What To Do When You Have Lied on Your Resume

Being questioned about details on a resume by interviewers
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You've lied on your resume, and now you're worried that you’ll get caught. What happens if an employer finds out that your resume or job application isn't accurate?

Lying on your resume is a bad idea for many reasons, not the least of which is that you’re likely to be found out. From the initial background check to the multiple meetings that make up the interview process, there are just too many opportunities to reveal that you’ve been less than truthful.

Even if you make it through and get hired, you’re not off the hook. History is full of examples of high-level executives who lost their positions and their reputations after being caught embellishing their resume or curriculum vitae.

If you're caught lying before you're hired, you won't get a job offer. If the organization discovers you lied after you've been put on the payroll, you can be fired.

Lying on your resume can also impact your future employment. It can be harder to get hired when you have a termination for cause in your work history.

The question is whether it's worth taking a chance on being caught in a lie. But if you’re reading this, you already know that it's a dilemma. Your problem is that you already stretched the truth on your resume, and now you’re trying to cope with the possible consequences.

Maybe you just got a call to schedule an interview for a perfect job. However–and this is a big “however”–you lied on your resume when you applied so the gaps in your employment history would be a bit smaller or so your last job sounded better.

Perhaps you even added a job or two to make your resume look more impressive. And now the company wants you to fill out a job application. When you complete the application, you are legally affirming your dates of employment and your employment history.  The company may verify those dates with your previous employer.

Most Common Resume Lies

If you have lied, you have a lot of company. A CareerBuilder survey reports that 75% of employers have caught a lie on a resume.  Some of their respondents reported resume lies that were pretty outlandish—for example, the applicant who claimed that they studied under Nietzsche or the candidate who said they worked for the CIA (during the same years they were in elementary school).  

Most resume lies are more mundane. An earlier CareerBuilder survey reported on what job seekers tried to get away with most often:

  • Embellished skill sets: 57%
  • Embellished responsibilities: 55%
  • Dates of employment: 42%
  • Job titles: 34%
  • Academic degrees: 33%

Whether creative or commonplace, resume lies can have the same negative effect on your career.

What to Do When You've Lied on Your Resume

You've done it, but now you're worried. What do you do? Here are options for how to handle it when your resume contains something other than the truth.

Option 1. Update Your Resume

Unfortunately, there is no surefire way to keep yourself in consideration for the job, let alone get an offer. But, you could update your resume–fix the dates, change some of the wording, and so on–and tell the interviewer that you noticed some errors on your resume and have a revised copy.

Option 2. Come Clean and Tell the Truth

Another option is to tell the hiring manager the truth, which will probably knock you out of consideration. However, at least you won't be hired based on a lie and won't have to worry about someone finding out after the fact.

Option 3. Do Nothing

The third option is to do nothing and to hope you don’t get caught. The danger is that if they have you fill out a job application, you need to be honest. They will likely check your references and verify dates of employment. Also, you can get fired at any point in the future if they find out.

Option 4. Withdraw Your Application

Another alternative is to withdraw your job application. You don't have to give a reason why. You can simply thank the employer for the invitation and say you're not interested in the position at this time. You have obviously lost your chance of getting the job, but this is the safest option if you don't want to explain or to have to deal with the consequences of lying.

The Consequences of Lying

Unfortunately, there’s really no safe alternative other than withdrawing, because, with any scenario, there’s a chance they won’t consider you for the job once they find out. Plus, again, you could be fired in the future if the company finds out you didn't tell the truth.

How to Fix Your Resume

If you've fudged the dates on your resume, fix it. Instead of having to worry about getting caught in a lie, consider explaining the gaps in your cover letter. That way you’ll be proactively addressing them and not having to scramble after the fact.

Once you've got the facts straight, consider tweaking your resume to make it sound better. A few small changes can help you make a better impression on the hiring manager without having to stretch the truth.