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Lying on Your Resume: What Are the Consequences?

Lying on Your Resume: What Are the Consequences?

It is important to write your resume with character and confidence. But there is a clear-cut line where stretching goes too far.

Kim Isaacs | Monster.com Resume Expert

November 02, 2007

When a woman we’ll call Mary was offered a high-level student-services position at a prestigious college, she was thrilled to accept. But two years later, Mary was fired despite strong performance reviews and a reputation as a rising star at the college. The reason? She lied on her resume – and got caught.

An HR initiative requiring employees to furnish college transcripts revealed Mary lied about having a master’s degree. It wasn’t lack of a degree that cost Mary her job; it was her dishonesty. Unemployed and with a blown reference to boot, Mary demonstrates what can happen when you lie on your resume.

Companies are growing increasingly savvy in ferreting out resume cheaters through more comprehensive background checks conducted both pre- and post-hire. Why the latter? Subpar job performance can prompt a follow-up investigation into an employee’s past. If dishonesty is discovered, it is often grounds for termination and possibly legal action.

Yet Mary is hardly alone in falsifying information on a resume. Steven D. Levitt, coauthor of Freakonomics and a renowned economics professor at the University of Chicago, cites research suggesting that more than 50 percent of people lie on their resumes.

Given such repercussions as Mary’s fate, you might wonder why anyone would attempt to get away with lying on a resume in the first place. Levitt refers to a W.C. Fields quote in his explanation: “Anything worth winning is worth cheating for.”

Power – and Misery – Foster Temptation

In a kind of twist on the Peter Principle, which suggests that within corporate hierarchies, employees tend to be promoted until they reach their ultimate levels of incompetence, Levitt postulates that “the higher up in the organization a person rises, the more likely it is that he or she will cheat.”

His observation is certainly borne out by news headlines about executives resigning in the face of resume dishonesty. Common resume lies include falsifying academic credentials, padding dates to mask employment gaps, exaggerating job titles, embellishing job responsibilities and achievements, claiming sole responsibility for team efforts and even making up fictitious employers.

Levitt also found a correlation between mood and the temptation to cheat. The desperation felt when weeks of unemployment stretch into months, or the low morale experienced by someone employed but truly miserable in a job, appear to increase the incentive to lie.


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