What if I lied on my resume?

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Some recruiters say that as many as one in five job hunters lies on their resume.
Why isn’t this news plastered on the front page of The Wall Street Journal? Quite frankly, it’s because we all know businesspeople lie – the issue is how bad are the lies?

Some people make a distinction between the falsehoods that put us in a better light – even if it’s a light we don’t deserve to be in – and saying something that’s totally untrue. The latter, even on a resume, is morally wrong and emotionally exhausting. Not only do you have to remember the lie but you also have to live with knowing you built your career on it. Even more difficult is the stress of waiting to be caught.

Exhibit A is Ronald Zarella, the CEO of Bausch and Lomb. He was caught saying he had finished business school when he hadn’t. He did not get fired, though. While he volunteered to resign, the board kept him on, presumably because the other directors had told a lie or two in their lifetimes.

Clearly, as Mr. Zarella’s case indicates, not all lies are equal on resumes. To determine the varying degrees of lying terribleness, context matters. For example, murdering 50 people and then saying in court that you never killed anyone is a very bad lie. On the other hand, it’s pretty innocuous when married partners tell each other that they just had great sex when it wasn’t that great.

What should you do if you lied to get your job? If you’re a career veteran, plan to go straight. You’ll need to undo the lies you’ve told over the years to get jobs or promotions. However, don’t be quick to make a public confession that could kill your career.

First, determine if the lie is considered “bad”. Sometimes, this is pretty easy. For instance, who cares if a metal welder said he graduated from college when he didn’t? But a college professor who tells this lie should consider a career change, and perhaps a name change as well. In a recent speech, the president of Hamilton College quoted Amazon.com without attributing the quote. This lie cost him his job. Ronald Zarella should be thankful he’s not a university president.

Some situations are murkier. If you’re a high-profile executive at a big company who lied on a resume, you should get a lawyer because the shareholders are likely to create a fracas and you may get fired.. And if, like most senior executives, you have a clause that allows the company to fire you for cause, you could lose your severance. If your lawyer can’t save your job, she might at least be able to save your golden parachute.

If you are middle manager, pray that your company doesn’t invest a lot of money in double-checking resumes. For now, don’t mention the lie, but be truthful the next time you seek a job. Meanwhile, be an outstanding performer. You don’t want to provoke your boss into searching for legal ways to fire you, because he might check out your resume and see your falsehood.

If you lied about having a college degree when you don’t, consider finishing college. Not having a degree will eventually impede your career advancement – but you already know that because you wouldn’t have lied otherwise.

For those of you just starting out, heed the duress that lying causes those at the top, and figure out another way to get there. A career is something you should want to live with, and a lie isn’t. Choose your life partners wisely. Take action to bolster your experience with hard work so you don’t have to bolster your resume with lies.

5 replies
  1. TJ
    TJ says:

    I read in the book The Origin of Wealth, only about 15% of people feel that big businesses can be trusted. Maybe this is why people don’t feel bad about lying on their resume.

  2. Joe
    Joe says:

    If you have more qaulifications for a job than it requires, but you leave off the extra qualifications on your resume (to avoid seeming overqualified), is this lying?

  3. Deb
    Deb says:

    What about information on application forms. I can make a nice resume that highlights what I want, then go into apply for the job and have to fill out an application form. I’m mature, do I have to put all my past jobs? I have a recent job that was hourly wage, does not take skills, and looks low class on a resume. So I leave it off, I was doing something else at the time as well. But on application forms, I feel that if I put that job, they’ll look at me and say she’s not qualified for that job because in her recent job she was doing X, which really doesn’t fit what we’re looking for. That is why I would like to leave low class job x off the application form. Can you do that?

  4. Chevy
    Chevy says:

    yes!.in this world where we live, people, company and employers are seeking high demands and newly adapt skills and requirements.As the working industry grows, the innovation and the conceptional growth for new techniques and abilities are highly needed.so what if we lied? we can adapt to it!. nice post

  5. Alberto
    Alberto says:

    The most successful resumes contain “light” lies. Eg A person with two different resumes reporting the same experience under “different perspectives” in order to match better the particular requirement of every single role.
    In this case the difference between lies and good marketing is very thin, but as some guru seller say “personalization is selling”.

    Now, would you criticize someone for showing his best profile in the picture? …and a beautiful woman who wears makeup?

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