my employee didn’t give me a full job history — is that lying?

A reader writes:

If an applicant is hired and later it is discovered that the applicant did not include information about a past job on the resume that I used in deciding to hire the applicant, is that considered lying on a resume? I’m asking because I called the newly discovered former employer who my employee neglected to list and discovered that many of the problems I’m having now with this employee were the same problems his former employer had and fired him for.

Are you talking about what the candidate put on his resume, or what he put on a job application form that you have candidates fill out? If the candidate just didn’t put a particular job on his resume, that’s in no way considered lying. Resumes aren’t required to be exhaustive; they’re a marketing document designed to present the candidate in the strongest possible light.

However, if you’re talking about an application form that all your candidates fill out, you need to consult the form to see if there’s language on there attesting that the employment history is full and complete. If your form doesn’t require that the job history be comprehensive, then once again, this isn’t lying.

But more to the point:  If you’re having problems with this employee, you need to address those problems head-on. It sounds like you’re looking for an “easy out” to fire him and are hoping that lying on the application will be it. But you shouldn’t need an easy out; unless you’re in a highly bureaucratic environment that makes it near-impossible for you to fire someone (like the government or, often, a unionized company), you should handle this the exact same way that you’d handle it if the job history issue had never come up.

Specifically, start managing him:  Explain in clear terms what he needs to do differently in order to keep his job, be explicit about the fact that his job will be in jeopardy if he doesn’t immediately begin meeting that bar, and then replace him if he hasn’t had a turnaround within a few weeks.

By the way, as a side note, are you saying that you called the newly-discovered past employer for a reference after this person was already working for you? Unless the past employer was someone you happened to know, that’s … really weird. Once you’ve hired someone, there’s no real point in checking references; at that point, the responsibility for managing (and, if needed, firing) the person is all yours.

{ 32 comments… read them below }

  1. Andrea*

    I’m just impressed that you were able to make sense of that question. I had to read it three times before I had more than a vague idea. And even then, I couldn’t believe that references were apparently not consulted until after the applicant was hired.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Well, I think the OP was saying that they didn’t even know about that employer until after the person was hired … and thus that employer wasn’t included in the original reference check. It seemed odd to me though that the OP would call that reference later on, once she learned about it (which is why I wondered if perhaps it turned out that she knew that employer personally).

      1. bob*

        I don’t think it’s quite that odd. I suspect she called after discovering the unlisted employer just out of curiousity and it sounds like she was right.

        1. Dawn*

          I don’t think it’s all that odd either. Did she need to call the former employer? No. I’m sure curiosity got the better of her is all. If she wasn’t having problems with the employee she probably wouldn’t have even thought to call.

  2. Anonymous*

    On these job applications that ask you to list every position you’ve had for the past 10 years, do you list every freelance gig, every retail job, every student employment position? Personally, I don’t include these. I include the main ones that coincide with what is on my resume. Am I wrong for this?

    1. MaryBeth*

      I don’t know if you/ we are wrong, but I do this too. I don’t feel like it’s pertinent to list the YMCA job I had for 2 months when I was 15. Not only does it not say anything about my work ethic and abilities, but I don’t think that anyone there would even remember that I worked there.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It depends on the wording on the specific form. Some really do have you attest that it’s a full job history. Others don’t specifically require you to be so comprehensive. And a lot only ask that you go back a certain period of time, like 5 or 10 years. Basically, you want to read the wording on that particular form to figure out what they’re requiring. (Although even then, I tend to think there’s wiggle room for the sort of situation you’re describing.)

  3. class factotum*

    Why have the past two job applications (which required a signed statement that everything was true) I have completed asked where I went to elementary and high school? I just wrote that I had attended too many to list (10), but who cares where I went to first grade? Maybe it was just an out in case they wanted to fire someone without managing.

    1. Anonymous*

      Excellent blog Suzanne – I’ve had that happen to me where I was alerted to a bad habit during my year-end review….and the habit was brought to my manager’s attention by a coworker several months prior! Seriously??

      1. Suzanne Lucas*

        Some managers really think that way–I can’t bring it up until the performance appraisal.

        I don’t know why they are so freaked out by the idea of speaking with their employees.

  4. KellyK*

    If the form doesn’t flat-out require a full job history, but it’s worded so that it might be implied, maybe you can also summarize. For example,I’m 30, so if someone wanted my ten-year job history, that would include about half of the fast food and cleaning work I did in college. I doubt that an employer truly cares about my sandwich-making and toilet-cleaning skills, or my dismal failure as a waitress. So I’d put something like 2001-2003: Various part-time and summer jobs during college (e.g., school snack bar and wellness center).

    That way, if they truly want more info about those, they can ask, and if someone did want an easy out to fire me (I hope they wouldn’t because I try to be an awesome employee, but who knows?), it wasn’t dishonest or misleading.

  5. Anonymous*

    I”m just impressed with your answer. What is the point of checking someone’s work history if they are already forking for you? Also, there is no information, at least I didn’t see it, to say how she got the information about this employee. Kind of sneaky and unprofessional. I’d just like to know how is that ok for the company to give such information ?

    1. fposte*

      There’s no reason the company can’t give that kind of information, though, and it’s perfectly professional to tell somebody that an employee was fired and what the deficits in their performance were. Leaving somebody off of the references list doesn’t mean they can’t get called, and there’s no legal restriction on when you can inquire about their former employee, either.

      I too am a little curious as to how the OP found out about this missing piece of the employment history–I figure it was probably a word-of-mouth thing–but that’s just because I’m nosy; manager-wise, the takeaway is Alison’s point that it doesn’t matter now, because they have to deal with the work he’s doing. And if they want to fire him for his poor performance, they can just do that, whether or not he left something off of his application form.

  6. Anonymous*

    can you imagine reading about the 20 other jobs a candidate had on their resume/application?? what a waste…

    You said the employee was fired, did they state that on their application? That would seem more like lying. (if they did, did you explore that at interview?)
    Although if this person did not list this company and you’re calling around instead of dealing with the issues at hand, you look a bit “crazy” (no offence).

  7. Anonymous*

    I had a friend who was denied employment for leaving a job she held for one week off of a background/employment verification form. The job she was applying for was with one of those big banks. About 4 years ago, she held a job for one week that she absolutely hated, and walked out on. She left that off her employment verification form, and was denied the new position at one of those big banks for not including her one week stint with an employer she hated.

    1. Anonymous*

      They might have not hired her /because/ she walked off a job she hated after a week, not because she left it off the application.

      1. Katie*

        I was thinking this, too. Just walking off a job after a week because you don’t like it? I know people who’ve sat down with their managers after the first week or two at a new job, had the discussion about the fit not being right (and usually the manager has agreed or at least been understanding), and left the situation amicably, but… If the person “walked out,” to me that sounds like a maturity and self-control issue, and I wouldn’t want to hire them if I found out about it.

        1. Naama*

          I don’t know if “walking out” connotes not having that discussion you mentioned. Either way, whether they talked about it with their boss (“Hey, this isn’t working out, sorry!”) or just up and left wouldn’t show up in this sort of a form. You wouldn’t be able to tell whether they left a job professionally or disrespectfully just from seeing “I worked at XYZ Co. for 1 week and quit.”

        2. Anonymous*

          On the other hand with a reasonable work history, this individual simply exercised her at will rights. After all, the employer could drop her at any time with no notice and I feel it’s a bit unfair to hold it against an employee for doing the same thing.

          If you see a history of then there are issues, but folks need to remember that if employers are going to have the ability to disrupt the lives of their employees at a whim – often times with no notice or even a reason – that employees should have the same ability without being looked at as poor employees in general.

          Look, if we’re going to live in a free-market labor system where bad employers are supposed to have a more difficult time hiring over better employers, that means that employees must have the ability – legally and culturally – to leave a job they find is bad. If employees are afraid of leaving a terrible job because they will be seen as “bad employees”, then what incentive is there for bad employers to improve?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Sure, but we don’t have enough details here to judge. The person could have walked off the job in a way or for a reason that the employer would understandably find problematic, and the employer’s decision would have been exactly right — we don’t have enough information to know.

            1. Mike C.*

              That’s fair, but it’s also why there shouldn’t be blanket policies as others in this thread support. Like I said before if there is a history fine, but the door swings both ways.

          2. fposte*

            To be fair, employers that exercise these rights “at a whim” are generally considered to be poor employers as well.

            Using one’s legal right doesn’t preclude one from being a jackass for doing so.

            1. Anonymous*

              I’m also guessing it is because she walked off after a week. I am wondering if anyone has personal or formal (company) policies about this. I personally won’t hire someone who walked off a recent job after working for less than six months because in my experience, that’s a huge red flag indicating that the person is unstable. A reasonable person would try to work things out. I do make allowances for layoffs but not much else.

              1. Anonymous*

                I personally won’t hire someone who walked off a recent job after working for less than six months because in my experience, that’s a huge red flag indicating that the person is unstable.

                Wait, do you mean “walked off” as in quit without notice, or just anyone who quit for any reason instead of being laid off? If so, that’s an incredibly lazy and self-righteous way of going about hiring. People leave jobs for all kinds of legitimate reasons–I left one after six weeks because my supervisor, whom I regularly had to work alone with, would make disgusting sexual comments and even started getting “brave” enough to touch me whenever he walked by. Complaining to HR did nothing. Was I supposed to stay for another four and a half months so as to prove “stability”?

  8. Nichole*

    I get where you’re going Anonymous 3:37, but I think you may be jumping the gun on getting indignant. “Walking off” to me implies instability. “Quit” does not. “Quit” is a well thought out decision, and if it happens suddenly it usually has some kind of circumstance, like the offer of a dream job or some truly unbearable situation, attached. You sound like you were in an unbearable situation which was not resolved through the proper channels (HR). She just hated the new job. In the absence of that, the natural thing is that you tried to resolve whatever made you hate the job before you quit, and the fact that you tried for four months even while being sexually harrassed and she walked out after a week speaks volumes. At a week, she didn’t give it a chance. Maybe she’s generally a very good worker and she chose a job that sounded ok and once she got there it was completely not right for her, but it sounds like she handled it badly, and actions have consequences. We had a lady start at my job and she didn’t come back the next day. We all think she was very nice, but she may never have a shot at state employment again regardless of her excuse. That’s a lot of jobs that she’ll go right in the no pile for. There really isn’t enough to know if this was an explainable quit and if the commenter’s friend had a chance to explain anyway, but I can understand why this would draw up questions of attitude and reliability.

  9. someone*

    No. And you shouldn’t be asking for it, either. A resume supplied by the employee, and references, are sufficient.

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