example, year of graduation.”


She continues with a great comparison: “It’s kind of like dating. If you catch him/her lying before your first face-to-face dinner, will you really continue exploring them as a potential partner? No!”


I asked Matthew Burr, of Burr Consulting, what he would do after finding out that an applicant lied to him: “It's over after that, I don't have the time or patience to deal with someone lying to me during an interview or hiring process. We are investing in someone for a career, regardless of the level. I've been involved in two situations (both HR hires) that lied about levels of education, in both cases we did not hire. Catching someone in a lie is easy if you do your homework.”


“Finding out that someone has lied can plant very serious doubts in the minds of the interviewer. What else would they lie about if they actually got the job? Just how trustworthy are these people? Enough of these questions can arise put enough doubt in the interviewer’s mind that they may decide to eliminate the candidate from the process, altogether,” adds Steve Pritchard, HR Consultant for Ben Sherman.


Osayi Lasisi, a former HR director for a large organization, was the only “lenient” expert I found.


She says, “When I discover that someone has lied on their resume or in an interview, I look at how trivial or how serious the lie is and how it may impact the job function. The lie would make me question whether they are trustworthy people, however it may also just reflect their desperation and desire for the position. I try to weigh the gravity of the situation based on the other circumstances when making a decision, and then observe them during the probation period.”


Pro Tip: Don’t lie at the interview!


Are you worried that you won’t be able to impress them without falsifying some info at the interview? Think again! Check out our best interview tips to give you honest-to-goodness advice on how to ace your meeting.


4. Consequences of Lying on a Job Application


There are only a few consequences to being caught lying during your employment process, but they’re all shameful and problematic for your professional future.


Most often, you’ll get fired immediately (or not hired to begin with).


However, if you’ve been working for some time before they find the lie out, being fired disappoints your boss, turns your friends and coworkers against you, and could have repercussions in your personal life.


Is it Illegal to Lie on a Resume?


Lying on a resume, cover letter, or job application isn't technically illegal. These forms aren't legal documents, so usually you can’t get prosecuted for lying on them. However, if you falsify documents that “back up” claims of educational history, for example, that could be grounds for trouble with the law.


Also, it’s important to remember that each jurisdiction has different laws.


For instance, Texas Penal Code §32.52 states that “a person commits an offense if the person uses or claims to hold a postsecondary degree that the person knows is fictitious or has otherwise not been granted to the person,” among other things.


Pro Tip: Don’t lie on your job application!


5. The ONLY Time You Should Lie on a Resume 


Here is how to lie on your resume and get away with it:


lying on a resume


Pro Tip: Don’t lie on a resume unless you’re a cat!


The Most Surprising Fact about Lying in Interviews


You should know that the employer can’t retaliate if you lie to answer illegal interview questions they might ask of you.


Illegal interview questions, such as about your religion or weight, violate your civil rights, and you can lie. Technically, that is. However, it’s still better off to point it out or change the subject.


Key Takeaway


I often expel 1000+ words to make a simple point, but this one takes the cake.


Let’s recap:


  • Don’t lie on resumes.
  • Don’t lie on cover letters.
  • Don’t lie on job applications.
  • Don’t lie at interviews.


And with the right preparation, you won’t have to!


Do you have any questions about lying on a resume? Not sure how to pass the interview without telling a small fib? Get at us in the comments below and we will answer your question. Thanks for reading!

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Christian Eilers
Christian is a career expert who has been writing for Zety since 2017. From job hunting to acing interviews to settling in on the first days at a new career, his guides cover the entire career spectrum.
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