lying in an interview – should you be concerned?

A reader writes:

I recently left my job. Management was unethical and abusive, so I decided to concentrate on my job search full time. Despite the negative environment, I left courteously, giving 2 weeks notice and helping to tie up loose ends.

I am now under consideration for a great job, but I have a problem – I fibbed on my resume and said I was still employed there. I know this is wrong, but I’ve found I’m more desirable as a candidate if I am still employed. In the past, when I’ve been unemployed, I couldn’t get an interview, because I assume the prospective employers saw me as “desperate.” I cannot risk that in this economy.

I assumed that any prospective employer would not contact my current employer, but I am still concerned that they will find out when they ask me for my references. If it helps, I have 2 references from this former job that can vouch for me (they were senior to me on my team) and I have an excellent (honest) record for the rest of my history. Unfortunately, the HR assistant asked for my “current” supervisor’s name during the first interview. I was honest with the sales director about my supervisor being abusive and it not being a good idea to contact him (I also told him I can provide another reference at the company). I’m still concerned that HR is going to call my supervisor and find out I resigned 2 months ago. Should I be concerned?

Uh, yes.

I think you might not be looking at this clearly. Let’s put this a little more starkly. The facts are these:
– You left your job for a reasonable reason.
– You lied on your resume, and you believe this is justified because it would make you look better to employers.
– You lied again in the interview.
– Your lie is one that is easily discovered in the course of a routine reference check.

I’m sorry to pile on when you’re in a bad situation, but of course you should be concerned.

If you had just written “2002 – present” on your resume, you could pass this off as an oversight, something you forgot to update before sending out your resume. (Sketchy, but you might be able to get away with it.)

But because you lied in the interview, saying you were at a job you actually left two months ago, it’s clear that you deliberately tried to mislead them. Lying in a job interview is a deal-breaker, because of what it says about your integrity. (Speaking of integrity, you don’t even seem to regret the lie, only that you might get caught.)

Accept that you’re probably not going to get this job and move on. Correct your resume before you send it out again. Whatever your concerns about how it might look that you’re unemployed, they’re trumped by how it looks when a prospective employer finds out that you’re someone willing to lie.

{ 16 comments… read them below }

  1. almostgotit*

    Clean it up, and fast.

    The choice to leave one job before getting another was yours, which you made even though you need a job, and even though you already knew that this can hurt you in a job search. Now? You have to be a grown up and live with that decision. Been there, done that, known that.

    Trying to make things easier for yourself by lying (which is the only reason *anyone* lies, by the way — you don’t get any special consideration here) was foolish as well as unethical. And you don’t like “unethical,” right?

    Nor will any future employer. Look, you’re not the only one around here without a job, so suck it up already.

  2. HR Godess*

    Oh what a tangled web we weave……

    It’s too late to fix what you’ve done in this interview but fix the mistakes before you have an interview with another company. Typically (and in my experience), if HR catches a candidate in a lie, that candidate is out. It doesn’t matter why you lied or whether or not you had good reason; you lied. And, like AAM said, it speaks to your character, which is all you have in an interview.

    It’s not unusual for a lot of people to be out of work when they are applying for a job in this economy. Be honest in the future or you may be unemployed for a long time.

  3. Just another HR lady...*

    Leaving a company without having a new job because the company is unethical, then lying in a job interview and trying to find ways to cover it up..interesting. I don’t think I’ll comment any further than that. :-)

  4. Working Girl*

    This is very good advice you’ve received here. Now is your chance to turn things around—go forth and sin no more, kiddo! Put it down as a lesson well learned. Move in a forward direction. Try not to dwell too much on what is too late to change.

    And good luck.

  5. BB*

    If being currently employed is so important, you could do consulting/temp/volunteer work in your field, part-time so you can still work on looking for a permanent position as well. You’ll gain much more from doing something productive to fill that time gap versus spending 8+ hours a day, 5+ days a week on job hunting.

    Also, if you really did leave on good terms, you might have a slight edge – prospective employers would be able to contact a very recent employer instead of having to go back two or more years like they would with the average candiate who’s still working somewhere and doesn’t want their current employer to know they’re looking around…


  6. Shawn King*

    While lying is never good, I’m consistently amazed at the hypocrisy of the process: The number one reason people change jobs is because they don’t like working for their boss. Yet that “honest” answer is never acceptable to the question “Why are you seeking to change jobs?” If managers don’t want me to lie on my resume, why do they expect me to lie when answering this question? Usually this lie is expected to come in the form of an omission: Never say anything negative. So we have the standard answer, “I’m looking for new opportunities.” Which is really saying, “I’m looking for an opportunity not to work for a jerk.”

  7. GodOfWar*

    You’re all morons! Most companies will NEVER check this.

    Tell them you didn’t put in your 2 weeks notice yet…why would they call in for a reference?

    Give them the references of your past 2-3 jobs instead. For fucks sake you can even put a fake reference for this company you claim to be still employed at! Get your freaking good friend from the same field to cover your ass pretending to be a manager.

  8. Ask a Manager*

    Um, God of War, I have to totally disagree. They make the offer contingent upon speaking to the “current” employer, and I will always call the reference rather than letting the reference call me, in order to prevent the sort of thing you’re suggesting (having the friend pose as the manager). This is not worth risking getting fired over down the road.

  9. Anonymous*

    you people are unbelievable….like no one here has ever told a lie?? If you don’t have some useful ADVICE to offer this person than shut it….its amazing….everyone here must be perfect and live perfect lives….to the person who wrote this seeking advice I would offer this…..its a dog eat dog world out there….do what you have to do to get what you want in this life….just be prepared to deal with the consequences…..If your alright with possibly being let go for lying…..I would say go for it…..Most times prospective employers can be refused references by candidates on the premise that you don’t want your current employer to find out you have applied for this current and attractive opportunity…..this usually shuts em up….lol Good Luck

  10. Anonymous7345*

    Lying gets you ahead all the time. Your managers lie don’t they? You don’t ever seem overconfident to a customer, sell them an upgrade they dont’ need? You’ve never heard about a manager making up a reason to fire someone, so they can legally can them? You’ve never heard of a big company making up rebates to get more tax credit, or some other shady accounting. You’ve never heard of a service company creating a crisis, to create more demand, and raise rates? You’ve never heard of a politician in the closet or cheating on his wife, while criticizing those who do, until some get caught? You’ve never heard of David Letter man, powerful CBS figure making tons of money off of advertisers, pressuring interns new to the business to “hang out with him”? You’ve never seen your private information sold to a solicitor because it was on page 20 in the fine print? You really think people are honest on all the questions of an applicant personality, or psychological test, on EVERY question? You think your interviewer doesn’t lie about anything in his or her life? Please children. Do you go to church on Sunday, and it’s back to the same old “unethical” behaviors to typically (possibly covertly) display the rest of the week? Is the question is it right to lie or where do we draw the line,or is it just do as I say and not as I do? Most of the money makers at your company could care less about you. They just want more money, to spend on their luxurious life style. Your just their useful idiots (no offense, but it’s very true). I think most of you are either naive or just hypocrites. Follow the law of course, but if you think fudging never helps, you’re not paying attention!

  11. MeganO*

    anonymouse7345 and Anonymous, you’re using bad logic. No one here is suggesting that anyone be perfect all the time. They’re suggesting you not lie in the job interview process.
    And that fact that others lie doesn’t make it ok for everyone else to do.
    Just be honest in interviews. No one is asking for a perfect person, just for basic respect for future employers.

  12. Jamie*

    The argument that unethical behavior is alive and well in corporate America is true. This sucks, but it’s also irrelevant in this instance.

    My problem would be lack of forethought. The OP lied based on an immediate end (getting an interview) without thinking about future ramifications.

    I would consider it a red flag that someone who would lie about something so easily checked would also make rash decisions on the job without thinking ahead as well.

    I am certainly not perfect, my flaws could fill several books, but the implication that anyone who would take issue with this is either naive or hypocritical is insulting. There are many non-perfect people out there who do have professional ethics; we aren’t children nor are we useful idiots – just people who steer clear of moral dilemmas in the workplace and focus on doing our jobs.

  13. rod*

    Wow .. This is nothing. Do what you have to do to get ahead. I’ve been in the workforce for 20 years now, changed jobs about 5 times. Each time I lied about something to get in. As long as you are able to do the job once your hired, that’s all that matters. If you need to lie your ass off to get in, then do it ! It’s a deadly competitive world out there. If you do everything by the book, your finished. Good on you ! I hope you get (got) the job.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You know people often get caught for that and get fired and have their reputation destroyed, right? Just because you’re getting away with it (so far) doesn’t mean it’s a good strategy.

      1. Julie*

        In response to the people saying that it’s OK to lie because everyone else does it – do you want to be dishonest? Then go ahead. If that’s not how you want to conduct your life, then don’t. Either way, I agree that it’s likely to catch up with you at some point.

  14. clever idiot*

    hey guys im in the same situation can someone help me aswell, i did not plan to say i was still employed but they just asssumed i was still employed and i played the part. Now i have an offer , do i come clean keep playing the part, or just put my actual finish date on my reference and hope they dont notice the difference.

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