Resumes & Cover Letters

What Happens If You Lie on Your Resume?

February 22, 2021

When drafting your resume, you may have wondered what would happen if you were to lie about certain elements. The repercussions of lying on a document such as your resume usually depend on what you lie about. While you should always tell the truth, it is not unheard of to misrepresent the facts.

In this article, we will explore what happens if you lie on your resume, what lies are likely to get caught and what to do if you have submitted a resume with a lie on it.

Related: What to Include on a Resume

What is a lie on your resume?

There are different types of lies, but they can be divided into two categories: lies of commission and lies of omission. Lies of commission are false statements such as lying about where you attended college. Lies of omission are more common than lies of commission and include not telling the full truth, such as stating that you are college-educated when you attended but never earned a degree. It is estimated that 40% of people lie on their resumes, and three out of four employers have caught a lie on someone's resume.

The most common parts of resumes to lie about include education, previous dates of employment and previous salary. Other common lies include:

  • Exaggerating numbers, such as increasing revenue 50%
  • Inflating titles
  • Lying about technical abilities
  • Claiming language fluency
  • Using a fake address

Human resources departments and recruiters frequently check for lies in resumes but rarely tell candidates if they caught them lying, as they simply do not hire a person who lied. Lying may also cause you to be flagged as a "do not hire." If you're hired and get caught, the consequences can be dire, costing you your job and reputation and possibly resulting in legal action.

Depending on what you lie about and what your job is, it can affect other people, such as a former government official who lied about his experience in disaster relief and botched the response to Hurricane Katrina.

HR departments and recruiters most commonly check exact dates of employment and whether or not the employee was fired or laid off. They may or may not check job duties and titles. Everything else on the resume is typically ignored unless a problem arises later on in the hiring process, or once the person is hired but not living up to expectations.

Related: Words to Avoid and Include on a Resume

What happens if you lie on your resume

Lies have a tendency to grow. If you lie on your resume, you have to lie each time someone asks about your resume and perpetuate the falsehood. This can be problematic and you can get caught at any time. Here are possible scenarios you might end up facing:

Not being able to do what you claimed

If you claim to be fluent in Arabic but don't know a single word, you'll get caught when someone tries to converse with you in Arabic.

If someone from your old job meets someone from your new job

If you lied about being a floor manager at a clothing store when you were really a cashier with no authority, anyone who worked with you at that job can expose the lie.

If your employer tries to verify your claims

If a new hire is substandard, the new employers frequently do some more background research on the employee. This means if your work quality diminishes, your employer may check up on your background again.

Once an employee is caught lying on a resume, the consequences can be grim, such as:

Loss of job

Lying on a resume is a breach of trust and is seen as a serious character flaw, even if it is a small lie, such as claiming a degree from Harvard when you really withdrew one semester before graduating.

Damage to your reputation

At the very least, you cannot use the job you lied to get as a reference. In this digital age, when it is easy to get caught, it is also easy for employers to share information with each other. News travels among other employers that you are not an employee that can be trusted, especially if you are in a small, tight-knit field such as newspaper reporting.

Possible legal action

You will have no recourse against your former employer if they decide to fire you for your lie. This can even be true if their actions were illegal in what is called the "after-acquired theory." It means that since the employment was fraudulent, immoral or illegal acts are not legally actionable.

Related: 6 Universal Rules for Resume Writing

What to do after you submit a resume that's not true

If you've lied on your resume and haven't been caught yet, you have some options:

The best thing you can do is make the lie true

Finish your degree if you have already claimed to. Learn how to code if you stated you were already able to. Study that foreign language you said you were fluent in. Do what you can to live up to the expectations your new employers have of you.

Update your resume and tell your employer you've noticed some mistakes and now have a revised copy

This only works for lies that many people can honestly make mistakes on, such as exact dates of employment, total compensation and job title. If you do this, say you want to make your resume "more exact."

Tell your employer the truth

This way you don't have to worry about getting caught later on, but it will probably cause you not to be hired or cost you your job.

Withdraw your resume

This is a safe option as you don't have to explain why you're withdrawing. This only works if you have not yet been hired.

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