Can I Lie on My Resume?

In today’s job market, your resume is the single most important tool for landing interviews. That’s because of the simple fact that for most hiring managers, it’s the first point of contact where they can get a feel for your education, experience and sometimes even personality.

So it might sometimes be tempting to exaggerate a bit. Perhaps you’ll give yourself some honors that you haven’t received, or prune your past job titles. Maybe even change your degree or the school that you attended.

These are just small white lies to make you look better. What’s the harm?

Well, regardless of whether or not your prospective employer does a background check, these can come back to bite you. It’s generally a good strategy to not lie if you don’t need to.

Small lies will go unnoticed by even the most comprehensive background checks, but dates of employment, job titles, degrees and schools attended are never missed. Previous income is also something that employers pay close attention to, as well as the quality of your references. Don’t think you can just have a few friends pretend to be former bosses: a halfway decent HR generalist will be able to tell the difference.

What you don’t want happening is a glaring lie being found out during the interview process, or even worst, three months into the job.

So does this mean I can’t lie at all?

Plenty of talking heads on the internet will tell you to be perfectly honest, but I’ll be frank. Everyone lies on their resume. It’s in the details. It’s in what you can get away with. So what can you get away with?

Success stories, finished projects

Absolutely no one is going to know that you weren’t involved in that one project which made your company a butt-load of money, closed that big sale, or became a viral hit. It’s an easy way to pad your resume if you are coming up a bit light. Be creative, but don’t go too far-fetched. It’s unlikely you were turning over hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales as an graphic design intern.

Job duties

Taking on extra responsibilities make you look like a hard worker, even if you aren’t. Once again, just don’t go overboard.

Income (sometimes)

Most background checks won’t give your employer the clearest picture of your income, and HR usually won’t disclose your current salary, even if you give your interviewer permission to contact your current job (hint: don’t). If you get caught red handed trying to fudge the numbers a bit, just tell your interviewer that the number you mentioned was the total compensation package, rather than just salary. That’ll usually give you at least $10k of wriggle room.

Asking about your current salary is one way interviewers try to take negotiation power away from you. You don’t have to divulge this information, but if they are insistent, there’s no reason to be honest about it either.

Personality

No one, and I mean absolutely no one, fits their personal description on their resume. This is an idealized version of you, include whatever desirable traits you think you have, and a few more you don’t have for good measure. This is not the place to be honest, some never put any flaws, unless they are flaws they make you look good (i.e overly perfectionist, etc).

Everything else that can’t be traced or come up later

Most importantly: Don’t lie about things you are not knowledgeable about.

I BS’ed my way into an interview for a senior technical position and I had little knowledge of the field (including terminology) outside some google searches and a 2-hr study period. Surprisingly, I didn’t bomb that interview, but I knew right away I would’ve been fired inside of a week if I had been hired.

Why try to get a job that you are vastly under qualified for? The money may be tempting, but if you are currently employed, it’s a big risk unless there is either on-the-job training, or you can lie your way into success.