my friend fabricated his resume and now wants me to be his reference

A reader writes:

I got a voicemail today for a reference check on a former coworker / casual friend. I had no idea this call was coming, but I’ve been in management for a few years and get these often enough, so it’s not a big deal.

So I reached out to him asking for some background and whether this was a personal or professional reference. He responded saying that he mentioned us working together years ago and asking if I could put in a good word, yadda yadda yadda.

Then he forwarded me his resume.

Job #2 listed on it, from 2011 to the present, has him as an employee of mine doing a host of professional services. There is a paragraph longer than this email detailing it. It’s 100% fabricated.

I am going to let this sink in for a few hours before I take action, but obviously there is no positive reference coming. I just don’t want to be hasty and vindictive. Still, how would you handle this?

Whoa. It’s bad enough to lie like that, but it’s particularly bizarre that he didn’t even think he should mention to you that this was his plan and ask you if it was okay with you. Letting the resume tell you the situation instead of telling you directly himself was a weird, weird choice. He even told you on the phone that he’d said you’d worked together “years ago” and then forwarded you as a resume that said you’re still working together now.

What the fudge?

Anyway, I’d call him up and say this: “The information you included for the time we worked together is made up. What’s going on?”

After you listen to whatever weird yarn he spins, say, “Obviously I can’t attest to this because it’s not true. I’m not sure why you thought I’d be comfortable doing that.” Personally, I would say this in a  cold, cold tone, one that conveys “you have committed an egregious transgression,” but that’s up to you.

Also tell him not to list you as a reference in the future, since even if he corrects the resume now, you can’t vouch for his trustworthiness and integrity. In fact, you could only really vouch for his lack of them. I’d also say this in a freezing cold tone. Arctic cold is what you’re going for here.

As for the current reference check that he pulled you into: Because this person is a (casual) friend, you could do him the favor of simply not returning the reference call (and not returning any additional attempts the reference checker might make to get in touch with you). That would be better for him that if you actually did talk to the person, because if you did, you’d have to out him as a charlatan and an ass.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 252 comments… read them below }

  1. Imaginary Manager*

    Hi folks, this is my question. Ask me anything! :-D

    Also, I expected much harsher advice. I’ll definitely be confronting him about this nonsense. I was really debating telling the prospective employer but do kind of feel it’s best to just let them go away. This dude is old enough to know better, but I suppose it’s not up to me to be executioner.

      1. Florida*

        This is true. Sometimes people will bolster up their job duties and experience, but they honestly believe it’s true. For example, they say they came up with the strategy, but really they just implemented it. But it their mind, they think they came up with it.

        This doesn’t change that OP shouldn’t vouch for him.

        1. Koko*

          My friend once supervised a young woman who had a temporary junior position with a GTVO campaign. Her job mostly consisted of day to day implementing the social media strategies that the full-time staff and consulting agency had come up with. (Initially she had some creative latitude but she had some of that taken away due to making some minor but bad calls, and this position was one that might have turned permanent but didn’t because the full-time senior staff weren’t happy with her.) My friend later found her on LinkedIn calling herself the media or campaign director or something similar, and the accomplishments she had listed were the campaign’s accomplishments – registered this many voters, boosted voter turnout by this percentage, etc.

          1. AnonaMoose*

            I see this ALL the time with mid management resumes too, and a question I had for Alison.

            If your staff was responsible for ____ and succeeded in _____, is it appropriate to claim responsibility? I understand saying that you ‘oversaw’ ____, but it’s amazing to me how often bosses take credit for their underlings successes, down to saying – for example – ‘successfully developed pipeline which increased revenue of Product A by 25%’, when in reality it was their staff’s job to acquire and move the pipeline to contract. Sure, say that you led or developed the talent that grew revenue, but don’t claim that you actually did the blood sweat and tears of business development. *eyeroll*

            ((I say this as an ex-leader, now underling in a new industry/role type, who has never taken credit of underlings work due to a previous bad experience when I was new to the working world. My boss take full responsibility for something she presented an annual conference that get HER a promotion and me fired — I was a long term temp and I think she was afraid of competition/word getting out that she didn’t even touch the product I had created that got her accolades nationally.))

            If you can’t think of any of your own successes – you’re doing it wrong. (….er…or maybe you’re doing it right since you’re getting paid to basically twiddle your thumbs.)

            Anybody have opinions on my tangent?

            1. AFT123*

              I’m late to this party, but I thought I’d respond anyway in case you get a notification.

              IMO, it is the manager’s job to make their team successful, and therefor, I think touting wins their team produced as their win, because it’s their team, is fair. For example, my manager might say “Successfully developed relationship that led to $895,000 contract” or something, and even though I’m the one with the feet on the ground and working my tail off, it’s still the manager’s responsibility that I work well, so they get to claim the success too.

              What I DON’T agree with would be throwing the team under the bus if pressed. In the above example, if asked “How did you achieve such that great deal?” The fair response would be along the lines of “I developed and mentored my team member, did xyz reviews, stepped into the deal from an executive perspective, and ultimately navigated her through the full closure of the deal.” If they said “I cold called for 9 months and met with 7 different directors and compiled the winning proposal” then I’d be upset about it.

      2. Imaginary Manager*

        No grain of truth. I worked with this person for about 3 months more than 5 years ago. We interacted maybe once a week and it was very basic work.

        The job they created has them working for me, interacting with my clients, doing a host of very technical tasks – continuously for 4+ years. Even better, the company they have listed does not exist (they said it’s my company… I do not have a company).

        This is not inflation or stretching the truth at all sadly.

        1. 42*

          *low whistle*

          Utter and complete shock aside, one’s gotta be somewhat impressed (?) at the size of the pendulous brass set of stones he’s toting around.

              1. Iron Nick*

                No no, this is a specifically British business/bureaucratic usage of the word “courage.” Roughly speaking, it means: “so f-ing stupid that you would have to be courageous to even consider it”

        2. UK Curious*

          Wow – maybe you should check if they’ve duplicated this info online – like Linked in and get them to correct it there as well.

          1. Jerzy*

            I’d suggest, just to be gits and shiggles, Googling a line or two from the fairy tale and seeing if you don’t find it on some resume-builder site. He may not be as creative as we’re giving him credit for.

        3. Knitting Cat Lady*


          If it were me, I’d tell him I wouldn’t do it.

          If he then started begging and/or I would tell him that any reference checker calling me would get the truth, namely that the whole thing is made up out of whole cloth.

          Seriously, Hercules would have trouble cleaning up all this bullshit!

          1. AnonaMoose*

            I might even email him back and say ‘what the hell is this sh*t? I have no idea what job you’re referring to but it’s definitely not the work that you did with me for *three months* five years ago’. This person must think they are SUPER best friends with OP to think OP would back him up that nonsense.
            I usually try to be kind but this is a situation in which I would be brutally blunt on the verge of lethal condescension. The indecency of his lack of integrity is astounding.

            What else does he lie about? And I would immediately stop including him in my social universe. Nobody has time for that.

        4. bridget*

          The only reasonable explanation I can dream up for this is if he has actually had this job for the past four years, but due to a brain slip while typing he put your name instead of the person he is actually working for. It may be possible that while writing this section, he thought in his head “oh, I should call Imaginary Manager for a reference!” and typed your name instead of the person he works for.

          When you call him and ask what’s up, this is probably the only explanation (in conjunction with immediately revising the resume and re-sending it to the prospective employer) that I would buy as anywhere near legitimate.

          1. bridget*

            Ah, nevermind. Based on the fact that this company doesn’t exist anywhere (missed that) and your info below about how it’s the same job he used to have, my best benefit-of-the-doubt situation doesn’t seem to hold water.

          2. Beezus*

            That’s what I was hoping for, too. Like, maybe the OP is Joe Johnson and his friend’s real boss is/was John Johnson, and he just brain farted and used the wrong contact info. Sounds like that isn’t it, though.

          3. Ck*

            Ah i was thinking the same thing, tryi to come up with an explanation where the guy isnt trying to lie, but is just very poor with memory/names.

    1. That Lady*

      If he comes up with a sob story, a la “I have no choice, I’m not getting jobs any other way, also my dog needs extensive plastic surgery,” please do not cave. You’re only going to harm your own professional reputation.

      1. Imaginary Manager*

        Don’t worry, I’m pretty heartless. But I agree, it’s easy to get roped into that sort of thing when emotions come into play.

        1. jamlady*

          Not heartless – normal and justifiably thrown off balance. He put you in a terrible position and it’s super gross. If any of my friends or previous coworkers did this to me, they’d definitely be getting an earful and I’d likely keep my distance from them from that point on lol

        2. AnonaMoose*

          Yes but now you know you can’t trust him with anything. Including a sob story. Flick that lying flea off your shoulder and good riddance to the idiot.

          Sorry that you got roped into this OP!

    2. Boboccio*

      You wouldn’t be the executioner by being honest. The person who chose not to hire him for being dishonest is the closest thing in this analogy to an executioner.

      Giving an honest reference does the world a favour. Do it.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Eh, I agree, but I don’t feel as strongly about it, only because a reference is supposed to be someone you chose, so a reference that never returns calls or responds to messages still leaves something of a bad impression. I know when I was a reference for one of my favorite former employees, I called a few times to try to get someone in person before I left a message (in response to a voicemail asking me for my input as a reference).

        tl;dr, I think not responding could also be appropriate.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I agree–if I’m a reference for someone, I make extra sure to be professional, etc.

          The only people I’m ever a reference for are people that I really WANT to see succeed, so I’m pretty proactive on their behalf.

          If someone I was calling to check a reference simply never responded, I’d assume it was because they were not that enthusiastic about the candidate. And I’d wonder why they were on the list, and it could hurt the candidate. I’d wonder if the candidate was stupid to put them down.
          Sure, the person could be on vacation or sick leave, but I’d be alert at the very least.

        2. manybellsdown*

          I asked two different people if they’d be a reference recently. Both of them said “Sure I’d love to!” One of them never bothered returning the call, and the other one told the interviewer she didn’t know who I was. O.o

          All I could do was apologize and find two new references! And I hadn’t fabricated anything either!

          1. esra*

            Did you follow up with the one who said she didn’t know you? I always wonder what goes through people’s minds when they do things like that.

            1. manybellsdown*

              She never replied to my follow-up email. Honestly, though, when I thought about it later it wasn’t that surprising. She runs a very hectic educational program and is in private practice on the side. I think she just doesn’t have the spoons to keep up with people that aren’t either working with her or in her program. Between the time I talked to her and the time the interviewer called, she probably really HAD forgotten who I was!

        3. Ad Astra*

          If it were me, I’d ignore the reference calls this time and make it crystal clear that any future reference checkers will get the whole ugly truth.

      2. KT*

        I would absolutely tell the prospective employer. They deserve to have a full picture of the character of people they’re surveying

    3. Creag an Tuire*

      Did the guy list the actual work he did with you anywhere? Is that more-or-less factual? (Just curious.)

      I’m also surprised the advice wasn’t an unequivocal “nuke the reference”. If you want to be “nice” about it and leave open the 0.1% chance this is all a sitcom-level mixup, you could give a positive reference that makes it -exceedingly- clear that you haven’t worked together in years and you weren’t his manager.

      1. Imaginary Manager*

        Kind of, yes. The actual job we shared is listed. The responsibilities are inflated and the duration of the job is 4x longer than reality. But it is on there…

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Is he really naive enough to think prospective employers aren’t going to find out your company doesn’t exist when doing background checks? Seriously I know people that honestly think they can get away with that. Maybe point that out to him.

        2. afiendishthingy*

          So then there’s no chance he somehow accidentally listed your name next to a different job he held somewhere else?

    4. The IT Manager*

      Honestly I would respond to the reference checker and tell the truth. You could “play dumb” about the lie and talk about how you worked with him as a co-worker several years ago which would not jive with the resume the reference checker has in front of her or you could say it has come to your attention that the resume she’s seen has inaccurate information in it.

      This guy lied directly to you, though, when he spun a tail about why you’re getting this call when the real answer is the reference checker believes that you’re his current manager. And he’s trying to guilt you into complicity and lying for him by giving you the resume so you know what lie you’re supposed to tell. (He could have left you in the dark and hoped that the reference check was vague enough that his lie would not come out.) I’d be insulted enough by the expectation that I would be willing to compromise my integrity for him to out his lies to the reference checker. Although it might not teach him not to do it again, it would teach him not to involve you in the lie again.

      1. JMegan*

        It sounds to me like he’s going for “asking for forgiveness rather than permission.” And laying all the groundwork to make it as easy as possible for the OP to back him up.

        I’m with OhNo, in that I bet this isn’t the first time he’s done something like this. Yikes.

    5. OhNo*

      Did anything like this come up when you worked with him the first time around? Any weird references or odd resume quirks? I don’t know if you hired him when you worked together before, but I have a hard time imagining this is the first time he’s done this if he’s that blatant about it.

      1. Imaginary Manager*

        I didn’t hire this guy during our brief stink together and this is a first for me. But I’ve had hunches about him that make this not all that surprising. I’d imagine he’s told me similar lies in the past, I’ve just never caught on.

    6. Amber Rose*

      No… unless it happens again. I think it’s worth emphasizing that you won’t say anything this time but if you get another call, all bets are off. And write this mess off to a hopefully temporary lapse in judgement/sense.

      I’ve had friends lie as references for me before so I can’t judge the guy too much for that, but trying to rope you in without your consent and input is Not OK on a few levels.

        1. MLT*

          Agree! I hired someone off of an exaggerated resume and a reference who turned out to be a good friend if his. Couldn’t do the job… firing was ugly.

    7. Kate*

      Honestly, I’d be tempted to just tell the reference when they call nope, this is all totally made up bullshit, I worked with this guy for a few months five years ago. Why do him the favor of just missing the reference checker’s call?

      (It’s possible I’m biased on this because I’m a manager and I’m hiring right now, but I hate the idea of someone this sketchy getting hired.)

      1. F.*

        As a hiring manager, I would want to know the TRUTH about this guy’s character. There are many reasons for not giving a reference, and some of them are completely innocuous, but in this case giving no reference may be giving the potential employer a false impression of the guy, almost like a lie by omission. (NOT that I’m calling the OP a liar!)

      2. Lizzie*

        I do absolutely no hiring, but I’d tell the truth too. If it were me, I’d want to know what kind of applicant they really are.

      3. LeRainDrop*

        I agree with this 100%. We had a horrible employee who was fired in the last year, but due to legal settlement, we cannot give any negative feedback about him. Well, despite his firing for poor performance, he STILL put my manager on his reference list, fudged his employment dates, and totally BS-ed the job description to significantly inflate his responsibilities and accomplishments. His cover letter even says that he always received positive evaluations here, which is a flat out lie since I gave one written review (and saw others) that were quite directly critical of several aspects of his performance. Anyway, my manager got calls from a number of prospective employers, but all she could do was refer them to HR to identify his dates of employment. (Presumably that at least tipped them off to the fact of the lie about the dates.) We were all so frustrated that we couldn’t just tell the prospective employers to RUN AWAY!!!

    8. LQ*

      (Always awesome when the OP shows up to respond to questions so thank you!)

      I guess I feel a little more tense about this than some of the others. I’ve been burned by bad reference checks. (The person wasn’t honest and then later was like oh yeah, he was horrible and super lied, and he ran a business I worked at into the ground.) I’d prefer honesty, especially if the person asking for the reference is someone you’ll have to work with in the future.

    9. Imaginary Manager*


      I have an email drafted to the hiring manager (they called as well as emailed me). It doesn’t go into a ton of detail, but does enough to explain that the resume is a lie. I keep going back and forth on sending, but am 87% sure I will hit send.

      1. fposte*

        I think that’s where I’d end up myself. It’s so egregious that I don’t think it deserves a pass, it’s so horrible that I don’t want to be remotely perceived as complicit, and it also sounds like he might be claiming some of your achievements as his own? There’s assholery in there as well as lying.

      2. Book Person*

        Originally I read this as your fabricating ex-colleague called you and asked you to be a reference, then included the work of fiction that is his resume. In that instance, I could see just declining to be a reference (with the recommended icy tone) or dodging the calls.

        But no, he either assumed you’d happily prop up his dishonesty or wouldn’t notice (?!??!) how far from the truth the resume actually was. The presumption of that much good will (or just utter lack of forethought) in addition to a whopper of a resume falsification would lead me to send that email without any regrets. If he’d wanted the assurance that you’d be a good reference, he could have asked you in advance (or, preferably, been honest with his application).

        1. KJR*

          This is the part that is the strangest to me. So he sends this completely fabricated resume, and just…expects you to go along with it? With no explanation? Maybe he thinks you would be flattered that he gave you your own company? I thought I’d heard everything, but this seriously takes the cake.

      3. Adonday Veeah*

        As an HR person, I totally believe in HR karma. (It’s a thing, really. Look it up. I’ll wait…) I would not be able to live with myself if I didn’t let these folks know who/what they were potentially hiring.

      4. Katie the Fed*

        That’s the right call. This guy doesn’t deserve your leniency. He’s just flat-out lying, and he’s willing to put your name and reputation at risk to do so.

        1. Ann*

          “…he’s willing to put your name and reputation at risk to do so.”

          This is the tipping point for me. At first, I thought he just wanted you to support his lies, but by listing a position at your fictitious company he’s made you complicit in his lies without so much as a by-your-leave.

          1. madge*

            Yes, this. It’s *so* blatant that I can’t imagine a scenario that properly explains it. A poster above came close with the mixed-up names, but OP cleared that as a possibility.

            I feel for the guy in this job market but I feel *more* for the hiring manager that inherits this hot mess (and the good candidates who miss out because of his lies).

            Hit send and know you did the right thing.

      5. MLT*

        If you are responding in writing, be very careful that you only state facts. Your email could be shared. Sometimes a phone call is a less complicated choice.

        1. Anonymous Pterodactyl*

          Yes, the idea that occurred to me was that he could be trying to so blatantly provoke the OP into giving him a bad reference so that he can use it as fuel for… what? A discrimination/harassment/defamation claim?

          That’s the only thing besides sheer stupidity (which, thanks Hanlon’s Razor, is definitely still an option) that I can think of that would lead him to do this.

      6. stellanor*

        If you want to be very circumspect about exposing him you can just tell them you’re not comfortable providing a reference because you only worked with him for Shorter Amount Of Time Than He Claims back in Year That Was A While Ago.

    10. Kyrielle*

      Unless he’s someone you want to keep as a friend, I absolutely *would* respond to the reference request. The hiring manager deserves to know this….

      1. stellanor*

        I had a friend list me as a personal reference for a job without mentioning it to me, and I barely wanted to keep her as a friend by the end of that! I had to ask the reference checker to call me back later so I could call her up and ask her who in god’s name she gave my phone number to and why.

        Protip: Maybe don’t give as a personal reference someone you’ve stood up repeatedly and who knows you were fired for no-call no-showing at your last several jobs..?

    11. Chameleon*

      Don’t worry about being the reason he doesn’t get hired. Remember that if they give him the job, not only are they getting a dishonest and unqualified employee, but some honest and qualified person is not getting the job.

      1. Dana*

        I was having a hard time making up my mind about whether to out him or just ignore the call, but you’re absolutely right! He would be taking a job away from someone else that presumably has integrity. When you put it like that, I’m all on team Truth.

    12. Ad Astra*

      I liked Alison’s balanced approach. You make it clear that the situation he put you in is totally uncool, and do him one last kindness by ignoring the reference call instead of telling the whole truth.

      I’m trying to think of some situation in which this would be a mistake or a misunderstanding, but I’m coming up blank. But it’s wise to give him a chance to explain, just in case.

  2. Katie the Fed*

    Ugh, I had a guy working for me at one point who sent me his resume for some reason I can’t remember. It was full of egregious embellishments – there was NUGGET of truth in all of them but he was a master self-promoter and embellished to the point of straining credulity. I told him I couldn’t control what he put on his resume if he was applying to things outside of my purview at some point, but that if anyone ever called me to check I would have to tell them that his description was highly embellished.

    He was a sleazeball.

    1. Lou*

      Embellishers are usually great narcissists and have sociopathic qualities. They can easily charm people.

  3. RaneBoe Bright*

    Who did he think he was going to fool?
    What (other than a job) did he plan to get from this?
    Where in the hell did he get this advice/idea?
    When is he going to realize this is bad business?
    Why cant his real accomplishments/jobs stand on their own merit?
    How in the hell did he think is OP can be a reference to this?

  4. Allison*

    I’d be really interested to know how OP’s buddy has to say for himself. I’d predict a lot of begging: “Ah come on, man, you gotta help me out! I really need this” . . . and maybe a splash of “everyone’s doing this nowadays, it’s not a big deal.”

    1. OhNo*

      I’m also really curious what his justification would be. I could kind of understand fabricating a position that cites some other random person as manager (who is conveniently “unavailable” for a reference), but the idea of citing someone as manager and then expecting them to vouch for the lie, with no prior approval or even warning is just… so far beyond what I can comprehend that I really wonder what this guy was thinking.

      1. Jake*

        Many think a reference is as simple as, “are they a good worker?”

        As such, they think they can lie about the true relationship they have with folks without the reference noticing. Sadly, they are right some of the time. This guy just got unlucky and ran into somebody that puts effort into being a reference.

        1. Allison*

          Maybe they assumed OP would hear their buddy’s name and immediately play along to help the guy out.

          1. Three Thousand*

            That would be my guess. He assumed the OP would figure it out and wouldn’t screw him, because you don’t do that to a friend.

    2. Annie*

      I know someone who argued that because the work was something they COULD do, it didn’t matter that they hadn’t actually DONE it.

      1. Allison*

        That sound . . . that sound you’re hearing right now? That’s me banging my head against the wall . . .

    3. Elizabeth West*

      Your last quote was almost exactly what someone who recommended I embellish my resume suggested. “Oh my friends do this all the time; they lie on all their resumes and then learn whatever it was when they get hired!” UM NO.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      “No, I don’t have to help you out. No one HAS to provide references for anyone.”

      “I understand you really need this, but I cannot help you.”

      “My name is not “Everyone”, my name is [OP’s name].”

      “I am sorry, I cannot stay on the phone and debate this with you. I must return to work. Good- bye.”

  5. Jubilance*

    Wow…this is bizarre. I’m shocked that someone would do this.

    I would probably give a reference about this person to the reference checker – I’d keep it objective but truthful. If they asked me to elaborate on things, I’d share about the untruths in his resume. I don’t think you have an obligation to keep his lie going, especially when he didn’t even give you a heads up about it.

    1. CanadianDot*

      My husband used to work for a company called Vandelay Systems. (They’ve since changed their name.) When he mentioned to people where he worked, a number of people would ask him if he was sure about that.

    2. Creag an Tuire*

      I didn’t even know about that episode and I was already assuming OP’s acquaintance was George Costanza.

      GEORGE: We worked together a few years ago, I assumed I could use you as a reference.
      JERRY: This resume says I’m your manager.
      GEORGE: I embellished a little. Everybody does it.
      JERRY: Embellished? George, this says I own a company. I don’t own any companies, George.
      GEORGE: But if you did own a company, you would’ve hired me, right?
      JERRY: I don’t own a company!
      GEORGE: If you did! In an alternate universe where you owned a company you would be my manager, right?
      JERRY: An alternate universe? What is this, Star Trek?
      GEORGE: An alternate universe!
      JERRY: You want me to give you a reference based on work you did in alternate universe?
      GEORGE: I would like that, yes. I was a model employee, as you can see.
      JERRY: Shouldn’t I give the reference to the other George? The alternate universe George? With the goatee?
      GEORGE: We’re both the same George, Jerry!
      JERRY: You think you’re entitled to the other George’s reference?
      GEORGE: I think I am entitled, yes! We got your 2-bit company off the ground, Jerry! We gave you the best years of our life!
      JERRY: I don’t know George, this all sounds pretty dishonest.

      1. DMC*

        This brings up a good point. Under quantum theory, all possibilities actually occur, so perhaps he isn’t really lying?

          1. BeenThere*

            Now I’m not going to sleep tonight, this paradox is going to run around my head, in addition to the usual but on what level of granularity would all possibilities occur. e.g. is it all sub atomic particle movements… which in theory are infinite on their own…

          2. Marcela*

            No, not really. Because it’s not possibilities in the sense of chances, but different combinations of the distinct outcomes of a given situation.

      2. Three Thousand*

        This is so spot-on I can literally hear the characters saying the lines in my head. I refuse to believe you’re not a television writer.

    3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      Which, of course was the first thing I thought of. Vandelay Industries, job: marine biologist.

  6. LaraW*

    I remember years ago getting a call from a former employee who had been fired for a long list of reasons. When she called me telling me she had been interviewing and someone would be calling for a reference, she wanted to know what I would say as the reason she left. She had told the hiring manager she had been let go for budgetary reasons. I just kind of sat there on the phone without saying anything while she went on and on about how budget was part of the reason she was let go. Yeah, no.

    1. OfficePrincess*

      There wasn’t room in the budget to pay a crap employee AND someone else to do the job. Budgetary reasons. Yup.

  7. BRR*

    I’m stuck on making up complete lies that involve you and using you as a reference and not contacting you in any way that I can’t even get to how awful this person is. Like if you’re going to do something so deceitful, they’re not even doing it right. Like if you kill someone, wear gloves.

    1. Muriel Heslop*

      “If you kill someone, wear gloves.”

      Totally stealing this. How I have worked with teenagers for twenty years and not had this?

      1. BRR*

        The LW’s reference to the employer could be how terrible this person’s attention to detail is. That they didn’t even contact the LW about fabricating a resume.

        1. fposte*

          Real lack of followthrough, communication problems…you could really just kill it based on the workflow issues alone without even getting to the nuclear “Oh, and plus it’s all made up.”

    2. OhNo*

      I can’t but but think that he DIDN’T use the OP as a reference, and that the hiring manager did what exactly they should do and called someone off the reference list for a quick double-check. Which would mean at this point the liar is just trying to cover their a**.

      This is just a guess, of course. But something like this would make me VERY suspicious of where else this resume may have been used that the OP hasn’t heard about yet.

      1. BRR*

        Ah that’s definitely a possibility and would make more sense. Although not thrilled the hiring manager would have then called a current manager without notifying the employee but I think since that’s a possibility within a possibility I need to not think too much into this before I get a headache haha.

        1. OhNo*

          We might be getting into some deep levels of possibility recursion here, but you have a point about calling the (supposedly) current manager.

          If the OP decides to call the reference checker back for any reason, it may be a good idea to ask them whether the friend gave their name, or whether the hiring manager called on their own. If nothing else, it would give OP an idea about exactly how blatant their friend is being with their lies.

      2. blackcat*

        Since OP says above that the resume lists a made up company, I wonder if Liar was hoping listing OP as a reference would prevent the company from using Google…

        1. Imaginary Manager*

          I’m trying to hard to keep things anonymous here, so forgive me… but the company name they gave does correspond to a website of mine. But it has zero to do with the job they invented, is not attached to a company and it would be very obvious if they google’d it.

          It’s like if you said you worked for Slender Man.

          1. Creag an Tuire*

            Plot Twist: The applicant -actually- worked for Slender Man for the past 4 years, but can’t tell anyone. He’s in a real bind, poor fellow.

          2. Masky*

            * stalked major YouTube bloggers, increasing sleepless nights 75%
            * founded and oversaw popular forest ambush program
            * dry cleaning

    3. Imaginary Manager*


      The most disappointing part of all of this is either:
      A) The lack of thought that went into it (“wear gloves”)
      B) The fact that when they sent me their resume, the email said “just for reference!”

      The latter seems to indicate that he expected I would just go along with this like it’s a normal thing to do.

      1. Artemesia*

        Wow. I would be willing for a little vague and a little embellishment for an excellent co-worker or a very good friend — but making up a history of whole cloth? Wow. It is one thing to laud what an excellent employee your perfectly adequate co-worker is and quite another to have to run a made up company. Wow.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        When you rewrite history, it helps to send along Cliff Notes so others can be on the same page.

  8. Retail Lifer*

    Do you think he has you confused with someone else? Or maybe transposed some names and phone numbers on his application?

    1. Imaginary Manager*

      0.0% chance. I know him well enough to know that he doesn’t have a ton of people who might consider being a reference. And my real name is very unique, could not be anyone else.

      Plus the job description on the resume basically explains what I do for a living, and just has the applicant inserted into it.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        Wait, so he lied on his resume AND stole your credentials/position? That takes stealing credit to a whole new (low) level!

      2. neverjaunty*

        He’s probably convinced himself you don’t remember at all, and that if you look at his resume you’ll go “oh, okay, I guess that’s what must have happened.”

      3. Beezus*

        Maybe you should apply for this job! It seems like they’d consider you well-qualified enough to get to the end stages, anyway! lol

      4. Not So NewReader*

        You could tell him to let you know if you get the job. (Okay, this guy is getting under my skin a bit. I am usually very careful to state what my actual experience has been and this really irks me. I lost THE job that had my name all over it because I would not lie and say I had X experience. My competition had X experience. It was fair but sad all in the same stroke.)

      5. madge*

        What?! Whoa. Please, please tell us you sent that email referenced above. (Also, I’m dying to know what you wrote but I understand you might not want to share that.)

        How does he walk around with those brass ones?

  9. Meg Murry*

    The only, only way I could see this being even a tiny bit ok is if the resume writer had in fact worked for the OP in 2011, and the 2011-present part was true at the time of the resume writing (say, if someone pulled an old resume off Monster and cold called you for an interview based on that).

    I am slightly confused as to the pronouns here, but I think what it is saying is that OP and the reference checker (potential employer, referred to as “she”) had worked together a few years back, and that is why the resume writer (potential employee, referred to as “he”) is asking OP to be a reference – because he was concerned the potential employer was going to call, not because he submitted her name as an official reference.

    I think if OP has any kind of professional relationship with the potential employer, or will in the future (I work in a small industry where even once I moved on from a big company, I am still working in supplier/customer relationships with other co-workers who have also moved on, it’s just the nature of the industry) OP owes it to the potential employer to alert them to the fact that their potential hire is flat out lying. If it comes out later that OP dodged them when they were calling about this liar and he is a terrible employee, it could look bad for OP.

    However, I will admit to dodging a reference call rather than give a former co-worker a mediocre reference, so I can understand OP wanting to just skip this one, but if she is concerned at all about her relationship with the reference checker I think she needs to make the call.

    1. fposte*

      No, the reference checker and the employee are two different people. Reference checker called, OP said huh and reached out to former colleague, who sent OP a resume full of fiction.

    2. KSM*

      “I am slightly confused as to the pronouns here, but I think what it is saying is that OP and the reference checker (potential employer, referred to as “she”) had worked together a few years back, and that is why the resume writer (potential employee, referred to as “he”) is asking OP to be a reference ”

      As far as I can tell, Former Manager contacted Dishonourable Employee AFTER they got an unexpected reference check from Possible Future Employers. The Dishonourable Employee didn’t real ‘ask’ anything at all.

  10. Meg Murry*

    Oh, well that changes thing a little. I thought the “she” was the reference checker, and someone YOU had worked with in the past. In that case, my advice downthread is not as relevant.

    Basically, if he is applying somewhere completely outside of your industry, I think you are ok in dodging this one. If he is applying somewhere where you might interact with the potential employer in the future, I think you should call back and tell them he is lying. Or if you wanted to be a little sly-er about it, I guess you could go with the “we only verify dates of employment and titles” so that when the person says “Ok, so Bob worked for you from 2011 to present” you can say “No, that’s not true” and play dumb to the idea that you had seen his resume with the lies on it.

    Either way, I think you need to tell him that you will not serve as a reference for him, and that he should remove the false claim that he is working for you from his resume, because next time someone calls you will tell the reference checker that his resume is false.

    1. Imaginary Manager*

      This job is not in my industry, zip code, extended circle, etc. But, the resume that was fabricated indicates they very much DO work in my industry. The applicant does NOT have the skills his resume claims, so I’d hope he would avoid applying for jobs that require otherwise. But you never know, there’s a chance someone I know could call on a reference for him.

  11. Almond Milk Latte*

    Unpopular opinion: I’ve done this for friends of mine. My uber-nerdy friend of 15 years who’s trying to strike out on his own as an IT guy? Sure, I’ll tell people he set me up with a VPN for the small business that I legitimately did have, because I know he would/could if I asked him to, and he threw quite a few bones over the fence to my business many moons ago.

    The difference is that A, I wasn’t voluntold to do this, and B, I’d legit vouch for his skills. OP’s friend doesn’t get it :/

    1. Anon-167*

      I would definitely do that for a friend, too, if I knew for sure they had skills and they were just having trouble finding someone to vouch for that fact. But I think you’re absolutely right that the OP’s friend doesn’t seem to see the difference between using a vetted, partial untruth from a volunteer source and out-and-out lying.

      Honestly, if I were in the OP’s position, I would give the (incredibly negative) reference just based on that alone. He needs to learn that this is NOT okay, and I suspect that a verbal dressing down from the OP isn’t going to do it.

    2. LBK*

      I’m gnawing on this question myself – whether I would lie for a friend in a work situation – and I think I’m still landing on the no side. The reason being that while I might have bendable ethics outside of work and would probably be more willing to jeopardize my personal reputation for a friendship, my friends know that I take my professional reputation extremely seriously. No one that I’d be keen on keeping as a friend would put me in the position of choosing between them and my professional integrity, ergo I wouldn’t have a problem declining the request at the risk of the friendship.

      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

        ^ this.

        I was chatting with my boss one day and mentioned I was thinking about recommending a friend for a position that was not what she had been doing, but completely in her wheelhouse.

        My boss had a very frank conversation with me about what her performance could have on my professional reputation. That conversation has always stuck with me.

    3. Imaginary Manager*

      I get what you’re saying and can empathize. In this instance, not so much. Important details left out of the OP is that this guy is not at all qualified to do the work he claims he’s been doing for years.

      It’s like, a shipping coordinator saying they do structural engineering work. No offense to shipping coordinators (I was one once!). That’s how much they are stretching on the resume.

    4. Kelly L.*

      I would make up an actual position and have them work it before I’d lie about it. I’d pay him some money to set me up with a VPN for real and then let him put it on his resume, if I had the funds.

      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

        When I was starting my freelance gig, I “worked” for free for friends and family to build up a roster of clientele.

    5. Chocolate lover*

      I wouldn’t lie as a reference for anyone, friends, family or otherwise. I’m not putting myself in the awkward position of coming up with a thorough lie, but more importantly, it violates my personal code of conduct. If you haven’t actually done it, I’m never going to be comfortable saying that you *can* do it, because I can’t vouch for it, I’d just be assuming.

      1. Lizzie*

        This. I don’t lie *to* people I care about, and I also don’t lie *for* them. If they want a personal reference, I’ll give it. If they need a professional reference, I’ll help them figure out who to call for them, because it’s not me.

    6. Jen S. 2.0*

      I’m actually with you. I might stretch the truth a teeny bit for a close friend or family member IF we agreed together on what would be said, and IF I knew I was describing something well within the person’s abilities and wheelhouse. But this applicant is just beyond the pale.

    7. Not So NewReader*

      Why not just say, “I have seen Friend do x, y, and z. There is no doubt in my mind that he can do ABC, also.” Then go on to talk about what you know for a fact about Friend.

      I had one reference get asked, “Can NSNR teach?” Instead of just saying yes or no, my reference launched into a good story and clinched the job for me. (Yea, Reference!) As an aside, I think one thing that influenced HR is that my reference and I both spoke of each other with kind words and admiration. She was impressed with that. Never underestimate the influences at play when you are talking just in general terms about your friend.

  12. Episkey*

    This is bizarre. What would have happened if you had answered the call and the reference-checker started asking you about “your” employee? You would have been all, “What are you talking about?” And everything would have gone downhill from there.

    The only thing that makes sense is what someone upthread said — that he did NOT list you as a reference (maybe asked for his “current manager” to not be contacted) and the reference checker did anyway?

  13. Anxiety Gal*

    What the heck does this guy think is going to happen? That the OP will say ok, sure, no problem? Or is this a scapegoat type of thing, where if he doesn’t get the job, it’s the OP’s fault?

    I’d be curious what he has on various social media profiles.

    1. Shell*

      I’m sure it says something (not sure what though) about me that I don’t find mustering up an arctic tone challenging at all. Mine’s a combination of disdain and frosty righteousness. Add in an eyebrow raise and a bit of a drawl and yeah…

      The actual script/words, though, are harder. :)

      1. Sigrid*

        Apparently I get a “terrifying little smile” when I’m delivering a deserved chewing out. I’ve been told it’s much more frightening than if I kept a neutral face. It’s completely unconscious on my part.

    2. Carpe Librarium*

      When someone mentions ‘cold tone’ I immediately think of the “Australian Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison message about unacceptable behaviour” video on YouTube.

      P.S. Sorry if this posts twice, I included a link to the video in my initial comment and not sure if it got caught by the spam filter or is just awaiting moderation.

  14. Weasel007*

    I often wonder how many reference calls don’t get returned because the reference doesn’t want to touch it with a 39 and a half foot pole.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          “You have all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile…”

          (Totally stuck in my head, now, too.)

  15. Arjay*

    Trying to make sense out of this nonsense is probably pointless, but is there any chance that the fictionalized resume he sent to you, OP, is not the one he submitted for the job? I don’t know why he’d have created such a document, but that’s the only benefit of the doubt I can come up with.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      I bet the liar submitted the resume hoping that the work history was never verified. He only talked to the LW and forwarded the resume after the LW had already been contacted for a reference.

      1. Artemesia*

        But why would he do that. If I had made up this lying resume, I would respond to my friend the reference with an email citing some other, probably fake, experience and tell him that I had included him because the work we did in the past is closely related to this job and I hoped he could mention how stellar my work was in Teapot Oragami. If he didn’t see me lying about working for him, he might well be willing to say ‘hey Artemesia did a nice job with a Teapot Oragami project we had during the time we worked together’ if it was not baldly untrue. He might never realize my lie.

        Why would he send a copy of the resume which so baldly lied? Just weird. Which makes me wonder if he literally is confused about who the OP is. Either that or totally nuts. Psychopaths are usually more competent than this.

  16. Lizabeth*

    This guy has screwed up his karma seven ways to Sunday with this stunt (or is it stink?) It will come back on him big time. Know that is a comfort but it sure would be nice to witness it.

  17. Career Counselorette*

    I think I’ve told the story before about how I helped my sister out once by showing her my resume as a sample (we do very, very different work), and then a few months later she wanted me to look at her friend’s resume, where I found… my summary of qualifications. When I asked my sister about it she was like, “Yeah… I showed her mine, which was based on yours, so…”

    Much later, the same friend’s husband applied for a part-time position at my organization, and his resume seemed to show him working like three full-time jobs simultaneously. My co-workers were concerned that he wouldn’t stay in our position, and I even asked him to review the job description and decide if he was sure he wanted to do it on top of everything else. When I asked my sister about his three full-time jobs, she was like, “What? He doesn’t do any of those jobs.” I told my sister she needs different friends.

  18. Serin*

    I can’t help feeling that in some way this whole stunt will hurt the letter writer’s reputation somehow, though I can’t think of any concrete examples.

    For that reason — not for vindicitiveness, but for self-protection — if it were me, I would reply to the reference call and say, “He made that entire job up. I don’t own a business and I haven’t spoken to him in five years.”

    1. Kyrielle*

      This, or if that’s too strong, call them up and say, “I’d be happy to talk to you about what I know about Cecil, but I don’t remember a lot of details, considering it’s been five years.”

      …that will open the can of worms without even mentioning you’ve seen the resume, if you prefer to play it that way.

      1. Lefty*

        I like this… OP could even elaborate on that, “I’d be happy to talk to you about what I know about Cecil, but I don’t remember a lot of details, considering we only worked together at Choco Teapots, LTD for 3 motnhs and it’s been five years.” It gives the reference checking caller enough to realize that something is off without OP needing to deny or defend anything.

  19. Dulcinea*

    Not sure if anyone has said this, but: this person’s actions are so totally bizarre- sending you a material fabrication that you would know was false- that I think it’s worth hearing their explanation before contacting their potential new employer. Take the explanation with a few grains of salt, obviously, but hear them out. I can’t think of a reasonable explanation myself, but give them a chance. (Have your BS detector set on extra sensitive though).

  20. _ism_*

    Here is where I admit I have done this before and tried it again because it worked the first time. (I am a recovering Bad Person.) It didn’t work the second time.

      1. _ism_*

        I will say that isn’t the worst I’ve ever done. I haven’t said it here before but I am a recovering addict of sorts. I hit rock bottom at age 33 and am basically starting my career from scratch, in a very terrible part of the country. When I was young I job hopped a lot for so many complicated, but ultimately personal reasons. I’m now trying to build credibility and experience.

        1. JMegan*

          Good for you, for seeing the need to start over, and for actually doing it. I hope everything goes well for you!

  21. some1*

    I don’t mean this snarky, but why not just confront him as soon as possible when he sent the fake resume? “Uh, what is this? You don’t work for me and I don’t own a company.” You’ve been managing people for a few years, and you’ve caught someone in a lie?

  22. Not Karen*

    Hmm… I wonder if the reference checker is already suspicious and is calling to verify their suspicions.

  23. NDQ*

    I’m not really surprised, people lie on government submittals often. They leave out details like misdemeanor DUIs (oh, I thought it was asking for felonies), jail/prison time, or blame the person who filled out the form for not including all the pesky details.

    I think I have a good “this is a problem” tone, but Alison’s recording is making me want to get it a bit colder.


  24. Ck*

    Definitely reach out to the guy to see whats up – I wonder if it’s possible the guy is confusing you for someone else that he actually *did* all those things for…

    It’s the only possible reason i can think of that can be attributed to a terrible memory and failing to verify facts rather than purposefully lying…

  25. Not So NewReader*

    Liar emailed the resume to OP- so why not hit reply and say, “I will not be able to provide a reference for you.” No explanations, no lectures, nothing.

    If he asks why, then go with what Alison is saying. You have a 50-50 chance that he will not have the audacity to ask why and he might just crawl/slither away.

  26. A Wild Salaryman Appears!*

    I’d hate the game, not the player.

    HR pulls all sorts of stupid stunts due to poor training, like when various states had to actually enact laws that say “No HR, you can’t refuse to ever hire the unemployed to CYA” because when this became standard practice locally (swapping “tips” at the local SHRM meetings, maybe?) huge swathes of laid off employees were basically becoming HR untouchables.

    Is it dishonest? Certainly. But it’s more dishonest the same way that a homeless person sleeping on a bench that doesn’t belong to them is dishonest, or a raccoon stealing your food while camping is dishonest — as a reaction to an urgent need, not dishonest like a CEO paying themselves a big bonus while their company is going bankrupt is dishonest.

    My guess is that the forger is probably getting pretty desperate if they are pulling a stunt like this — I’d touch base with them to find out what’s going on. Have they been evicted? Are they at risk of losing their kids? What is inspiring them to take these stupid and desperate measures?

    1. ArtsNerd*

      I strongly disagree. I can think of a couple people who would pull a stunt like this simply because they have a deep, unshakeable sense of entitlement and don’t understand that integrity is important–especially if it gets in the way of something they “deserve.” And they’d be so focused on acquiring whatever it was that they want, that they don’t even seem to realize that their tracks need to be covered with more than a half-assed dust.

      Especially if they hadn’t suffered any serious consequences of past deceptions.

      (Separately, see the poster above who admits to trying this… twice. Plus the comment from the OP where she says she’s not entirely surprised.)

      1. Kate R. Pillar*

        I asked myself this as well, and came up with at least one relevant hit (Quoting here, and putting the link in the next comment):

        “The New York City Council on Mar. 13 passed a law forbidding employers from discriminating against job applicants who are unemployed. It is the first law in the country to provide a private cause of action for people who are refused employment because they lack a job. “

    2. AW*

      But then why not explain that to the OP in the email? Or even ask for the OP’s help before using this resume? Desperation may explain lying on a resume but it doesn’t cover the lack of explanation to the OP.

      1. A Wild Salaryman Appears!*

        My guess for this would be that they are ashamed — for a lot of people, their self-worth is tied up to their employability. Going to their friend and telling them that they just received an eviction notice, or that their spouse is leaving them because they can’t provide for their family, and they feel like all their other options are exhausted but to cheat… that’s like going up to your friend and admitting that you are a worthless piece of trash human being, and are finally coming in to your own. Given the reactions from so many on this post, I can understand the reluctance.

    3. fposte*

      I’ve been playing the game for a long time, and I’ve never encountered a decent player who’d have to cheat to win.

      1. A Wild Salaryman Appears!*

        People dislike cognitive dissonance; they don’t like to see themselves as the bad guys. This is just as true for us as it is for the forger.

        Let me ask you a question; have you ever gotten a job due to good “cultural fit”? Or one where if you were harshly honest with yourself, you would recognize that from an objectives skills metric, you were simply competent for the job rather than an expert, but were given a shot due to your network?

        If you went to college, were you able to take unpaid internships during the summer, or did your family need you to work to help them out?

        Have you ever had to take a job with a high turnover rate due to the management, not because you weren’t aware but because financial pressures meant that even a resume-risky job was better than no job? (If so, were you fired from that job like your predecessors had been?)

        What I’m trying to get at is that there are a lot of ambiguous actions that people like to see as being good or bad “gamesmanship” that others might not agree with, either due to their starting position or due to actions which look different depending on where you are viewing them from, sort of like how a business who avoids paying taxes due to using tax loopholes sees itself as having “business savvy” while others may merely see someone not paying their fair share.

        I think it’s important to keep the context in mind with these sorts of issues; that’s why I’d recommend the OP reach out and find what’s wrong.

          1. A Wild Salaryman Appears!*

            The reason a person might never have encountered “a decent player who had to cheat to win” might be because the starting position of their peers was so nice to begin with that it never really crossed anyone’s mind to “cheat”. That’s a little different than never cheating because they were particularly skilled or virtuous — unless they really screwed up somehow, everything was already taken care of.

            For some people, the rat-race was never really a race — just a “rite of passage” to justify their roles to themselves and the world for positions that had already been reserved for them by their backgrounds and networks.

            Now a person can’t control who their parents were , and life has never been fair, and I personally am not a fan of “keeping people on the hook” for things they inherited from others, but an awareness of these differences and the willingness to ask questions, such as “Why would they cheat?” rather than “I never…” go a long way towards fostering healthy exchanges.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              Nope. It’s true that many people in this world have a privilege they’re not even aware of that gives them an advantage they can’t see. But your justifying this guy with no clues there to support your suppositions makes me wonder if even you believe that’s what’s going on here.

              I watched a number of my classmates walk into doors kicked open for them by their connections. My family was in absolutely no position to give me a leg up into any field of any kind. But I’ve never done this kind of thing. I could forgive someone in desperate circumstances for exaggerating their accomplishments a bit, but this kind of out and out fabrication is inexcusable–and, as others have said–often resorted to by people who aren’t desperate, just lacking in integrity.

        1. neverjaunty*

          This is a logical fallacy I can’t remember the proper name of, but boils down to: because some actions may be in a gray area or are legitimate ways to try and game the system, it’s just plain not OK to judge somebody for out-and-out lying to try and get a job.

      2. NickelandDime*

        Agreed. Typing out lies on paper and sending it to someone with the assumption they will not only go along with it, but lie as well – because the OP would have to lie, doesn’t speak of desperation to me. This wasn’t a little bit of embellishment.

  27. LadyCop*

    “I’d also say this in a freezing cold tone. Arctic cold is what you’re going for here.”

    I literally loled. Thank you for making my day!

  28. Middle Name Jane*

    I have to disagree with Alison on this one. If this person continued to list me as a reference and I received calls from reference checkers, then I would be candid with them and tell them that the resume was fabricated and that the person was not truthful.

    Not returning a reference checker’s call is cowardly. Nothing wrong with outing him as a charlatan and an ass if it’s true.

    And this person may have been a “casual friend,” but he doesn’t sound like much of a friend now to put the OP in this position. The OP owes this person nothing.

Comments are closed.