October 17, 2023
min read

Should You Lie on Your Resume? Weighing up The Pros and Cons

Luis Minvielle

Many jobseekers out there are wondering if they should stretch the truth on their resumes. A surprising fact is that most professionals already do it. A ResumeLab study showed that 70% of surveyed candidates lied on their CVs. Moreover, many candidates don’t feel distressed about bending facts – angry at how HR recruiters seemingly make information up in their job descriptions. It’s a retaliation against a broken system! There also seem to be tangible benefits to lying in your resume.

What is written down on your resume can make a big difference. And when you’re desperate for a job, that’s a big consideration. You obviously shouldn’t lie on your resume, but since people keep asking, let’s go look at the facts and assess the pros and cons of bending the truth. (To be clear, we don’t condone one side or the other.) 

Understanding the different types of resume lies

Before we dive into the pros and cons of resume “embellishments”, it's essential to acknowledge that not all lies are created equal. The scope of resume “enhancements” ranges from minor skill step-ups to more noteworthy fabrications (i.e. Harvard graduate OR Google intern). We are going to go through a few of these different lies and point out what’s clearly crossing the line.

Soft skills hyperboles

This involves slightly inflating your interpersonal abilities, such as communication, teamwork, or leadership skills. For instance, presenting yourself as an exceptional team player when you've limited group experience. This is a very grey area where almost every candidate exaggerates — and it makes sense, because you kind of have to say that you love team work if you’re going to be working in a team… If you say that you’re not good at taking feedback or don’t work well with others, you’re immediately going to be disqualified. 

Hard skills embellishments

This extends to exaggerating technical or job-specific skills, like proficiency in a software program or knowledge of a foreign language. A lot of people bump up their casual knowledge of a language to business or native level. If you are actually going to be working with that language, this is not a good idea. Another example would be adding a year onto your Java or Python experience so that you meet the minimum requirements. Is that terrible? If you’re not going to be able to keep up with the rest of the team or do a good job — forget about it. If you’re a mad programmer, though, and you know you can do just as good a job as someone who has 2 years on you, that’s a different story. But then you have to account for those years…

Education and experience fabrications

This category includes more significant deceptions, such as falsely claiming degrees, certifications, or professional positions. For instance, stating that you have a degree you never earned or listing a job you never held. For those people aiming to get a job in another country, the degree you hold might affect your visa. For example, in countries like Germany you (depending on where you are from) have to have a degree (sometime in a relevant field) to be approved for a work visa. If you lie about your degree there’s potentially a disaster waiting to happen.

Interests and hobbies

While relatively less critical in the professional context, some may embellish personal interests and hobbies. For example, claiming to be an avid rock climber when you've climbed once in your life (in the shopping mall). This is probably a safe area to embellish, but also, why would you? Just remove the hobby section like the rest of us. 

Responsibilities vs achievements

This differentiation is crucial as it refers to how one presents their past roles. Some may exaggerate their accomplishments (achievements) within a job, while not necessarily lying about their job title or responsibilities. For example, claiming sole credit for a team project's success when it was a collective effort. This a bad practice that is common among managers or low performers. If you can replicate the success, then you’re probably going to get away with exaggerating your involvement. It’s weird, though, to take credit for someone else's work. It’s a big part of the reason why the management class these days is lacking significantly. 

Certifications and training

People might falsely claim to have completed specific courses, workshops, or training programs to bolster their qualifications. This includes asserting that you've completed training or obtained a Stanford Python certification on campus. Lying about certifications is only really going to be a problem if they are those tool or product certifications that are required or valued for a job. 

Lying if you can’t get called out

Besides the kinds of lies, some are easier to get away with, and some are harder to cover up. A typical suggestion is to only lie on your resume if you can back it up. So, for example, if you’re very comfortable with MySQL, but since the job description asked for PostgreSQL, you’re claiming you’re an expert at it, it should be hard for them to catch you because you’re confident you’ll get the handle of it quickly. 

✅ Survivable lie: Deployed an SaaS application integrated with PostgreSQL (while it was actually MySQL)

❌ Easy to uncover lie: Developed the frontend for the SaaS application (while you were actually in the database side of things)

"[...] The cardinal rule of honesty about non-hazard details:

If you are going to be dishonest, on paper or even in an interview - make sure you cannot be called-out/caught lying. If you know, 100% you can get away with it, go for it. It's best to be honest, but you're entitled to survive, and by any ethical means necessary.

Many employers can only dig so far, if they even do, while others do comprehensive background checks that will reveal even slight inconsistencies. Again; take the risk if you know you can."

— Reddit user ZiggoCiP

Pros of lying on your resume

Especially if you don’t get caught — the key to deciding on whether you’ll make stuff up or not, according to online users — there are certain benefits and temptations to lying on your resume. Some of them are:

1. Superior job opportunities

Making your resume sound better can help you get more job opportunities. By showing off certain skills or experiences, or by purposely writing down some buzzwords, you might catch an employer's eye. But be careful, if you exaggerate too much, people might not believe you. If you call yourself an AI expert in 2023, you might make the same mistake as HR professionals do when they request “5 years of experience” with Astro JS.

2. Increased salary negotiation clout

Making your resume sound better might help you get a higher starting salary. Some people think this is a good way to earn more money. A Washington Post article highlights that some individuals see this as a legitimate strategy for maximising their earning potential. 

Of course, once you're hired, you'll be expected to live up to the promises you made in your resume, which can lead to stress and challenges if your skills do not align with the job requirements.

3. Feeling more confident

Making your resume sound higher-up can help you feel more confident during interviews. “Fake it till you make it,” as Silicon Valley gurus say. Being confident can help you perform better when looking for jobs.

4. Getting past computer checks

Many companies use computer systems (ATS) to check resumes quickly. By adding certain keywords, such as TypeScript, your resume might pass these checks more easily and be seen by a real person. But, if you lie, they might get found out later during pre-screening interviews or background checks.

"I took a class in college on interviewing and resume writing. The teacher was a lawyer and he said, “you can write whatever you want on your resume as long as you are prepared to discuss it in the interview and understand that it may be investigated further."

— Reddit user rickyg_79

Cons of lying on your resume

When contemplating the potential downsides of misrepresentations on your resume, it's important to recognise that the consequences can vary depending on the type of lie presented, and, more importantly, if you get caught or not. Some are:

1. Risk to your reputation and your image

Your network is one of the most important aspects of your career path. You don’t want to do anything that might damage your professional reputation. If you’re working in an industry where everyone knows each other, the last thing you want is people thinking you are untrustworthy. 

2. Legal trouble

Stretching the truth about skills won't get you in legal trouble, but big lies about your education or qualifications might. In the UK, lying to gain something can be against the law. The Fraud Act 2006 states, “A person is in breach of this section if he dishonestly makes a false representation, and intends, by making the representation, to make a gain for himself or another, or to cause loss to another”. Watch out where you set up base. Have you analysed Berlin instead of London?

3. Quick job problems

If your boss finds out you lied, even a small lie, you could be fired fast. So it could mean you opted out of a second offer to secure a first one, only to lose this new job promptly.

4. Stress and mental strain

Pretending to be something you're not is hard. Worrying about being found out can be stressful. Being honest in your resume might be a better choice if you don’t want to experience the burden of living up to a lie. 

5. Career growth obstacles

Lying about what you can do can limit your chances to move up in your job in the long run. If you’re hired with the tacit idea that you might climb the ladder because you’re a backend expert, only for the management to slowly realise you’re not up for the job, it will bury your chances to go upward.

The cons for lying on your resume abound, and are not exactly ethical. They’re just based on what’s best for you. Being real and trustworthy is important in building professional relationships. If your network can't trust you, it's hard to make good connections  

How companies verify your claims

When it comes to the information provided on resumes, the level of verification conducted by companies can also vary significantly. 

Some companies check your resume “manually,” using in-house resources (which means that if you’re caught lying, they’ll be doubly infuriated, as you made them “waste time” sussing out your falsehoods). 

Some organisations, on the other hand, are simply beyond fact-checking. Online reports tell us that companies such as Meta contract U.S.-based fact-checkers that phone international applicants and ask innocuous questions to “verify claims” and ferret out the truth. Anecdotal evidence suggests these fact-checking goons actually missed very genuine milestones such as a university degree, suggesting they ain’t that good as remote detectives. So, yes: fact checking isn’t immaculate, and sounds scarier than what it is.

In some countries, such as Spain, there are public records with employment history that employees can check into. However, with the advent of GDPR, this approach will most likely become more and more rare. Jurisdictions such as Germany don’t have this public record, for example.

There are more variations than those three, though. Here, we'll check different ways to verify the details on applicants' resumes and shed light on the differing approaches employers may take when checking qualifications.  Here's how they might do it:

  • Reference checks: They might call the people or companies listed to see if the developer really worked there and how they performed. Some companies call the last employer only. Some fact-checkers might grapple with certain tech giants, though, where the line between being a worker, a contractor, or a user is too fuzzy.

  • Background checks: This can include looking at any criminal records, the developer's credit report, or if they told the truth about their families. Some auto manufacturers in certain regions used to conduct “habitational surveys” to check if the candidate had lied about where their home was, but that seems like a legacy — and questionable — practice in the post-pandemic job market.
  • Education checks: Some companies call schools to see if the developer really got the degree or certificate mentioned.

However, not all companies check in the same way. How closely they look can depend on:

  • Industry: Some job areas, like hospitals or banks, check very closely because it's important for safety or legal reasons. You don’t want a doctor who’s actually an arborist. In the tech world, though, finding a GitHub repo is just a search engine away, so lying about it will surface up too quickly.

  • Job Importance: If it's a high-level or special job, companies might check more.

  • Company Rules: Some companies always check everything, while others might not be as strict.

All in all, if you’re weighing if to be truthful or a trickster on your resume, fact-checking should be on the bottom of the list. There are other priorities and reasons to make up one's mind.

So, should you lie on your resume?

When seeking employment, many people think, “Should I lie on my resume?” This is a big decision, and you should consider the pros and cons before doing it. Many online users seem enticed to mislead because they consider that job descriptions misinform in the first place with outstanding job specs. “If they lie, why shouldn’t we?”

Should you lie? No. We always encourage honesty, but, in this case, it’s not even an ethical standpoint: it’s a suitability one. Lying might help in cutting corners, but it doesn’t seem sustainable. On the other hand, telling the truth might leave you out of certain run-offs, but it’s the most viable option in the long run. Remember, being a professional will be your main occupation either until you conduct an ICO or retire, so it’s better to watch out for your rep. Lying goes against that.

WeAreDevelopers is fully committed to supporting you in your IT job search. If you've already decided how you're going to approach your resume, we suggest that you read our essential programmer resume overview before proceeding with the rest of the process. We wish you the best of luck!

Should You Lie on Your Resume? Weighing up The Pros and Cons

October 17, 2023
min read

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