By Rachael Mason
Is it legal to lie on your resume?
Finding a job is harder than ever. Doesn’t it seem like you could increase your chances of getting hired by “enhancing” your resume? That’s right, you could just change a few details — like the name of the college you attended or the awards you’ve won. Maybe you’ll even add a few companies to the list of places you’ve worked.
Not so fast. While lying on your resume isn’t always illegal, it is unethical. And when you get caught—seriously, in today’s connected world, do you really think that no one will find out about any inconsistencies in your background?—you’re likely to lose your job.
Of course, depending on how you applied for a job, resume lies may indeed be illegal. Remember that application form you signed? While a resume is not considered a legal document, a signed job application is. Any inaccuracies on the application (or other documents) that you sign could be considered breach of contract.
How often do people lie on their resumes?
During a job search, people frequently present inaccurate resumes to companies they’d like to work for. In fact, “50 percent of employment, education and/or credential reference checks revealed a difference of information between what the applicant provided and the source reported,” according to a 2005 study conducted by ADP.
One of the most common resume lies is manipulating time worked a company to cover any gaps of employment, according to Forbes. And though it’s very easy to check, people often lie about the college they attended or the degrees they have earned. Numbers—whether it’s a graduation year, statistics about sales or previous salaries—are also commonly falsified.
“While one may not go to jail for lying on a resume, there are several plausible civil causes of action that could subject the resume padder to financial liability; fraud comes to mind pretty easily,” says attorney Martin Sweet of legal information website THELAW.TV.
If it’s not illegal, why shouldn’t you lie on your resume?
When a company discovers it has hired—and therefore trusted—someone who has lied on their resume, it’s bad for business. Stock prices may fall and the business’s reputation is tarnished. The employee with the falsified resume may be fired or asked to resign, especially when they hold a high-profile position.
In May 2012, Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson stepped down after a stockholder exposed an error on the executive’s resume. Thompson’s resume said that he held both a degree in computer science and accounting from Stonehill College, but that wasn’t true, reported the Daily Beast. His degree was in accounting only.
When asked about it, Thompson said the error was caused by a headhunting firm adding the additional degree to his credentials and, therefore, not actually a lie. However, the firm denied the mistake, reported the New York Times. Thompson stepped down from his position at Yahoo in May 2012.
Thompson isn’t the only high-profile employee whose resume has contained inaccurate information. In 2001, football coach George O’Leary resigned from his job at Notre Dame after details in his biographical sketch didn’t check out, reported ESPN.
The coach claimed to hold a master’s degree that he’d never earned. His bio also said he lettered in football three times at the University of New Hampshire, but the school said O’Leary didn’t play in even one game there. The coach blamed “resume padding,” saying that as a young man, he had added to his resume to help him get a job and had never removed the incorrect information.
Ultimately, your resume is a sales tool. You should use it to present yourself in the best light. If you want employers to think you’re a liar or spin doctor, then pad away. But the best approach is honesty—and a lot of great resume verbs.