While this is obvious, we’ll say it just for the record — don’t lie on your resume. It’s unethical, harmful to your reputation, and puts you in a bad spot if you’re ever found out.
However, let’s suppose — hypothetically — that you did lie on your resume. Let’s also suppose that you encountered a hiring manager who enthusiastically ate up your lies and came back to you with a job offer.
Oops — now what? Do you decline the offer? Do you own up to it? Or, do you play it cool and pretend like nothing happened?
In this post, we’ll take a look at what happens if you find yourself in that situation. Keep reading for the answers to all of your questions, including:
- How common is it to lie on a resume?
- What constitutes a lie on a resume?
- Is it possible to lie on a resume and get away with it?
- What are the potential consequences for lying on a resume?
- What do I do if I lied on my resume?
- How can I get a job I'm not qualified for without lying?
What is and isn't lying on a resume?
Lies aren't always black and white. The exist on a spectrum, from slight inconsistencies to making up entire careers. Here are some common resume lies — some worse than others — and some things that aren't actually lies.
It's acceptable on a resume to:
- Estimate or make a best guess when it comes to things like concrete metrics or dates of older jobs. While it's best to find out any information you have access to, if exact data is unavailable, it's okay to use your judgment.
- Leave out exact dates and only use months (or years) of employment — as long as it still accurately represents your years of experience. If you worked somewhere from March 2017 - October 2021, putting "2017-2021" is fine. If you worked from November 2019 - February 2020, putting "2019-2020" is not.
- Use a standardized job title that reflects your actual job, especially if you had a buzzword-filled, borderline meaningless title like "Programming Ninja."
- Leave information off your resume. Omitting your graduation date, a short-term job, or older, less-relevant experience isn't lying — it's putting your best foot forward as a candidate.
It's lying on a resume to:
- Blatantly exaggerate or deliberately give the wrong impression about something.
- Give yourself a completely different job title.
- Change your dates of employment.
- Pretend you held a job or worked for a company when you didn't.
- List a degree or qualification you don't have.
- Claim to have essential skills you don't actually possess (like speaking a second language).
And then there's the little white lies — like listing a different address when you're planning on relocating — that fall somewhere in the middle.
Let's start by taking a look at the different ways it's possible to lie on a resume and how big a deal they really are.
If you exaggerated
Small, reasonable exaggerations will likely fly under the radar, and are sometimes entirely permissible. For example, saying you drove about $200,000 in sales last year when you actually generated $140,000 isn’t anything to worry about. It’s reasonable to round up or give a best estimate for quantitative figures, especially if you’re unsure of the exact amount. In this case, do nothing — you're going to be fine.
Obviously, gross exaggerations made in bad faith are less acceptable and more likely to be discovered. For example, saying you led a project when you barely assisted in it — or inflating your impact and representing a contribution worth several thousand as one worth a few million — don’t count as best guesses. In most cases, you shouldn't do anything about it — but this will depend on the employer and their reference check practices. Read the sections below for more.
If you used a different job title
Slight changes here are acceptable. In particular, lateral job title substitutions — re-wording your title in a way that does not suggest you held a more senior role or faced greater responsibilities than you actually did — are perfectly fine.
For example, substituting “Data Scientist” for “Data Analyst” (while also including your original job title) would be permissible. Substantial changes that misrepresent your place in the corporate hierarchy — like titling yourself a “Manager” when you were an assistant — would not be.
Other times, companies will assign buzzword-y or “creative” titles in a bid to be unique. For example, substituting “Business Ninja” with “Business Analyst” does not count as a lie. In fact, we recommend it — using standard job titles will provide hiring managers with greater clarity about your past roles.
If you made up a position or reference
Entirely fabricating a position is a huge deal. If you have a gap on your resume, don’t make up a position to fill it in — do some freelancing or pursue an independent project instead.
Lying about the duration of your tenure at a previous workplace is likewise dangerous, though not as unethical. Nonetheless, it can still land you in hot water — and unfortunately, this fib is easily detected during reference checks, especially if the difference is significant.
If you thought of getting around this by using a friend as a 'fake' reference (e.g. someone who never worked at your previous company): Don't! Never fake a reference — especially if your industry is small enough where people know one another.
If you embellished your skill set
This may come back to haunt you while on the job — though you might be spared if you’re a quick learner. If you can’t do the job, you may be able to spin it as something that’s too over your head. In the best case, your new employer may offer you more guidance or training. If the difference between what you said on your resume vs what you can actually do is too great, however, they might just decide you're not the right fit and let you go.
If you lied about having a degree or qualification
This largely depends on whether the degree was a requirement for a role. For example, for a marketing role that “prefers” a bachelor’s degree but doesn’t require one, your lie may go undetected — but only if you’re not found out, and that’s a big if. Employers can request copies of your transcript or degree for their records at any stage, which means you're always at risk.
If you actually possess the degree but lied about your graduation date or the length of time you took to receive your degree — for example, to make yourself appear younger than you really are — you should be fine, though it’s entirely unnecessary. You can simply leave out your dates of attendance. The same goes for your GPA — if you’re not proud of it, then just don’t list it.
If you lied about your salary
This lie could be uncovered during a reference check, but it’s not a terrible ethical violation — especially if you were paid a below-market rate at your previous role, or if your new employer tied their offer to your old salary.
We're also seeing stricter worker confidentiality laws that forbid hiring managers from inquiring about your salary history entirely, so of all the lies you could tell during the hiring process, this is probably the least likely to be found out.
If you lied about your address
Lying about your address isn’t a big deal, particularly if you’re moving soon, and aren’t trying to score a relocation package. Fabricating your address to gain access to employment opportunities limited to certain geographic areas, however, may turn out to be a bigger issue — especially if you don’t plan on moving to that area — since organizations may be firm about hiring from within a certain location, and may not accommodate an employee in a different locale.
What to do if you lied on your resume
Update your resume
If you’re still at the interview stage, you can simply correct your resume and offer the hiring manager an updated version — passing it off as an honest mistake.
However, the stakes are high — you need to get it right this time. I’d recommend uploading your resume to the tool below. It’ll analyse your resume line-by-line and suggest ways to improve — ensuring you’ll have a clean resume going forward.
You might even consider sending your resume to your references so you know they're on the same page.
Withdraw your application
If you lied in a major way and are worried about being found out, the safest option is to withdraw your application entirely. Yes, this means you'll miss out on the job, but it also gives you a second chance. If you stay silent and wait until your lie is discovered, not only will you not get the job, you're also unlikely to be considered for any future position at that company — or at others, if it's a very small industry (or a very big lie).
This option is unethical, but you may be fine if the lie was insignificant. However, if you told a big lie, you’re more at risk of being discovered — and the longer you sit on it, the worse it’ll be.
Consider this option carefully. If you told a big lie, it might be a good idea to fess up, though it might get you fired. If you haven’t received an offer yet, you can elect to simply withdraw your application. Either way, it’s not a black and white situation — go seek professional advice. Every situation is different.
Make it come true
This isn't always an option — for example, there's no way to go back and somehow do a job you never held — but if you claimed to have a particular skill to land a job and now find yourself needing it, it might be time to make good on your promises. Learn that language, take that short course, or practice that programming skill — you might even find yourself the better for it.
Will you be discovered if you lied on your resume?
Again, this depends on the severity of the lie, and on how thorough the employer’s reference-checking process is. While some employers merely confirm the job title and dates of employment with references, others may be more involved.
Here are all the ways that you could be caught lying on your resume:
- The hiring manager conducts an employment verification, background check, or degree check.
- Your resume and job application don't line up.
- You fail a skills test.
- Your references don't match what you said on your resume (or you can't provide references at all).
- You can't answer questions about your experience during an interview.
- There are inconsistencies in your answers, you're overly vague, or your body language makes it look like you're hiding something.
- Industry contacts can't confirm your experience.
- You apply for a promotion and your information is checked more carefully.
- Conflicting information shows up on a basic internet search or on social media.
- You confess to lying at any stage.
What happens if you’re caught lying on a resume?
This really depends — on how big the lie was, at what stage it's discovered, and whether it makes a real difference in your ability to do the job. These are some potential consequences of lying on your resume.
You don't get the job
If you're discovered lying on your resume at the hiring stage, you'll almost certainly be out of consideration.
You get fired
If you already got the job, you can still be let go at any time, for any reason — and this is a good one.
You can't do the job
Even if you're never found out, that doesn't mean you'll be able to do a job you're not qualified for. This can lead to the same consquences (being reprimanded, demoted, or fired) as if your lies were discovered.
You get a bad reputation
Even a small lie can lead to a breach of trust between you and your manager, worsening relationships within your company, and lack of opportunities in the future. And if a major lie is discovered and you're in a small industry, you may escape unscathed — but maybe not.
You face legal consequences
This is the least likely, but if you lied about something big — like having an essential qualification — or caused actual harm, you could be looking at a lawsuit or being struck off a professional register, especially in heavily-regulated industries like law, medicine, and finance.
How common is it to lie on a resume?
There's no official data about how many people lie on their resume and get away with it. There is, however, data about how many people get caught:
- 57% of employers caught someone embellishing a skill set
- 55% of employers caught someone exaggerating their responsibilities or accomplishments
- 42% of employers caught someone fudging their dates of employment
- 34% of employers caught someone putting a different job title
- 33% of employers caught someone lying about an academic degree
- 26% of employers caught someone pretending they worked for a company when they didn't
- 18% of employers caught someone listing an award or accolade they never earned
The upshot of all this? If you lie on your resume, you're very likely to get caught — so don't do it.
What to do instead of lying on your resume
If you've ever been tempted to lie on your resume, it's time to take a step back and look at these better options:
Tailor your resume
There are ways of making you look like a better fit for a position without lying on your resume. Reading the job description carefully and targeting your resume by highlighting transferable skills, choosing accomplishments that relate to the core responsibilities, and using an ATS resume scanner to identify any missing keywords will help make up for a lack of relevant experience much more than lying will.
Another quick way to tailor your resume is to include skills and keywords relevant to the job you’re applying for. Use the skills search tool below to find some good ones.
Write a resume summary or cover letter
Don't have a key skill or year of experience listed in the job description but still think you'd be a good fit? Don't try to hide what's missing by lying — instead, address it upfront. If you're changing careers or aiming for a stretch position, a resume summary explaining the context of your previous experience and highlighting your most relevant skills and accomplishments is a much better bet than trying to pretend you have more experience than you actually do and hoping nobody notices.
Reach out to your network
New to your career or just don't have a lot of connections? It's never too late to start building them! Reach out to former coworkers, recruiters, people in your desired industry — anyone that might be able to help in your job search. Use out networking email templates to take the stress out of writing an email — all you need to do is hit "send."
Is it ever okay to lie on my resume?
No. While it’s fine to offer best estimates of your accomplishments, blatant lies are never acceptable.
Doesn’t everyone lie on their resume?
Again, no. After all, it’s easier than before for employers to uncover lies, so even if this used to be the case — though we doubt it ever was — it surely isn’t anymore.
Can I go to jail for lying on my resume?
Luckily not, since your resume isn’t a legal document. While lying on your resume is unethical, it’s not a criminal offense.
Related: Is It Illegal To Lie on a Resume?
What's the good news if I lied on my resume?
The good news is that you’re not irreparably harmed. Companies that reject you won’t share information with future employers, and there’s rarely a no-hire blacklist. If you’re in a very niche industry or working with an external recruiter, things may be a little trickier, but you can compensate by applying to more jobs.