Lying on your résumé: does it ever pay to deceive?

Aug 09, 2022

5 mins

Lying on your résumé: does it ever pay to deceive?
Cécile Nadaï

Fondatrice de Dea Dia

A minor omission, a slight exaggeration, or a patent falsehood: there’s more than one way to stretch the truth. When up against stiff competition and facing the threat of unemployment, some people feel under pressure to embellish their résumé.

But does lying actually improve your chances? What benefit will it have? What risks are involved?

It’s a simple truth that all lies are not created equal. Some can have major repercussions, while others are simply aimed at glossing over annoying technicalities. Here’s a rundown of the various ways of tinkering with a résumé and the consequences that may follow.

Singing your own praises

Exaggerating professional experience

Adding a few months here and there, omitting the fact that you were an intern, or pretending you were in charge when you were in a supporting role is fairly common practice. These kinds of lies even seem low-risk. I mean, what recruiter has the time to follow up on every little detail, right? Wrong. They are used to such tricks. Recruiters will be on the lookout for any discrepancies in dates and job titles, preparing pointed questions to weed out the résumé cheats. So, it’s better to avoid arousing their suspicions in the first place.

Fabricating qualifications

This takes embellishment to a whole new level. Desperate for an interview, some candidates get carried away, claiming to have a degree from an illustrious university, inventing a year-long MBA abroad to disguise a year out of work, or even turning a bachelor’s into a master’s degree. However, your educational history is easily verified, and degree fraud is a serious issue. Recruiters can call schools directly or use one of the many online tools at their disposal. What’s more, some companies might ask to see a copy of your degree before they hire you.

Lost in translation

In today’s job market, your résumé will stand out from others if it says you can speak a foreign language – or two, or three – but that had better not be wishful thinking. To begin with, linguistic proficiency can be determined in an interview through a verbal or written test. Even if you manage to bluff your way through that first step, what will happen if you aren’t up to the task in your new role?

Losing track of time

A classic example of deception involves dating experiences by year alone. It might go something like this: “Communications Officer from 2012 to 2014, Project Manager from 2015 to 2017.” In reality, the first position ended in July 2014 and the second began in April 2015. Do the math and you’ll see it adds up to a long stretch of unemployment in between jobs. Strictly speaking, this isn’t lying. However, recruiters are familiar with this strategy and you will appear less credible as a candidate.

Fear of discrimination

Although discrimination at work is against the law in the US, it can be more difficult to detect during the recruitment phase. That may lead some jobseekers down the slippery slope of eliminating or adjusting what they perceive as problematic information from their résumé by, for example, shaving a few years off their age, giving a “better” address or even giving a “more acceptable” first name. Stretching the truth in this way is different: the lies aren’t aimed at exaggerating your skills and experience but are intended to protect yourself from potential discrimination. But if you are caught lying and no discrimination was involved, then it will be hard to win back trust.

What do you risk by lying on your résumé?

Lying on a résumé is not always unlawful unless you are committing degree fraud or practicing a regulated profession that requires a degree. That said, there may be other risks involved. Depending on the type and seriousness of the lie, there can be serious consequences.

Tarnished reputation

First and foremost, lying puts your credibility at risk of being undermined. While it’s easy to do on a résumé, an interview is a whole other matter, especially when the recruiter is an expert at unmasking imposters. Getting a reputation for being a liar can be dangerous in a world where information spreads rapidly and widely. Finally, the bigger the lie, the bigger the risk you take. How can you be trusted if you feel comfortable lying about a degree?

An uneasy existence

Even if it landed you the job, you could never escape the fact that you were hired because of a lie. Day after day, the lie will take its toll. It’s hard to achieve any level of job satisfaction when you are looking over your shoulder, wondering if and when you’ll be found out. You might also discover you are unable to perform your role, which will give you a seriously bad name around the office and may lead to you losing the job. Even if you lied to boost your confidence and escape unemployment, there are much better – and safer – strategies out there.

Diploma mills: a growing problem

résumé checks are now common practice, with both recruitment firms and companies hiring pre-employment screening specialists. That’s in part due to the rise in the number of people committing fraud. While it may not be illegal to purchase a fake degree from one of the many “diploma mills” that have popped up in recent years, it is against the law to use it to secure employment. A diploma or degree mill is a business that sells fake university qualifications and transcripts to anyone who pays the “tuition”. Recruiters, employers, and statutory bodies can use the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs (DAPIP), the US’s official service for verifying academic degrees and authenticating universities. As a result, it will be increasingly harder to lie on a résumé, especially when it comes to educational background.

The verdict: to lie or not to lie?

In general, you should avoid lying about your skills, no matter what your motivation for doing so. If you claim to be a good manager, then you’d better know how to manage. If you say you know the property sector, then you’d better be ready to prove it. The important thing is to be consistent: your résumé must be in line with reality.

Minor self-deception, little white lies, and omissions are not likely to disappear any time soon, especially since they don’t lead to serious repercussions. It’s always better to be true to yourself, however. Learn to accept your professional journey and all your flaws – everyone has them! A perfect résumé is just too good to be true.

If you don’t have a particular skill that you need to land the job of your dreams, do some training, upskill or take on personal projects that will help you to get there. If your diplomas are somewhat lackluster, highlight your experience, soft skills, or even a few personal projects.

In short, show your worth without lying on your résumé. Focus on your genuine strengths instead of some imaginary assets. That way, you’ll be more confident and be in a better position to convince recruiters in an interview. And if a company doesn’t like you the way you are, maybe it’s for the best if you don’t get the job: chances are, you wouldn’t be happy working somewhere that doesn’t appreciate what you have to offer.

Article updated on August 9, 2022

Photo: WTTJ

Translated by Andrea Schwam

Follow Welcome to the Jungle on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram, and subscribe to our newsletter to get our latest articles every day!

Topics discussed