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On Lying on Your Resume

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If an employer discovers that you lied on your resume, chances are you will get fired immediately. It doesn’t matter how long it took them to find out or how much you have impressed them thus far; it’s a matter of your credibility. You’re also much more likely to lose your chances of employment over lack of honesty than over your lack of credentials if the employer decides to verify the contents of your resume.

Education and compensation are the most common areas where candidates lie on their resumes. Other less-than-candid information includes:
  • false dates
  • fictitious employers
  • incomplete or purchased degrees
  • incorrect facts (i.e., sales and staff supervised)
  • exaggerated — if not completely false — titles, salaries, and responsibilities
  • citizenship
Even if your employers never discover that you lied on your resume, you might find yourself living in constant fear that you'll be found out someday. You may feel paranoid every time a human resources matter is raised, even if it has little or nothing to do with you. And, of course, if you have a personality susceptible to guilt, it will make your work life even worse.

One lie makes more lies. If you lie on your resume, you may have to lie at your interview, then about your ability to do tasks you are assigned, and then perhaps to your boss, coworkers, and clients, if you have them.

In some situations, you might find that you will expose your own lie by not being able to perform the duties assigned. If your lie is not revealed by your poor performance, your employer might just find you incompetent, and you'll be fired anyway. Either way, you may be looking for work again.

If you think getting fired for lying on your resume is the end of it, ponder that thought further. The issue will arise again for certain. If you decide to be honest in your next job search, you will have to tell your potential employer why you got fired. Will you then lie about how you lied? If you decide to lie one more time and cloak the fact that you were fired for lying, your potential employer might contact your former employer, discover the truth, and disqualify you as a candidate. True, if you were terminated early on for lying on your resume, you could easily pretend that you never had that job at all. But what if you worked there for a year or longer? How will you explain that extended employment gap on your resume? And so the cycle continues.

Even if you have worked at a company for 30 years, if you have misrepresented your education by one degree, you may be terminated automatically. In certain industries, such as the news media, your credibility is more important than anything else, and it only takes one lie on your resume, no matter now minor (e.g., stating you have an M.A. in Journalism even though you dropped out of graduate school), to make everything you do or say thereafter questionable.

Sometimes people can be victims of habit. If you lie on your resume because you lie all the time, a fabrication years later that has nothing to do with your resume may cause eyes to look into your resume and background.

For example, let's say you're a journalist, and you write a story with content that's shady or not quite founded. Then, someone at the office decides to investigate the merits of the report and discovers you invented certain details. This might cause him to wonder what else you've invented, and it could point all the way back to your file and the false information on your resume within.

Telling your supervisor that you missed work because of food poisoning instead of alcohol poisoning is fundamentally different than telling your boss that you are something you are not.

If you send your resume to a recruiting firm and do any embellishing at all, be prepared for what could be the inevitable. Recruiting firms, being exclusively in the business of hiring, are more aware than other businesses of how increasingly competitive the job market is and that they have far more choices for candidates as a result. More importantly, their reputations are essential to their success, so they will not let even slightly fabricated resumes risk ruining their names.

For every steadfast candidate with an upright resume they present, recruiting firms gain potential to secure future business for themselves. Thorough background checks are, therefore, an integral part of their daily procedures and are typically done immediately once a candidate applies. In short, recruiters will never attempt to place you again if you lie on your resume.

Likewise, companies in general are practicing similar caution and also actively pursuing background checks before and after employees are hired. If a company has a history of employees who have lied on their resumes, they will be more adamant in their background checks. But that is not something you would know without inside information. More often than not, it's not worth the risk.

More than likely, the employer will never look at your resume again or investigate your past. But if you demonstrate significantly poor work quality, they may start to ask questions about your skills, including the contents of your resume.

Consider two other realities about the working world: your company might come under new ownership and do some good old-fashioned downsizing, or your company may simply have to replace one employee with another who holds the same position. In the latter case, you may have to reapply for your job. If your new resume is not consistent with your old resume, you will find your competitor doing your duties and earning your salary instead of you.

Even if you get a job because the company did not conduct a background check, you are never really out of the water. Even if you work at the same company for several years, you might get another manager who simply doesn't like you, finds you shady, has some reason to want to let you go — like an opinion that you have burnt out or are making too much money — or is just hell-bent on profiling everyone. This person might check your background and your resume even if the first manager who hired you did not. Many industries are managed by professionals who network constantly and are active in their respective professional communities. You never know who knows who and who's saying what about you.

Like being refused credit at a retail outlet because of a poor credit score, you will be refused employment over discrediting yourself by lying on your resume. Both the technology and the results are the same.

On a more positive note, never feel like you have to lie on your resume. You may have taken long hiatuses or done a lot of job-hopping in your life. Maybe you don't have a lot of work experience or never finished a degree you once sought. Maybe you did some hard time or spent a night in jail. These are the most common reasons that people feel like they have to lie on their resumes. Be forthright even if all of these apply to your situation. You can always turn them into positives in your cover letter or at the interview.

If you are looking at a job that seems like the perfect fit for you, but you're missing one skill that they require, you don't have to make up a job duty to fit the bill. Nor do you have to give up on applying for the job. All you have to do is give it a try, and you can use your cover letter to explain that you don't have the required skill but are willing to learn. You'll find that many employers will be impressed with your honesty and PMA (positive mental attitude).

However, if the job description clearly states that they want someone with experience in a particular job duty, it's very different from their asking you if you can do it. The fact that you can do it does not qualify you as someone with real experience in that type of job duty.

If you got fired from a job that you have included on your resume, be open about it in the interview. Stay one step ahead of employers who might find out of their own accord. Simply smile and state that the relationship did not work out as planned and that you are a wiser and stronger employee for it. If you tell the truth on your resume, the worst-case scenario will be that your resume will float into the vast circular file or the wastebasket. But the best-case scenario will be that the employer will see potential in your resume and consider your eagerness an asset.

Also, if you cheat, you hurt honest people. Honest job seekers are pushed out of the competition because of your lies, which adds to the general culture of distrust in America.

When it comes to resumes, dedicate your professional life to the truth. It will keep you from worry and termination. To amend a quote from the movie Taxi Driver, "I like to keep my resume clean like my conscience."
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