A competitive job market might tempt you to fib a bit about your experience, exaggerate your skills or maybe even concoct a downright lie on your resume about that degree you actually never finished.
Some people change dates to hide a period of unemployment, overstate their sales numbers, embellish their job descriptions or exaggerate their level of responsibility.
Most hiring experts will warn you that lying is a bad idea, particularly now in this era of online research and background checks. It is very likely that outright lies will be discovered, and your reputation and career could be ruined.
What do people lie about?
- Earning degrees they don't have
- Not having degrees they think will be viewed as overqualified
- Continuing education courses
- Where they've worked, by using companies they never worked for, or just making something up
- Listing they worked for a household name company that later acquired the company where they worked
- Fudging on dates, either by just lying outright, or by leaving off months in order to make it look longer
- Adjusting past job titles to make them higher-level, or to make them lower-level to not be intimidating
- Language abilities
- Technical skills
- Their address, in order to appear local to a job
- The scope of their job responsibilities, either making them more or less experienced
Is it common to lie on your resume?
A report by Business Insider revealed that 31% of people in their study say they have lied on their resume. (Interestingly, 13% admitted that they lied when answering the question, so I guess there's a margin of error there.)
The book Freakonomics suggests that more than half of people lie on their resume in some way. That's a lot of lies.
Some very high profile people have been caught in resume lies.
MIT's Dean of Admissions Marilee Jones confessed in 2006 that she'd lied about earning three degrees at different prestigious colleges when she was hired in 1979. Despite a long and successful career, she had to resign.
In 2001, at Notre Dame football coach George O'Leary lasted just five days before it was revealed he'd lied about his degree and that he'd never played a game of college ball.
And in the corporate world, now-ex-CEOs from RadioShack, Lotus Corporation and Veritas Software were all outed for falsifying degrees. One also lied about his military record, and said he was an orphan when his parents were actually still alive.
Of course, there is lying and then there is lying.
This is where it can get a little blurry, because of course not all lies are the same.
Some are complete fabrications of facts, like that degree the CEO never bothered to get.
Others are more lies of omission, such as using only years for dates so an employment gap isn't noticed, or leaving off a short-term job that was a failure. These aren't considered lying, though astute interviewers know when to probe for more information.
Never lie about the facts.
Most hiring experts will advise you that outright lying about facts is simply not worth the risk. Confirming college degrees, employment dates, where you've lived in the past and your criminal record are all part of standard background checks.
And, as the MIT admissions director found out, when the lie is about a fact, it doesn't matter how long it's been. It's still a deal breaker.
My advice: never lie on your resume, but tell your most positive version of things.
That doesn't mean you have to reveal every painful tidbit of your past, and with things that are more subjective, you have more leeway to tell the story in your own way.
Tell the truth with a positive spin.
Instead of lying, present the truth with the best possible spin, and don't call attention to things that could be a negative for your job search.
Tell the truth, in the most positive way possible. If there is something negative in your background, focus the silver lining and why it makes you a better candidate.
You don't need to call attention to anything that might be to your detriment in your job search, or offer any information you think will work against you.
If you think that the truth will keep you from getting the job, then maybe it's not the right job for you, or it's time for you to get the kinds of skills and experience to get that job while you work in one that you are qualified for.
And if you're certain that you are qualified, then brainstorm with someone about how you can tell your story without lying. You'll be happier in the long run when you represent yourself truthfully.
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