tempted to lie in a job interview?

Thinking about padding your resume or exaggerating your experience in a job interview? Maybe you’ve considered inflating your salary history to see if you can negotiate a higher salary offer from a new employer. Stop right there.

Lying during a hiring process can destroy your chances of ever being hired with that employer – and it’s easier to be caught than you might think. Here are four particularly disastrous consequences you might face if you lie in an interview.

1. If you lie about what experience you have, you’ll likely be caught in a lie, because your interviewer will probe into those details. If you feel you need to lie to impress your interviewer, the thing you’re lying about is likely pretty important. (After all, you’re presumably not going to lie about something insignificant. What would be the point?) That means your interviewer will likely have follow-up questions, and there’s a good chance you’re going to find yourself in a situation where you’re having to build on the lie, spin more details and generally weave a more complicated web. And if your interviewer is reasonably savvy, your story isn’t going to sound quite credible to him or her. Or your lack of familiarity with what you’re discussing will come through.

Even if your interviewer isn’t able to conclude for sure that you’re lying, raising these sorts of doubts isn’t exactly helpful when you’re trying to be impressive. In most cases, you’re going to be a lot more impressive by just owning up to areas where you might not have the perfect experience.

2. If you lie about your salary in the hopes of getting a higher offer, you risk being found out through a salary verification process. Job searchers are well aware that when some companies ask about their salary histories, it’s because they plan to base salary offers on the answers. That leads some people to conclude that they can simply lie about their earning history as a way to prompt a higher offer from a new employer. The problem? Employers that handle salary negotiations this way will often verify the salary information you provide – and if they find out that you lied, they’ll nearly always yank the offer. What’s more, they sometimes don’t bother to do this verification until after you’ve accepted the offer, and sometimes not until after you’ve already resigned your current job. That means that when they discover the lie and pull your offer, you could be left with no job at all.

Rather than lie to gain an edge in salary negotiation, it’s far smarter to take your salary history off the table altogether and focus on what salary you’re seeking now.

3. If you lie about anything in a job interview, it can come out when the employer talks to your references. Tempted to say that you weren’t really fired from your last job but instead were laid off or resigned voluntarily? Reference checkers regularly ask about the circumstances surrounding your departure from the job, which means that lie will fall apart minutes into the average reference call. Tempted to misrepresent your job title or your accomplishments or responsibilities? Reference checkers will verify those details too, and significant discrepancies here can torpedo your chances.

In general, assume that employers aren’t going to simply take you at your word when it comes to key elements of your candidacy. They’re going to verify them with people who will be in a position to either back you up or expose any falsehoods or exaggerations.

4. If you somehow get away with lying in an interview, you risk ending up in a job you’ll be fired from. If you lie in an interview process and don’t get caught, you might be thinking you’re home free. However, you’ll face an even more serious consequence than just losing a job offer: Now you’re in a job you’ve lied your way into. That means you don’t have the qualifications the employer was seeking, so you might land in a job you can’t do well. You might struggle to excel and might even get fired.

You’re far better off being up front and candid with employers about your qualifications. Let the screening process work the way it’s supposed to, by moving you toward jobs you’d excel at and away from jobs you’d struggle with. After all, it’s a lot better to lose out on the job at the interview stage than to get fired later on.

{ 61 comments… read them below }

  1. BRR*

    Number 4 especially has further consequences because you’ll likely be permanently blacklisted from that employer, you likely now have a gap in your resume that you need to explain and you can’t list that job and you’ll have a tough time saying why you left the previous position. Plus many ATS require you to list ALL work so if you lied during the first job and got fired you can’t leave it out when applying for future positions.

    1. Lillie Lane*

      Or, even worse, you could wind up like that Walmart PR guy and have your resume lie be the first hit on every potential employer’s Google search.

      1. BRR*

        Oh that’s definitely a good point. Although I do think though that for you to show up in search results you’d have to be fairly high up and executives seem to get hired regardless of their pasts.

  2. Not an IT Guy*

    So if you have a choice between lying and badmouthing the previous/current employer, what do you do? I was fired from a job once due to my manager purposely sabotaging my work, but despite that being the truth it would sound like badmouthing during the interview. So what do you do in that situation? (BTW another blog told me to say I had a personality conflict with this manager).

    1. Helka*

      There’s a difference between misrepresenting yourself (your experience, your knowledge, your salary) and not airing out your dirty laundry in public (personality conflicts, past drama, etc). It’s in the same vein that when you ask why the previous person left, the interviewer isn’t going to tell you “Yeah, Jane got canned because she kept insisting on trimming her toenails during high-level meetings.”

      1. Koko*

        Exactly. Say something tactful and discreet, demonstrating that you understand tactfulness and discretion. Think signal words like, “high turnover” “substantive change in leadership” or “period of sweeping changes” to denote “chaotic and dysfunctional.” For personal conflict with direct supervisor, I’d hedge with something like, “bad fit” “misaligned goals and priorities” “mismatched communication styles” etc.

        1. Helka*

          Say something tactful and discreet, demonstrating that you understand tactfulness and discretion.

          That’s a really fantastic way to put it. A lot of jobs need you to demonstrate the ability to know when to be less than completely blunt, so being tactful in shedding light on a difficult situation is a way to positively showcase your ability in that area.

      2. LoFlo*

        Just had this situation and opened with I do not like to be negative but…….it was not a good situation for me. I tried to be tactful as possible.

    2. some1*

      IMO the issue is not that your story makes you look like you are badmouthing your old employer, it’s that, frankly, it’s hard to know as an outside observer whether or not that is what really happened. Same thing with, “I had a personality conflict with my manager.”

      If you were fired unfairly, when asked why you left I think you should explain the reason the employer gave that they let you go, followed by your side of the story. Be brief and unemotional but also try to include any details that give credence to your story. “My employer let me go because they claimed I did not upload my TPS report. I produced a time stamp that I uploaded it and got a notification that my boss deleted it half an hour later. Even with that, my employer chose to let me go.”

  3. The Cosmic Avenger*

    This reminds me, I actually forgot to update my salary on a job board before I applied for this one job, and I was later called for an interview for that job. I’m thinking that I’ll only point out my omission if they make me an offer that is too low, otherwise I’d just be pointing out a problem of my own making without any possible benefit.

    Do you all agree/disagree?

    1. Sherm*

      My non-expert two cents: It sounds like you forgot to update some sort of profile of yours on the job site, rather than putting wrong information in a specific application? If by chance (a probably low chance) someone down the road says “Hey, you said on your profile that you make $X,” I think they will understand if you tell them you simply forgot to make an update.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Yes, thanks, it’s a profile section that’s separate from the resume or cover letter section, so I hadn’t updated it in…oh, $8-10K or so. ;)

        It’s a Federal job, so I am hoping they will not have that much latitude or that much incentive to lowball me. There’s probably a rubric for determining what grade and step you rate, which would give them a very narrow band. And, luckily for me, I interviewed mostly just to see how it would go, to keep in practice, and to see what else was out there.

  4. Hedgehog*

    Off topic, but I think something weird is going on with the website! I get redirected to a “Sorry, page not found” message when I click on the “Older Posts” button at the bottom of the page. Is anyone else having trouble??

      1. Hedgehog*

        A Dell laptop (not sure what model) and Google Chrome. I’ve used it before to check your site and have never had any problems.

      2. Stuck*

        Same here, from Mozilla on a PC. Can only access site via Google search results links. Typing address directly gets me a “Server cannot be found” error.

          1. Sandy*

            I tried clearing the cache on the iPad the other day to force it to work. It did. Then I tried it on the PC and now it doesn’t load at all.

    1. lowercase holly*

      my comments took forever to go through today (more than 5 hrs) so maybe the server was acting weird.

  5. TotesMaGoats*

    And especially don’t lie or embellish when you are doing an internal interview and you work closely with people on the committee. I know, for a fact, that you didn’t do the thing you just waxed eloquently about doing.

  6. Koko*

    Someone I know concealed a couple-years-old DUI conviction during the interview process for a job (checked “No” for the conviction question on the application). She got the job, started a few weeks later, and then was walked out by security her third day on the job when the background check came back and revealed her lie. Not only did she lose that job, she lost her unemployment benefits because the 3-day employer challenged her claim and she could no longer claim benefits from the employer before that.

    1. Misdemeanor anon*

      So here’s a question, which may seem obvious to others…a 10+ year old conviction on a misdemeanor. (Driving w/o insurance…I know I know) Does this still need to be included? I couldn’t even tell you what month it happened…I’d be guessing.

      1. The HR Witch*

        We don’t ask about misdemeanors, just felony convictions, and, in California at least, something 10 years old will have dropped off your driving record. I’d ignore it!

  7. Former Professional Computer Geek*

    A friend tells the tale of a group interview of a candidate, with their (hiring) manager. The candidate apparently wanted to show how much they knew about a particular technology, so they stole info from the resume of an expert. My friend was surprised to be presented with a resume that had a claim of being part of the same former research project as my friend, and co-author of a resulting paper.

    During the interview my friend strung the candidate along, asking detailed questions about the research project and the paper. The candidate’s answers got more and more vague as they were unable to “recall” details, until my friend pulled the plug and suggested that if the candidate was going to steal information from another person’s CV that they pay closer attention, so that they don’t steal from the same person they interview with. The manager, now horrified, had the candidate promptly escorted from the building.

    1. R2D2*

      To me it sounds like the job requirements were too narrow, if the candidate pool was so small that people like that were getting through. If that level of familiarity is required, interviews are pointless — just ask the expert who the other dozen people who have his level of skill are and go head-hunt them. Where did they expect to find an expert of that level that wasn’t already known by the other experts?

      1. Former Professional Computer Geek*

        Nowhere did I (or they) say they were trying to hire an expert in a niche field. The candidate decided on their own to “prove” they were an expert in a field relevant to but not required for hiring. Haven’t you ever applied for a job that had a list of required knowledge and then a list of “would be nice but optional” fields of knowledge? I believe that, typically, hiring managers know that finding someone with expertise in those areas is rare and it winds up being more wishful thinking than a hiring requirement.

      2. themmases*

        Also, being part of a research project is not inherently a super elite job history. All kinds of research projects need things done that just require normal, common job skills and the employee ends up learning about the content area as they go. The end goal of those projects is to publish and if you’re contributing as part of the group you will almost inevitably end up somewhere on the author list of a few of the results. I think publishing sounds loftier than it is to people in non-research fields; if you work in research, publishing is just expected and it’s only special your first few times. Lots of people are research assistants in college, and lots more work in research-adjacent fields like medicine where people who aren’t scientists will still make an occasional contribution (I did both these things while obtaining, and then while only having, a BA in history).

        I don’t want to put down anyone’s work– it’s my work too– but the generic qualifications Former Professional Computer Geek described are not narrow. Tons of people have those in any given field and expect to shift their work a bit when they join a new group.

  8. Elizabeth West*

    I posted about this before, but I was advised to change my job title on my resume to puff it up a bit. I was told that all this person’s friends do it—“They lie their way in and learn on the job! Everybody does it! All my friends do it!” This person used to be a recruiter. My reaction was, “Who the living hell do you hang out with?”

    Needless to say, I did NOT do that!

    1. Helen*

      It’s not okay to change “assistant” to “director” but I think there’s some wiggle room. I have often worked places where my official title didn’t really reflect my actual job (because the employer just didn’t care about or use titles), so if it made sense I would change my title on my resume. I think of it more as a brief description than an official title.

      1. IntrovertManager*

        My solution when I had a vague title that only made sense within the company was to write my role in quotes following the title:

        Advanced Teapots Inc.,
        Teapot Specialist (Role: Chocolate Teapot Designer)

        1. Maggie*

          I think this is a great solution. Sometimes now (in the UK at least) some regular jobs have such fancy titles that when you use them recruiters think you are dressing them up, or ask “what on earth is that when it’s at home”? I think I will give your method a try.

      2. Helen*

        Just as an example: my title on the record was “assistant to the director of photography” for a full year after the position of DP had been eliminated.

      3. J*

        Yeah, I have one title on my resume that is “wiggled.” I worked for several years in museum education as an “Active Learning and Play Associate.” This is listed on my resume as “Exhibit Facilitator,” because that’s what I did as an ALPA, and I now work in a different (though tangentially related) field where titles tend to be less…colorful.

        1. Lauren*

          Ha! Yeah, there are places I wouldn’t want to use that title. I was an “Interpreter” at a museum and I change it to Visitor Services Officer or Tour Guide because people were expecting me to be a translator.

      4. SystemsLady*

        I currently work for a company where my official title is Teapot Planner, a title that is commonly used in the same industry to refer to a specific, mostly unrelated, and less specialized job.

        My specific job in my sub-industry (which doesn’t really have a consistent title across companies, and that’s part of the problem) is in high demand, but this title in the whole industry is just about as much in demand.

        I constantly get interview offers on LinkedIn for Teapot Planner positions that have nothing to do with my actual line of work and for which I do not possess the type of expertise they’re looking for. I haven’t once been contacted unsolicited about a job that’s actually in my field while having Teapot Planner as my listed job title.

        When I next go job hunting, I’ll probably fudge my job title to “Teapot System Planner” or throw in a more specific description after a hyphen. Employers will probably toss or transfer my application if I don’t!

      5. Elizabeth West*

        This was not that kind of change. It wasn’t like changing “receptionist” to “front desk coordinator.” It was about changing it to reflect duties the job did not entail, and padding those it did. One phone call would have made me look like a liar. My old boss would have been like, “What? No.” And this advice came from someone who had previously told me about having to fire a contractor for lying about her credentials, so it was just a complete oxymoron.

    2. voluptuousfire*

      I updated my job title to reflect my former job. I worked as a recruiter but my job was much more administrative in nature, so instead of recruiter I have “recruiting coordinator” on my resume. It’s a much more accurate title for the role and my former director OK’ed it, so technically it’s fine.

  9. louise*

    I have not yet updated the application where I now work in HR, but the new one will not require candidates to give their salary for each previous position. One of the company’s owners told me “you can never trust that part; everyone inflates it by at least 25% hoping they can get a better offer from us.” I said “I’m not okay with lying and would fire someone if I found out they did. But more importantly, why would we ask a question that we EXPECT people to lie about? We need to ditch the question, not assume their answer is a lie.”

  10. AG*

    This. I was ready to hire a candidate until I talked to his former employer. The candidate said he was laid off. When I asked the office administrator if that was accurate, she said “HA. No.” She didn’t give me any more details around his termination, except to confirm the date, but that was enough. It cost this guy an offer from us, and could cost you one too.

    1. Swarley*

      I hope you asked the applicant for clarification before pulling the offer, because it sounds to me like you received a less than helpful (and professional) response from the office administrator that could have meant any number of things.

    2. Adam V*

      “HA”… sounds awfully cavalier. Assuming he were otherwise a strong candidate (and considering you were calling references, I’d assume he was), I would probably have contacted him and said something along the lines of “you had said you were laid off from company X, but I spoke to Jane at company X and she… disagreed with that assessment. Can I get some more information from you on what happened there?”

      1. some1*

        Meh, I think the “HA.” was more about the Office Administrator being taken by surprise than being cavalier and/or unprofessional. Think back to the worst thing someone you ever worked with did who got fired, what would your gut reaction be if someone asked you, “So he got laid off, correct?”

  11. Angora*

    I had a coworker leave for a better paying job with more responsibilities and new employer fired him a couple of days after he started for lying on his application. I suspect he told them he had a Graduate Certification when he was still taking the classes. Big difference between “in progress” and “received” or “completed.”

  12. Chilly In NYC*

    I had a relatable experience that cost me a job—and I didn’t even lie about anything! I used to do occasional public speaking gigs and organizations/institutions would (without prior clearing it with me) post something about it online, often in a newsletter where their “reporters” would take any biographical materials submitted and use that to write a short “article” about speakers’ appearances. (Ironically, its considered “unethical” by their editors to run the bio as I submit, because that would be like PR and not “journalism.)

    Somehow, from one single error made by the web content writer of one organization, which erroneously stated that (a) I founded a company (that I only consulted for,) and (b) I had a graduate degree that I did not at the time (but now do – and in my field most people assumed I did before due to my level of expertise and experience in the field.)

    So, I had been courted for a great opportunity created with me in mind (they knew my work well and didn’t even ask me to submit a CV, because they specifically wanted me for this.) I was out of the country for another project for several weeks, after having agreed to accept this position, then when I returned, I got some messages from the HR office of the company (not the exec who courted me) that they were rescinding their offer because I “misrepresented” myself, without explaining why. The exec would not return my calls for a week and when I finally reached her, and she finally blurted out that HR has looked into my background and “discovered” that I did not have an MS degree, and was not the founder of the Chocolate Teapot Syndicate. I was flabbergasted (and I’m not so easy to flabbergast!) and asked her where on earth they ever got those ideas in the first place, and offered to send her my current CV, reminding her that she’s the one who’d told me not to bother sending it in the first place – where they’d have seen exactly how I correctly represent myself.

    I did some of my own web-sleuthing and finally found the source of the erroneous info – the “news” page for a place I’d given a talk two years prior. I vaguely remember the person who called to “interview” me for this. I bet it was some college intern, and in any case, clearly they didn’t fact check it. Normally yes, I check anything that’s been printed about me, and while the pre-talk announcement of my event was correct, this “interview” ran a few weeks later, apparently, as a recap. I never saw it, and since the webpage doesn’t even come up in a search til the 4th of 5 page, it was never brought to my attention.

    Such a nightmare. Neither the exec nor the HR reps ever apologized. *Sigh* Lesson learned? It’s not even enough to insure that YOU tell the truth about yourself, but you must also make sure OTHER PEOPLE tell the truth about you, too!

    1. R2D2*

      It’s always depressing to be reminded that some HR gatekeepers, the people who get to choose whether or not you are qualified enough to move forward, aren’t even qualified enough themselves to be able to determine the reliability of something they read on the internet.

  13. CM*

    Another thing not to lie about: language skills.
    If fluency in a particular language is important for the job, that’s certainly going to come up in an interview.

    1. James M*

      I can’t help but wonder if this includes native speakers who wouldn’t be considered ‘fluent’. Y’all no whumma tawkn bout!

      1. De Minimis*

        I’ve often heard of panel interviews where one panelist will ask a question in the foreign language.

        1. CM*

          Yes! I work in Italy for an English-language media company. We interviewed someone for an internship who had claimed “excellent” written and spoken English on her cv. When asked to say a few words in English during the interview, however, she just shook her head and declined. I can empathize with feeling shy in an interview, but whaaat?! We didn’t need absolute fluency, but we did need someone who was comfortable using English on a daily basis.

  14. AB F*

    I successfully managed a charity for 2 1/2 years, however, I resigned after the board’s mistreatment (discrimination) of our best project manager and discovering some serious malpractice by the CEO. I reported the malpractice to the relevant authorities and supported my former colleague in her legal case. I’ve been pressed recently about why I left and also why I am reluctant to use this ’employer’ as a reference, I have no good answer to this at the moment without saying that there is currently an ongoing investigation into their practices and I can’t talk about it! I’ve been reduced to saying I felt it time for a new challenge, which just feels utterly false.

  15. Ed*

    I few young guys at work recently left to go to a new big company that came to town. It was a good opp for them and I think it was smart move as we never promote anyone. However, being young and working for a bad manager, they decided to burn him as badly as possible during their exit interview. One guy even told a very difficult-to-handle end user to f*** off and walked out. They were all proud of themselves for “getting back at the manager” and didn’t consider any bridge burned in the process. They told me “we can just use the director who used to work here as a reference since she liked us”.

    Well, I hated to break it to them but their plan is full of holes. First, directors (and now a VP at her new job) don’t typically give references for entry-level people. And if I was a reference checker and saw your manager of 4 years was John Smith but your reference for that job is Jane Doe (who never directly managed you), I would immediately determine that I only wanted to talk to Mr. Smith. It can be tough to get through to ex-managers but John would probably love to talk to me about those guys who purposely burned him. The biggest concern I would have is what if the new job doesn’t work out? I have personally started a job that had massive layoffs in my first week (though I was spared until a much later round). Now you can’t possibly go back to your previous job and you don’t have a reliable reference when you desperately need one. All that for 5 minutes of satisfaction.

  16. FM*

    when you are honest or lie, you cannot land a job. Thats the fact. Attended an interview, was ask how many staff you manage. I reply 5. Then the HR said sorry I need people can manage more than that. Then end the interview straight away. Obviously its not our fault. The HR is not given change for candidate. When I was executive moving onward to manager level, my previous HR told me that if given opportunity can you lead. I said yes and landed a job.

  17. Seasoned HR Folks told me to do it!!!*

    I have a BA and MHRM in HR. I have spent YEARS trying to break out of the assistant role. Although, my experience level is equal to an HR Generalist (I was fortunate to be apart and do the work of a Generalist/HR Project Mgr, etc). My title would prevent anyone from calling me, although, my skill sets states I can do the job.

    My last position, which was an assistant role, I was told by SEVERAL seasoned (over 15 yrs exp) to lie about my title. Mind you, my manager the CHRO told me the only way for me to get into the Exempt level role I desire is to lie on my resume. He said he would even vouch for me.

    I know it’s unethical to lie on your resume. BUT for me it was worth it to get to the Exempt level I spent YEARS and $$$$$ trying to achieve. Now, alot more doors are open for me and I can’t wait for my next job.

Comments are closed.