Lying on Your Resume: Top Risks and What To Do Instead
Written by James Bunes, Author • Last updated on May 27, 2024

Lying on Your Resume: Top Risks and What To Do Instead

When you want to stand out from the crowd, lying on your resume is tempting. Other candidates might have qualifications you don’t, or maybe you feel qualified for the role but aren’t sure if hiring managers will notice you. Misrepresenting yourself is common, but there are detrimental risks, including damage to your reputation and potential legal issues. This blog post discusses the consequences of lying on your resume and why it’s best to stick to the truth.

Lying on resumes is common, but why?

Lying on your resume happens frequently and many job seekers admit to doing it at least once. This causes major trouble down the road and leads to damaging issues, such as job termination, or worst case scenario, legal complications. So why do people do it?

Here are the top reasons a job seeker may lie on a resume.

Hiding inexperience and knowledge gaps

You might feel qualified for a position but lack a handful of the specific requirements detailed in the job description. For example, a job description asks for 5 years of sales experience and you only have 3.

Many job seekers might feel like this is just a “small discrepancy” and fudge the details in their resume to match the job description.

Exaggerating skills

Some people feel pressured to exaggerate skills they already possess to make them sound more impressive or to imply higher levels of proficiency.

This often happens with language proficiency, where job seekers claim to be fluent in a foreign language when they only have basic knowledge – or none at all.

Getting your resume through an ATS

An applicant tracking system (ATS) is software that scans resumes for important keywords and then pulls them out for a hiring manager to review.

Because the system looks for specific keywords listed in the job ad, candidates may list qualifications and experience they don’t have just so the ATS picks up their resume.

Check out our blog post for more information on building an ATS resume the right way.

Standing out from the crowd

It’s a competitive job market and job seekers want to catch the hiring manager’s eye. 

Some jobs get upwards of a thousand applicants, especially with large companies. Lying on your resume is how many people try to grab the company’s attention and stand out from the crowd.

What counts as lying?

Lying on your resume can be broken down into three main categories:

  • Lies of commission: A blatantly false statement, such as saying you attended Yale when you didn’t.
  • Lies of omission: Omitting certain facts and telling half-truths, such as saying you “attended college” when you dropped out.
  • Embellishment: Enhancing your existing qualifications, such as saying you have expert levels of Excel skills when your proficiency is intermediate.

All three of these types can be found in various places in a resume. This means you job seekers lie about:

  • Work history
  • Education 
  • References
  • Work gaps
  • Skill levels
  • Resume achievements, such as claiming you boosted revenue by 30%

Job seekers also lie about their job titles and salary. For example, a sales associate thinks they’ll be able to secure a better position by claiming they were a manager at their previous job.

Some of these lies are worse than others. A few of them are relatively harmless – lying about your skill levels isn’t right, and could cause you to lose your job, but it isn’t a criminal offense.

Although lying on your resume can lead to other illegal activities, such as creating false certifications. Forging course certifications and degrees is a serious offense and can even lead to criminal charges and jail time.

However, even a white lie isn’t worth it. Getting caught lying, even if it’s a small detail, leads to mistrust and damage to your professional reputation.

Let’s talk about that next.

What are the possible consequences?

Can you get in trouble for lying on a resume? Further, is lying on a resume illegal?

Providing false information to employers can be extremely damaging, with issues ranging from losing your job to legal consequences. Let’s take a look at the most common repercussions of lying on your resume.

Reputation damage

Getting caught lying on your resume hurts your professional reputation. We live in an increasingly interconnected world and lying to one hiring manager can negatively ripple outward when they share the information to other people in their circle.

Is lying on a resume illegal? Not outright, but it can lead to legal consequences. For example, if you lie about your education level and forge a document to accompany it, that’s an illegal act.

Additionally, if you’re unqualified for a role you may fail to comply with certain regulations, resulting in legal action.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. Please consult a legal professional for details.

Trust and relationship damage

Professional connections are incredibly important and lying on your resume can ruin trust and future opportunities. This is especially detrimental if you lie in a referral – your colleague who referred you may not refer you again. Your lie could even hurt your colleague’s reputation.

Job termination

Getting caught in a lie could cause you to lose your new job. It could also cause the company to rescind its offer. Because you only lied in the first place to secure the job, it makes your lie pointless and unnecessarily hurts your reputation.

“Even a white lie isn’t worth it. Getting caught lying, even if it’s a small detail, leads to mistrust and damage to your professional reputation.”

Better ways to deal with issues on your resume

If you’re feeling uncertain about your resume, don’t worry – there are many ways to proudly showcase what you do have. Keep your head high, highlight your true achievements, and apply for every job you believe you’re qualified for.

Below are our top tips for how to avoid lying on your resume and what to do instead.

We have many ways for you to dress up your resume using your exact experience and skills. Check out our resume articles for a wealth of advice.

Be honest about employment gaps

Explain your employment gaps honestly and most hiring managers will respect you for it. Be upfront and mention any ways you advance your skills in the meantime, such as taking courses or the transferable skills gained from motherhood. 

List incomplete education

List your education on your resume, even if you didn’t finish your degree. Providing your incomplete education is better than lying and shows recruiters your openness to learning.

Emphasize transferable skills

Even if you don’t have the exact skills the job requires, we recommend you list relevant transferable skills. Increasingly more hiring managers are on the look out for candidates who have similar skills that help them ramp up and learn quickly.

For example, a retail sales associate has communication and negotiation skills that would be useful in a customer success or sales development representative role.

Use the right format

Using the right resume format helps you draw the recruiter’s eye to the details you want them to see. Resume formats that emphasize employment dates highlight your work gaps, but some slide dates subtly alongside your job title. This also works with education – a format that positions education subtly at the bottom of your resume won’t draw attention to an unfinished degree.

If you’re looking for inspiration, take a look at a variety of different formats in our resume templates.

Expert tip:

Being honest on your resume isn’t just the right thing to do, it can also land you a better job role. When you honestly display your qualifications, you can secure a position where you’re comfortable, confident, and know what you’re doing. This leads to great performance and long-lasting relationships.

Lying on Your Resume Isn’t Worth It

Can you get in trouble for lying on a resume? Yes – it’s also simply not worth it.

Lying on your resume could result in damaged relationships, a bad reputation, or getting a job you can’t comfortably complete. Under the right circumstances, it can also lead to legal issues.

Telling the truth is the best policy. Be honest about your qualifications and present them in a positive way and you can secure a job that’s perfect for you.

Need some help building a resume that highlights your experience and skills? Create a professional resume in minutes using CVwizard’s Resume Builder.

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James Bunes
James Bunes
James Bunes, copywriter, editor, and strategist, combines job search and HR writing experience to produce actionable content on resumes, career advice, and job search tactics.

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