If you’ve ever wondered if lying on your resume is illegal, or even if you’ve been tempted to do so, it’s good to be aware of the actions employers can take if they find out. This article outlines why lying on a resume should be avoided, how lies get detected, and what could happen as a result.
For those in need, we also have an article on what to do if you’ve already lied on your resume and got the job.
Why lying on your resume is always a bad idea
While it may seem tempting to exaggerate to stand out in a competitive field, lying on your resume can come with serious consequences.
In the case of a signed agreement
In most cases, lying on your resume isn't illegal, per se. This changes if you've signed any kind of document or agreement testifying that the information you have presented as part of your application materials is truthful.
Potential for lawsuits
If an employer can demonstrate that your lies have harmed their business, they may have grounds to sue you. Lying about having a license to practice law or medicine opens you up to further lawsuits. Being found guilty of fraud can lead to misdemeanor or felony charges, as well as jailtime.
State specific laws
In some states, falsifying your resume is a criminal offense, particularly when it comes to educational credentials. In Kentucky, you may be looking at a Class A criminal offense punishable by up to one year in prison. Texas considers it to be a class B criminal offense, punishable by up to six months or prison and $2,000 in fines. In New Jersey, meanwhile, it is a civil offense punishable by up to $1,000 in fines.
How to avoid lying
To make sure you’re not lying on your resume, here’s a quick rundown of what to avoid:
- You shouldn't lie about your past employers, including fudging your title or exaggerating your dates of employment. Definitely avoid making up a role or a company altogether as this can be easily researched or followed up on.
- Lying about your degree or qualifications is also a bad idea, for all of the reasons covered in the section above.
- If you've been fired before and are asked specifically about the circumstances behind your leaving, don't lie and say you were laid off or that you left on your own.
- Less serious but still important is to recognize that you shouldn't lie about having skills you don't have. While you may be able to gain the skills on the job, you may find that you don't enjoy performing them (or the job itself).
If you know you have the skills for a specific job but aren’t sure how to represent yourself or which of your skills to highlight, our Targeted Resume tool can point you in the right direction.
How lies on a resume are caught
Hiring managers have a variety of techniques at their disposal to determine if what you put on your resume is genuine or not.
A pre-employment background check will reveal not only if you have a history of criminal offenses but where you've been employed, how long, and what professional licenses you hold. In other words, they are in-depth, and discrepancies will either be questioned or result in your resume being tossed outright.
Some employers actively check references, both personal and professional. If you list the contact information of your previous employers correctly - and it may be noticeable if you don’t - then you should expect hiring managers to reach out and confirm key details.
Similarly, if the hiring manager or someone else at your company turns out to know someone who worked at your last company, they may come across information that doesn’t line up if you lied on your resume.
With a simple search on Google, Facebook, or LinkedIn, employers can pull up information that you’ve both willingly and unwillingly shared with the internet. Make sure your resume is in line with the results to avoid any questions.
Use a free tool like the LinkedIn Profile Optimization tool to fix any issues with your LinkedIn profile, before you start applying to jobs.
If you lack the skills you said that you have on your resume, it will, at some point, be obvious to someone. While you may be able to fake it for a while, faking some types of job skills can have disastrous results.
Alternatively, you may errantly tell someone a contrasting version of your past work history, or even acknowledge that you lied to someone who passes it on.
Some hiring managers will detect the lie outright if your story doesn’t add up, leading to a potentially uncomfortable conversation.
What your employer could do if you’re caught
If your employer finds out that you lied or exaggerated - even if you came nowhere near committing fraud - there are several potential ramifications.
Not hiring you
First and foremost, they could opt not to hire you in the current hiring round (with the option of hiring you in the future). Or, they could choose not to hire you and prevent you from applying to the company again.
Worse still, an employer who catches you in a major lie could blackball you with other companies, preventing you from cleaning up your resume and trying it somewhere else.
Of course, if you have been hired already, your employer's first course of action may be to fire you - no matter how long you've had the job.
What doesn’t count as lying on your resume
Not all bending of the truth is considered to be lying on a resume, for most purposes. You may opt to make slight exaggerations, such as saying you were responsible for generating “almost 2,000 new leads” when you, in fact, generated 1,863.
Rounding up to the nearest figure, in other words, isn’t considered to be a lie when used within reason.
Some companies have different job titles than the mainstream, and in these cases, it’s okay to use a more generic title (such as using “Sales associate” rather than “Retail floor wizard”). For more tips in this department, see our article on how to change job titles on your resume.