You want to put your best foot forward when you’re looking for a new job. You prepare so that you come off as professional and confident during interviews, for example. Similarly, you use your resume to highlight your successes and you do what you can to downplay anything that could be seen as a potential drawback.
You might find yourself tempted to exaggerate just a little bit in order to punch up your resume. If so, you wouldn’t be alone — and the problem seems to be getting worse. According to 2017 research from HireRight, 85 percent of employers say they’ve caught applicants lying on their resumes. That’s up from 66 percent from just five years ago.
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So if everyone is doing it, why is lying on your resume a bad idea? First of all, you could get caught. This will almost certainly cost you the job, and it’s likely to do serious damage to your reputation as a professional.
Even if you aren’t caught and get the job, you’d have to pretend to have credentials and experience that you don’t have. You might find that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to live up to a standard that you’re simply not yet prepared to meet.
Lying on your resume has consequences. But, just in case you still need some convincing, let’s get a little more concrete. Here are a few stories of people who got caught lying on their resumes to help illustrate the point:
1. “…an error of omission”
In 2014, then-vice president of corporate communications for Walmart resigned after a lie from his resume was uncovered. David Tovar had claimed that he’d received a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Delaware. But, in fact, he’d been a few credits short.
Tovar told The New York Times that he hadn’t been entirely truthful on his resume.
“I definitely didn’t disclose that I didn’t have a degree and there were times where it was probably an error of omission.”
No matter how you label the inaccuracy, Tovar stopped working for Walmart when the “error” was discovered.
2. stealing accomplishments
If you lie on your resume, you could wreck your relationship with more than one employer. For example, if you lie about your current job duties in order to interview for a new job, your dishonesty could get back to your boss.
“The best story I have is about a guy who made up his sales experience,” one HR professional told TopResume.
“He didn’t understand the position we were filling – we were looking for someone to answer phones, he thought he was interviewing for a sales job – and on his resume, he mentioned that he closed over a million in sales at his previous position. We were interviewing this guy as a favor, so we asked the person who was bringing him in about his sales experience. It turns out he was the assistant for someone else who did over a million in sales, and that was improperly terminated for improperly handling account information.”
3. secrets don’t stay buried
Marliee Jones worked for 28 years as the admissions director for the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When she submitted her resume for the job in 1997, she lied and claimed to have three degrees when she actually had none.
An anonymous tip exposed the lie in 2007. When the school learned that Jones had inflated her credentials when she applied for the position years before. She was forced to resign.
Not only did Jones lose her job, her lie also erased the meaningfulness of the work she’d done for MIT over the decade she’s spent working there. Keep in mind that leaving a job under these kinds of circumstances is a crushing blow to your professional relationships, reputation and legacy.
4. Stretching the dates
One common concern for job seekers involves what to do about gaps in a resume. Perhaps you took some time away for one reason or another. Or, maybe there’s a short gig you’d like to leave off your resume but you worry about the space that will be left in your employment history.
You might think that extending the dates you worked one place or another isn’t such a big deal. But, it is. And, it could cost you mightily in the end.
Consider this story from Success in HR:
We hired John as an HR Director. However, he covered up his previous job as an HR Director at a well-known software company by not including it on his resume.
He simply extended the employment dates for one of his other jobs and was counting on the difference not being discovered.
However, when we did a post-hire reference check and the dates didn’t match up, John confessed that he was fired after six months from the job he hid.
And we fired him too, for lying.
5. Linked-Out by lies
Don’t forget how easy it is in this day and age for a prospective employer to discover the truth about your professional background. It’s foolish to lie when a quick Google check can expose you.
“I looked at a candidate’s resume and LinkedIn profile right before an interview and noticed his resume indicated that he had a degree that his LinkedIn profile did not,” one HR professional told TopResume. “When I asked him point-blank if he had received his degree, he admitted that he had not done so. This is why I always look at candidates’ LinkedIn profiles in addition to their resumes before conducting an interview.”
6. Sentenced to eight months in jail
In 2002, John Davy was appointed as the CEO of Maori Television Service, a New Zealand television network. However, his employer discovered, just seven weeks later, that his resume was riddled with fabrications. The university he claimed he’d attended didn’t actually exist, for example. And, he lied about his employment history, too.
Eventually, Davy was sentenced to jail for eight months after pleading guilty to the crime of using a document “to obtain a benefit or privilege ‘namely a senior appointment with the Maori Television Service.’”
7. was it really even necessary?
Scott Thompson agreed to resign from his position as CEO of Yahoo after his resume lie was exposed. He’d claimed to have both an accounting degree and a computer science degree from Stonehill College in Massachusetts. But, in fact, he only had an accounting degree.
Perhaps his accounting degree and his experience would have been enough to secure him the job at Yahoo. But, in the end, the lie was exposed, as they often are, and Thompson was let go. His trustworthiness and professional reputation were seriously damaged as a result.
Do This Instead of Lying on Your Resume
Lying on your resume might be tempting. But, hopefully these tales have helped you to see why it isn’t advisable. However, there are some things you can do to make your resume a little more appealing that aren’t against the rules. Here are a few quick tips to consider:
- Polish your real resume for success. There’s so much you can do to maximize the impact of your resume to propel your career forward. Lying on your resume is unethical and it will almost certainly backfire. So, instead focus on updating and polishing your resume as best you can. Get in the habit of adding new skills and qualifications as they come up, so that you don’t have to remember them later. That way, when decide to look for a new job, your resume will be ready to go.
- Mind the gaps. Holes in your resume can send the wrong message. Thankfully, there are some things you can do to help close resume gaps the right way — and without lying. First try adding anything that helped you grow during your time away from the workforce such as freelance or contract work, training and education, or volunteer work. Finally, be ready to explain any gaps that do remain when preparing for an interview. Ask yourself how you grew as a result of your time away and how that wisdom benefits you professionally today.
- Create a profile statement. Showcasing your skills first on your resume is a great way to grab the attention of hiring managers. If you don’t already have an objective section on your resume, consider creating a profile statement so that you can lead with your skills. Profile statements help to showcase your talents and the specifics ways you’d be an excellent fit for the job and the company.
- Focus your efforts where they’re most likely to pay off. Instead of obsessing over your resume, direct your time and attention toward aspects of the job search process that are most likely to pay off in the end. Dig into networking, for example. It has proven to be one of the most effective ways to get hired. Some estimate that as many as 85 percent of open positions are filled through networking.
Tell Us What You Think
Have you ever caught someone who lied on their resume, or have you been caught in the act? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.