Career Advice From A To Z: “N” For “Never Lie On Your Resume”


It’s a tough job market, and when the stakes are high – and attached to your livelihood – lying on a resume can seem worth the risk. Recent college graduates can be especially tempted to fib on their first resumes as they face the dreaded experience hurdle to qualify for jobs.

Neil Gaiman, blockbuster author from the UK, confessed that he lied on his resume to gain jobs as a freelance writer. Though he was never caught, he has since discouraged students from following suit, saying that the Internet has made it almost impossible to get away with lying.

Who lies?

Lying on resumes is actually extremely common, and statistics show that somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of all job hunters lie on their resumes. Surprised? You might also be surprised to discover that you may have lied on your resume without even knowing it.

Small embellishments, such as listing Excel or PowerPoint as a skill (when you last used the program 10 years ago) are considered lies. According to professional recruiters, embellishments that misrepresent applicants are grounds for immediate dismissal. While some professionals who have lied about their qualifications have bounced back after high profile dismissals – like U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who lied about his college record way back in 1988 – in most cases, professional lying can cost people their careers.

Professional lying – it sounds like a skill for espionage agents – but is most common among applicants who exaggerate past salaries. Though this might seem like a good (and easy) way to negotiate a better salary from potential employees, a better bet is to be honest about your previous salary and be prepared to argue your worth.

Why can’t I get away with it?

Why is it harder to get away with lies? Well, Neil Gaiman was right when he cited the Internet as the fact-checking instigator; and human resource companies are using the Internet to fact-check resumes and run background checks on candidates. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 40 percent of human resource professionals have amped up the fact-checking over the past few years, making it tougher for the liars to be hired.

However, professional liars are never truly safe. Once false information is listed on a resume, the bios can follow candidates around, making it especially easy for high-powered executives to come under scrutiny. Sometimes, the higher-up the professional, the wilder the lies can get. Like when Robert Irvine, star of U.S. television show Dinner Impossible, padded his resume with ties to the royal family, specifically Princess Diana’s wedding cake. It didn’t take the Food Network long to uncover the truth, and Irvine dropped off the network for two years.

What is the worst-case scenario?

Perhaps the most well-known professional liar is Scott Thompson, former CEO of Yahoo!, who lasted only four months on the job before he was canned for falsifying information about his credentials. Thompson got the boot for lying about his computer science degree, which didn’t exist.

Many esteemed and professional folks have lied on their resumes only to see their lies come back to bite them in the derriers. Some people even end up in jail on charges like plagiarism or falsifying information. In New Zealand, a chief executive of a television network was sentence to jail time after he admitted to extensively lying on his resume.

Only 12 percent of professional liars falsify credentials that are essential to the position, according to an infographic compiled by surgical-technologist. Other common transgressions are exaggerating job responsibilities, lying about nonessential skills, misrepresenting details and embellishing inconsequential details like job gaps.

Even if it’s tough to resist, lying on your resume is not worth breaking the trust of your employer. Even the most lenient employer will have difficulty trusting someone who has been caught in a lie, and it only takes one bad reference to muck up your career. Honesty is still the best policy, even if it means a few more years working on the bottom run of the ladder.

Jorg Stegemann
Jorg Stegemann - Headhunter, Certified Coach and Business Writer - is the CEO of Kennedy Executive Search. Apart from running our company blog, he writes for Forbes, BBC and other media.
  1. Muhammad Reply

    I think it is somehow the compulsion of fresh candidates to mention false statements and show false experience because they don’t have that experience. So what they should do?

    • Jorg Stegemann
      Jorg Stegemann Reply

      My experience is that there is no difference between junior and senior candidates in regards of false statements.

      I think that if you don’t have the experience you should not write it. I am personally very angry if I discover in the interview that the candidate has been lying.

      If this happens, the interview takes a negative turn and I even stopped it in some cases if the lies where major…

      • Muhammad
        Muhammad Reply

        Sir, you are right, but what do if the requirement is 5 or 10 years of experience and you are fresh but qualified? now a days almost the experience requirement is 5 years or above.

        • Jorg Stegemann
          Jorg Stegemann Reply

          Muhammad –

          Thanks for the reply. How would you react as a hiring manager if the relationship starts based on a lie? What is the alternative? Make a false statement on the resume and being caught…


    • Maria Rainier
      Maria Rainier Reply

      Hi Muhammad,

      Thanks for your comment on my guest post.

      One of my favorite quotes on leadership comes from Ann Landers, an American advice columnist from the early 20th century. She said, “The naked truth is always better than the best dressed lie.”

      In our lives and in our jobs, we seek to present an image that is adequate to our values, skills and qualities. If you feel qualified for a position without the work experience, then you should include any projects, certifications, letters of recommendation – basically any evidence that shows you are prepared for the position. If you have to lie, you probably aren’t qualified for the position.

      Also, many employers seek to hire a well-seasoned candidate because a certain level of professionalism will be established by 5-10 years. Someone with this much work experience will be better suited to navigate difficult situations and interact with co-workers and clients more easily than someone without that experience. Therefore, you will need to supply evidence that you are capable of success within an office/professional environment – not just possess the basic skills.

      If you can present evidence of your professionalism and your skills, you may be able to bypass the qualifications for formal work experience, but such a circumstance is very rare.

      Your best bet is to accept an entry-level position at a company that is willing to work with inexperienced employees. This type of position may offer less of a salary, but you will gain experience and perhaps even a mentorship.


  2. Cornel Reply

    Always tell the truth, and state that in the interview. If you are sure you can do it without the required experience, state that. Refer to the probational period as a time to proof that you really can do it.


  3. Bob
    Bob Reply

    … or perhaps Never Lie?

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