Lying on a Resume: Risks & Consequences (+ Better Alternatives)

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May 24, 2024
Edited by
Camille Trent
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min read

3 key takeaways

  • Lying on a resume can have serious professional and legal consequences.
  • Employers use background checks to verify your resume, making honesty crucial for long-term success.
  • Highlighting your real qualifications with quantifiable metrics and relevant keywords using Teal’s AI Resume Builder is more effective and sustainable.

The temptation to lie on a resume is real, especially when you want a job.

But is lying on a resume really worth the risk? And what happens if you get caught?

The consequences of professional dishonesty can range from losing a job offer to severe—impacting legal standing, professional reputation, and personal integrity.

Below, you'll learn the legal, professional, and ethical implications of lying on a resume and discover better alternatives as well as actionable ways to present your real skills and experiences.

Struggling to land interviews honestly with your resume? Get started with Teal’s AI Resume Builder for free.

What is lying on a resume? (And what's not lying)

Lying on a resume is providing false information about your education, experience, skills, or other qualifications.

It can range from outright fabrications, like claiming a degree you never earned, to subtle exaggerations, like inflating job titles or quantifiable resume metrics.

Understanding what constitutes a lie is crucial for maintaining your integrity.

What's considered a lie on a resume?

Lies on a resume can take many forms, so what constitutes lying?

  • Falsifying education: Claiming degrees or certifications you never earned.
  • Inflating job titles: Adding "senior" or "lead" to your job titles when those weren't your official positions.
  • Faking achievements: Exaggerating metrics or results in your resume accomplishments, like stating you increased sales by 70 percent when it was only 10 percent.
  • Creating bogus work experience: Listing jobs or companies you never worked for.
  • Misrepresenting dates: Significantly altering the dates of employment to hide gaps or make your job history appear more stable.
  • Adding inaccurate skills: Including proficiencies you don't actually possess, like fluency in a foreign language or expertise in a specific software.
  • Including fake references: While references don't belong on your resume, once requested, providing the hiring manager fake contacts or having friends pose as past employers.

Is lying on a resume fraud?

Fraud is intentional deception for personal gain. When you lie on a resume, you misrepresent your qualifications to get a job, which constitutes a form of fraud. Resume lies leave you liable if they cause significant financial or reputation harm to the employer.

Examples of employee fraud can include:

  • Costs associated with training
  • Lost productivity
  • Potential damage to the company's reputation

To put this in context, an employer could take legal action if they suffer losses due to hiring an unqualified candidate based on fraudulent information.

Is it okay to exaggerate on a resume?

Even small exaggerations can have significant consequences.

Exaggerating your responsibilities, skills, or achievements might seem like a way to impress potential employers, but it can damage your credibility if discovered.

Is it okay to stretch the truth on a resume?

Stretching the truth, for example, adding "director of" to a job title or increasing your percentage of sales can be risky.

It's not that many job seekers don't do it, but honesty is always the best policy. And there are effective ways to highlight your strengths without deception.

Teal's Director of Talent, Mike Peditto, has this to say:

"There are some common resume lies or exaggerations you can probably get away with. Something like embellishing metrics or sales numbers is unlikely to be verified (assuming you are using reasonable numbers). Changing job titles to a more standard title is also unlikely to matter.

Two areas that are very high risk to lie about are work experience and educational background.

While there will always be anecdotes of people who did this and were never caught, the majority of companies—especially large companies—run checks that include degree verification and the dates you worked for companies. A slight difference in months can be chalked up to a mistake, but large discrepancies or making up jobs could potentially cost you an offer during the background check process."

Can you omit a past job from your resume?

Omitting a job from your resume isn't necessarily lying, especially if the position was short-term or unrelated to your current career goals (as long as the role you're applying for doesn't require specific clearance).

The key is to be honest about the employment dates of the jobs you do list and be prepared to explain a resume gap honestly during interviews. It also means not being deceptive about fake or "out-of-business" companies to pad your experience.

Any attempt to deceive by creating a false employment history with non-existent companies will likely be uncovered.

Peditto warns that fudging employment dates will likely come back to bite you in the background check:

"Third-party companies run checks and will try to find the information about past employment, including asking for W2s or paystubs to verify employers if they're no longer able to get ahold of a company. Making up a bunch of out-of-business corporations is not the workaround people sometimes claim it is."

What happens if you lie on your resume?

Lying on your resume can lead to professional and legal consequences. Understanding these risks can help you decide how honestly to present your qualifications.

Is lying on a resume a crime?

While lying on a resume isn't illegal in itself, it can lead to legal trouble if it harms the employer. Again, it comes back to the difference between a subtle exaggeration and a deliberate misrepresentation that can potentially cause harm.

For example, if you secure a job based on false qualifications and your incompetence causes financial loss, you could be sued for damages. In severe cases—like falsifying official documents or committing identity fraud—legal action can result in criminal charges.

Professional consequences of resume deception

The pitfalls of resume lying go beyond legal issues.

Being caught lying can severely damage your professional reputation, leading to the loss of a job offer or termination. It can also make it difficult to secure future employment.

Employers value integrity, and a single instance of dishonesty can overshadow your entire career.

Lying on your resume also raises ethical concerns. It undermines trust between employers and employees and sets a negative precedent for professional conduct. Building a career on honesty and integrity is the right thing to do and creates a solid foundation for long-term success.

Should you lie on your resume?

Can you lie on your resume? Yes. Do people lie on their resumes? Absolutely. Should you lie on your resume? No.

Think of it this way: emphasizing your strengths is the green area, exaggerating is yellow, and outright lying is red. Avoiding one of the biggest resume mistakes by staying in the green ensures you present yourself accurately and professionally.

The value of accuracy and authenticity

Accuracy and authenticity on your resume build trust with potential employers. They demonstrate your integrity and willingness to be transparent about your qualifications. Employers appreciate candidates who are honest about their strengths and weaknesses because it shows a commitment to personal and professional growth.

How employers verify information

Employers have several methods for verifying the information and work history on your resume.

According to a Society for Human Resources Management survey, 92 percent of employers conduct background screening.

Hiring managers use background checks to confirm your education, previous employment, and other details. Falsifying this information can easily be uncovered during these checks, leading to immediate disqualification from the hiring process.

How to highlight professional qualifications without lying

Emphasizing your real strengths and achievements is ethical and more sustainable in the long run. You want the job. But you also want to be successful in the role once you get the job.

A good resume is not only honest but also incorporates relevant keywords and quantifiable metrics, making it both compelling and effective in showcasing your true qualifications.

Here are some tips to help you create a resume based on your actual experience without resorting to dishonesty. (And how you can do this all in the Teal Resume Builder.)

Write good resume achievements

Crafting impactful resume achievements involves highlighting your real accomplishments in a way that resonates with potential employers.

1. Use quantifiable metrics: Almost every job responsibility can be tied back to numbers. Did you stock shelves? How many? How often? Did you write content? What was the impact of that content on traffic and conversions?

Focus on quantifiable resume achievements that highlight your previous impact and use metrics to provide concrete evidence of your contributions.

For example, “Implemented a data-driven marketing strategy that increased email open rates by 25%, resulting in a 15% boost in product activation and a 10% increase in overall revenue.”

2. Incorporate action verbs: Start resume bullet points with strong resume action verbs to demonstrate your achievements and impact clearly.

Words like "managed," "developed," "implemented," and "achieved" are powerful and convey action and results.

3. Add context and results: Provide context for your achievements and explain the results.

For example, "Developed a new marketing strategy based on canceled subscriber behavior that decreased churn by 9% over six months."

Not sure where to start? Teal's AI Bullet Point Generator pulls details from your experience and any job description to write relevant, metric-driven achievements with the click of a button.

Tailor your resume to job descriptions

Tailoring your resume to a specific job involves aligning your skills and experiences with the job description.

Using the same keywords and phrases found in the job posting to demonstrate how your qualifications meet the employer's needs.

Here's how you can do this:

1. Analyze job descriptions: Carefully read job descriptions to identify the key skills and qualifications required. Highlight these keywords and ensure they are prominently featured in your resume.

2. Match your experience: Relate your past experiences directly to the job you are applying for. Show how your previous roles have prepared you for this new opportunity.

3. Customize your resume sections: Tailor your resume sections (like Professional Summary, Skills, and Work Experience) to reflect the specific job requirements. Focus only on relevant qualifications that make you a strong candidate for the role.

If you want to skip the steps, Teal's Match Scoring and Job Description Keyword Finder can help you tailor your resume to any role—quickly.

Use Teal's Resume Job Description Match tool to see how your resume content stacks up against a job description. Get an instant match score with a breakdown of how well your resume aligns with the language, keywords, and skills of the job. You can increase that score by adding the keywords and language identified by the Keyword Finder.

Create an honest resume with Teal

Lying on your resume can lead to serious legal, professional, and ethical consequences. On the other hand, honesty builds trust, demonstrates integrity, and creates a solid foundation for your career.

Teal's Resume Builder can help you create an honest resume highlighting metric-driven achievements that align with the language and details from any job description—without compromising your integrity

Creating a standout resume doesn't require dishonesty.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is lying on your resume illegal?

Lying on a resume isn't illegal per se, but it can lead to serious consequences, including termination and legal action if the deception results in significant harm to the employer. Employers often conduct background checks to verify resume information, making honesty crucial.

Can you go to jail for lying on a resume?

While lying on a resume itself won't typically result in jail time, it can lead to criminal charges if it involves identity theft or falsifying official documents. Severe consequences can arise if the lie causes significant financial or reputational harm to the employer.

In Texas, what is the penalty for lying on a resume to get a job?

In Texas, you can be penalized for lying about academic credits on a resume. Penalties can include termination of employment and fines.

What should you do if an employee lies on their resume?

If an employee lies on their resume, employers should conduct an investigation to verify the false information. Depending on the severity of the lie, disciplinary actions can range from a warning to termination, and in some cases, legal action may be warranted.

Can employers find out if you lied on your resume?

Yes, employers can find out if you lied on your resume through background checks, reference checks, and verification of educational and employment history. Many companies use third-party services to confirm the accuracy of resume information, making it likely that any false claims will be uncovered.

Kayte Grady

Kayte, Senior Copywriter at Teal and Champion of ADHD professionals, is a seasoned writer passionate about storytelling and career growth. With a data-driven approach to content marketing and a word-nerd knack for resume builder analysis, Kayte’s on a mission to empower job seekers to land a job they love. Constantly pivoting and reinventing herself, this social-worker-turned-marketer found growth and camaraderie in tech—a genuine surprise given her never-ending devotion to the paper calendar.

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