should I lie on my resume to make myself stand out?

A reader writes:

Like many people, I am desperately applying for jobs right now. I have also been frequenting job-seeker forums to get advice and tips.

One thing I keep seeing is tips on how to embellish your resume and then “cheat” the background check. For example, imagine your actual job title was “administrative assistant,” but you put “office manager” or “administrative services manager” down in your job application. Or stretching start and end dates to cover long gaps.

If you are asked to complete a background check, most employers use a third-party vendor to perform the checks. That background check company sends you a form to fill out with titles, dates, company names, etc.

The “trick” is to be 100% honest when filling out that form. Then the background checker finds no discrepancies and gives your future employer the green light on hiring you. This works because it is reportedly not uncommon for neither party to compare the information you provided the background checkers vs. what you claimed in your job application. After that, it’s easy enough to cherry-pick obliging references (assuming your future employer bothers to actually reach out in addition to the background check).

Of course, this wouldn’t work for jobs requiring security clearance, and won’t hide certain things like criminal history. But more and more people are claiming this has successfully helped them land jobs that might otherwise be out of reach.

I feel deeply uncomfortable lying this way, but at the same time, I believe I am at a disadvantage if I don’t. In a competitive job market among a sea of embellished resumes, how can an honest one stand out?

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 308 comments… read them below }

  1. Eillah*

    Short answer: no.

    Long answer: OH MY GOD, NO.

    The cost of the lie being discovered is *never* worth it.

    1. Artemesia*

      I worked at a place where a guy was summarily fired from a C level position when a fudge on his resume from over a decade earlier was discovered. As soon as this was discovered he ran up against a zero tolerance policy and was walked that day. And there was no need to have lied — it wouldn’t have mattered in his hiring.

      1. Quinalla*

        Yup, same story with someone who was fired about 6 months after he was hired for lying on his resume. I don’t know if they did a background check late or just found out somehow, but yeah, just don’t lie on your resume. If you want to clarify a weird title – just be straightforward about it. If you want to leave non-relevant jobs off your resume – no worries. But don’t lie, it isn’t worth it and there are better ways to stand out!

      2. GrumpyGnome*

        My workplace had a similar issue a few years back; an internal candidate was moving from a director role to a VP role; everything was accepted and ready to go. Just before the transition was to take place, it was discovered he lied on his resume for the VP role and he was fired that day. It’s not worth lying!

      3. Noodle kaboodle*

        Same here. C suite employee, was one semester away from graduating college and lied to get an entry level job. Got fired when they were doing a background check screening him replace the retiring CEO, flushed his career down the toilet because of a lie 25 years earlier.

        1. allathian*

          Ouch. That, I think, is a bit extreme. Still, it goes to show that even a small lie can come and bite you in the butt years later.

      4. Alice's Rabbit*

        I know a guy (dated my college roommate) who ended up in jail for lying on his application for a government job. Lying on a federal form is a serious crime.

        1. JustaTech*

          This is what I have to keep explaining to someone who really should know better. Yes, I ahve an outstanding education. But I don’t have the exact credit hours in the exact course this government job wants, and I can not fudge it, so I don’t bother applying.

          Do I think it’s silly and they’re missing out on a great employee? Sure do. But lying on the application gets me nothing but trouble.

    2. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

      I’m pretty sure every regular AAM reader saw that headline and went “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”

      1. Maggie*

        I grew up in a somewhat dysfunctional home and have had several toxic jobs. Whenever I see a title like this, I try to predict Allison’s answer. I feel like I’m growing when I know the “right” response before reading. Even I knew this answer right away. Soft ball!

    3. AcademiaNut*

      Basically, if your strategy for something can be described using the phrase “web of lies”, it’s a really bad idea.

    4. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

      I’m late to the party, but, hopping on the OMG NO train.

      I actually work for one of those third-party vendor that checks these things. We ABSOLUTELY check against every candidate’s resume, as well as the form they provided. The information we send to the client specifies a) the information we got from the employer/school/license agency/whatever; b) how that compares to the form provided; and c) how that compares to the resume. It’s not just a ‘green light’, we TELL our clients exactly what we found, and note any and all discrepancies. And we find a LOT of discrepancies.

  2. Ray Gillette*

    Short answer: no.

    Long answer: nnnnnnnnnnnnnooooooooooo.

    There is no good that can possibly come of this. I know you and lots of other people are in a bad situation, but this is not the way out.

      1. Copyright Economist*

        @Jenny,
        Is your second word “No” in Spanish? Because then you have 5 languages.

  3. MarMar*

    For my current job, I put a role on my resume but not on my background check. It was an internship for college credit instead of pay, so I didn’t think it fit the employment criteria for the background check. My recruiter at the company did email me to ask about the discrepancy (and my explanation was sufficient, so there were no issues). But yes, they do definitely cross reference.

    1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      Yeah – I listed my first teaching role as from August-August because my paychecks continued through the summer, but apparently the District listed my end date in June. I think my explanation was sufficient, but even that could have cost me a position potentially.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        In two of my last three jobs, I’ve been onboarded as a consultant. When each contract was bought out, I continued to work from the same chair at the same desk on the same computer doing the same work. The older considers my start date my hire date, the newer company considers my buyout date to be my hire date.

        Of course there’s no consistency, and no matter which set of dates, I use, I expect to have some explaining to do…

        1. Artemesia*

          I had the same issue after a merger and had to constantly ‘explain’ that my work dates were not consistent as the organization had it post merger, but I had worked there 3 years before the merger.

          1. Cobol*

            I had that happen. I list both on the job, but sometimes worry what the new company will report.

      2. Delta Delta*

        Depending on how far back the background check goes, I can see how people would have discrepancies because they’re just mistakes. I know I started a job in the fall one year. Was it the last day of August or first of September? I don’t know anymore and if I picked the wrong one it would be an honest mistake, sort of like the one you made.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          I’ve never declined a candidate or fired an employee for minor discrepancies in dates of employment or degrees, nor have I been asked to. You’re right, it’s not always possible to remember the exact date of employment, especially if we’re going back 15+ years. I also found that some colleges conferred degrees before or after the student expected – surprise, not every degree was actually conferred on the day of graduation. As long as we could verify the candidate had the employment and education creds they claimed, more or less in the month and year they gave us, we were fine.

          1. Ophelia*

            Agreed. If we’re checking degrees and such, we want to know that you graduated, but I don’t care if it was May or June. Re: dates of employment, one thing I find useful is to just keep a master file CV that has everything on it, and update it annually (mine has a bunch of consulting assignments under the umbrella of a corporate job). It makes the likelihood that I’ve written them down correctly reasonably high, and I agree that any minor discrepancies from a decade ago aren’t going to be a problem.

          2. allathian*

            That’s a relief. I’ve been in my current job for 13 years and only the two previous to that are in any way relevant to my current career. I wouldn’t want to work for an employer who cared overmuch about my spotty employment history 20 years ago. But then, I’m in a country where there’s a single-payer pension system, and the employers are responsible for providing them with accurate information about my employment history.

      3. Not This One*

        I’ve wondered how to handle this, too! For my first teaching job-change, I listed Job #1 as ending in August (because that’s when I was hired by Job #2 and gave my notice at Job #1), and for the same reason, I listed the end date of Job #2 as June 2020, with a start date of July 2020 for Job #3. In this case, it might matter somewhat less because Job #3 is just at a new school within the same school district as Job #2, so the HR records that really matter are going to show continuous employment through this period anyway. But something to consider if I leave this district all together!

    2. Oldbiddy*

      I’m so paranoid that I always list the year my PhD was conferred (Feb) instead of when I actually defended my thesis (December) even though it’s common practice to use the defense date. My vanity over getting it in 4 years is outweighed by my desire not to set off any red flags if I’m job hunting.

        1. I can only speak Japanese*

          This. My alma mater has students who cannot graduate because their profs refuse to read their theses even a year after submittal. You did YOUR job in four years.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yep, we do as well, and I had to pull an offer from someone whose background cross-reference turned up a major discrepancy for which there was not a reasonable explanation. As the hiring manager, I was not given the option to overlook it, either, HR made the call on the offer pull and essentially notified me of it. We work in a field with a code of ethics and, in some areas, the ability to acquire public trust clearance. Lying, whether by omission or inclusion of false information, is a no-go.

      That said, candidates are always contacted about any discrepancies because we’re also not pulling an offer for human error or a minor difference in date recording methodology. Stuff comes up in paperwork, especially if the background asked someone for a specific date on a job from ten years ago.

  4. a good mouse*

    I do kind of wonder what response people are expecting from letters like this. I mean, Alison isn’t going to say, “Yeah, totally great idea!” Aside from the entire point of this column, this is a ‘trick’ that only benefits the applicant, not the hiring manager or team, because you don’t have the skills or experience you’re claiming to have. Why write in?

    1. blackcat*

      One possibility: They have been told by their friend/spouse/parent to do this and they want to be able to show a letter from an expert and say “SEE! It’s a bad idea!”

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Just label it fraud, as it is, and the suggestions should go away.

        1. Altair*

          Unfortunately, then such people will argue about whether or not it actually is fraud. (ask me how I know!) There are people who are more effectively quelled by an authority figure’s statement than by logic.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            Fraud includes acquiring something of value under false pretenses. The word has a meaning.

            1. CatMintCat*

              This absolutely fits that definition of fraud. You’re obtaining something of value – a job, a position, a title, an income – under false pretences.

            2. Altair*

              Oh, you’re definitely right — I’m not disagreeing with you. I’m just pointing out that very often being right doesn’t actually end an argument with certain people.

    2. KHB*

      This doesn’t read to me like one of those “Please tell me that it’s OK to cheat” letters. Rather, it sounds like OP is asking “Is it really true that everyone cheats, and if so, how can I stand out without cheating?” And Alison has useful answers for those: 1. No, and 2. Write a good resume and cover letter, because hardly anyone thinks to do that.

      1. Ping*

        I think what makes it worse is how lying affects others.

        There’s been previous discussion on this board on how several women and POC were accused of lying on their resume – because they couldn’t (theoretically) have that level of achievement. Except that they did.

        When you lie you bring everyone under suspicion. Including yourself.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          We do degree verification because it came to light a number of years ago that a not-insubstantial portion of one department had lied about having one and that information was replicated in a client pitch portfolio. Not all jobs require degrees, but, if you say you have one, it’s going to be checked.

          1. Gail Davidson-Durst*

            We have external audits that include ensuring we have enough of the appropriately-qualified people in the right positions, and the auditor’s report is a big facet of our sales interactions with some customers. So many dominoes could fall if it turned out key people had falsified their resumes! Yikes!

          2. Ping*

            This is more about achievements than degrees. Certifications and degrees are fairly easy to verify. Achievements are harder to verify.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              I understand that. I was agreeing with your point that the people who lie end up causing a lot of hassle for and skepticism of the people who did absolutely nothing wrong and makes employers look at all comers with suspicion.

      2. MissDisplaced*

        There are some resume services that embrace the over-embellishing theory.
        I had one place try to do that to my resume, trying to make things sound much more “executive-level” that really weren’t.

        I remember interviewing coop interns and some of the resumes (from people still in undergrad at university) were made to sound like they were in the C-Suite! It was ridiculous given they hadn’t even graduated. Yeah, I don’t think you were given authority over a $5m project as a sophomore.

        1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

          I’m sure you can suss out the embellishments over facts (especially once you’re in the interview phase) but a sophomore year intern being put in charge of a $5M project of some kind is totally normal at my company! So if that was the only red flag I wouldn’t blink at it.

          Not like, the execution and actual ability to authorize a capital expenditure of course. But to be told “create a financial model for this proposed $5M project and help us determine if it’s viable”, definitely. Or having our CoOps or the intern class that summer as a group develop some initiative with a $5M type budget (or a smaller budget with the goal of generating $5M in revenue), absolutely.

    3. Eleanor*

      My guess is reassurance seeking. The letter writer seemed to think it was a bad idea, too, but because the job market sucks right now, might be willing to try anything. This is probably them making sure they’re not the crazy one for NOT wanting to lie on their resume, and get reassurance that you can still stand out in other, more honest ways,

      But I do agree that Alison’s answers are not surprising for these kinds of questions.

      1. pope suburban*

        Yes, it’s hard enough to be desperately job-searching without the kind of horrible advice you get from others. I can well believe that a scared and desperate person would want a gut check on this. The stakes are, for most people, quite high when job-searching, and they may become tempted to consider something that they hear may give them an edge. Writing to an expert for guidance is a good way to resist that temptation.

    4. MicroManagered*

      I read it as looking for reassurance/confirmation that cheating the system is NOT a good idea.

      Sometimes people get terrible jobsearch advice from people in their real lives (such as “contact the hiring manager every few days till they set up an interview”… no, dad!).

      1. LunaLena*

        And not just their real lives, from the Internet too! Even this LW mentions the apocryphal tales of “I did this and it worked” they have read. That’s part of the problem with the Internet – it’s so easy to cherry-pick the information you want to hear, or for people to act like they are experts in something when they are not. Or to even see bad behavior get normalized or even lauded.

        That’s why I’m so glad Ask A Manager exists and that people consult Allison for advice. I’ve seen so much bad job advice on the Internet, and I remember all too well following some of it when I was young and stupid and didn’t know any better. I’ve seen countless comments sections where people proclaim that no one reads cover letters and no one should apply to positions if they require them, because it’s just the employer’s way of pushing you around and finding candidates who are doormats, or that you need to show gumption to get a job. Just a few days ago I saw people arguing that even egregious typos on a resume should always be overlooked by employers because “people make mistakes, it’s not a big deal” (the resume in question said they helped people “thieve” instead of “thrive”) or that a mom parlaying her SAHM experience into managerial experience was brilliant and deserved to be hired because she turned “got kids to stop fighting” into “mediation and conflict resolution skills.” It’s great that there’s at least one sane, professional, and experienced place on the Internet where people can get gut checks and reassurance from a reliable source.

      2. OyHiOh*

        I’ve recently had a front row seat to spectacularly awful circa early 80’s job hunting advice. Right down to “I got X job because I was persistent and enthusiastic and wouldn’t let them say no.”

        Which, ok, fine, worked for that individual in those circumstances but is wildly inappropriate and . . . Just stop. Fortunately, that relative was derailed with “I follow several business/professional blogs and am following the best practices they recommend.” OY

    5. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

      The only thing (only) that I can think of is that there is sometimes some leeway in how you structure your resume. It’s ok to leave positions off a resume. It’s ok to say things like Teapot Inspector May 2018 to August 2019 (instead of 5/20/2018 to 8/3/2019). I think I’ve even seen advice here about how to handle a situation where your title absolutely does not match the work you perform. Then again – none of those things are LYING! But I wonder if people read advice like that and think they can stretch it to cover far more unscrupulous things.

      1. many bells down*

        Yeah in my organization pay is tied to titles. So a discrepancy would come to light real fast. But, because of the changed work situation my current title doesn’t come close to describing what I’m actually doing right now.
        It’s gonna look great on my resume, though, that I accomplished so many different things while my actual job title was basically “receptionist.”

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          You can ask five different people at my company what my job title is and get six different answers. There are 5 people on my team, all of us have the same job, and our emails list 5 different job titles.

          I think we’d drive poor Alison crazy.

          1. MassMatt*

            This is a serious issue, it comes up a lot when companies are reorganized, spun off, bought out, merge etc. Titles do often change, sometimes retroactively, and the “official” title in HR records may be inaccurate or out of date.

            But so long as you document your responsibilities and accomplishments it should work out in the end. This letter is suggesting deliberate title and tenure inflation. It may well be that this is fairly common, but that doesn’t make it right, nor a good idea.

            I know of a prominent nonprofit in my area that was roiled in scandal when the director was found to have lied about having an advanced degree. The organization suffers a damaged reputation and high turnover even now, several years later. I can’t imagine the person at the root of it all has been able to find work in her sector, and heads rolled among the board also because donors rightly wanted to know why this was only discovered years into her tenure.

            These are fairly extreme repercussions but you really risk your reputation by doing something like this and if you are looking to build a career as opposed to moving from job to job this can be devastating.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              I still use the title I was hired under, as no authority has ever changed it. Like voluptuousfire below, I feel my duties and role reflect and warrant a Senior prefix, but until it’s formal, I will not claim it.

          2. old curmudgeon*

            From what I’ve heard from my offspring, weird titles are especially common in tech fields, because each little startup wants to do things their own way for their own unique thing that they do. It’s fine within the company, but how the heck do you translate a title like “Practice Lead for Teapot Solutions” into anything anyone else in the world will recognize or understand?

            Which I suppose may be part of the strategy, in that if another company doesn’t understand the title, they’ll be less likely to poach an employee away. But if you treat employees fairly, they’re far less susceptible to poaching attempts regardless of how comprehensible their titles are or aren’t.

      2. Rachel in NYC*

        If you work for a small business you may come to agreement with the owner that your official job title is X and you’ll get paid as X but since your work encompasses everything and anything- when you go to apply for other jobs, you can use title Y.

        I worked for a solo practitioner when I was fresh out of law school as a ‘paralegal’- I did everything from research to writing to accounting- but we agreed that for my resume I could write associate.

        (The obvious difference here being my employer and I were on the same page about the activity.)

        1. Filosofickle*

          I’ve just been updating my resume, so I’ve run into one of these in my past. It wasn’t a small company, but I was a contract employee and that tends to alter the norms. My boss agreed to my title would be X. My business cards said X. I was introduced internally as X. However, the contract firm (aka temp agency) classified me as Y, where Y is far less helpful on my resume.

          So, anyway, for 10 years I’ve listed that job as X on my resume and LinkedIn, never really thinking anything of it. As far as I and my ex boss were concerned, that was correct. But now I’m seeing threads like this and realizing anyone who does a background check would find a serious title discrepancy. (I’ve been consulting since then so it hasn’t come up. Now I’m looking for an FTE.) I didn’t even remember what my formal title was, but a dig through my email archives turned up my onboarding paperwork so I have changed it. :/

      3. AP*

        Titles can be weird. There are hierarchy titles like Assistant Director, Vice President, Senior Manager, etc. And then there are role descriptions like Sales Engineer, Marketing Specialist, IT Tech Lead, etc.

        You can never lie or stretch the truth on the former. But I can see how someone might try to “normalize” a role description to make it closer to the industry standards. At one job, as far as I knew I was a Senior Business Analyst and that’s how I introduced myself internally to people. However, after I had been there a couple of years, I learned that in the HR systems, my actual role was described as something like “LVL 3 IT SPECIALIST” whatever that means. I would never have put that on my resume.

      1. MassMatt*

        The “I think it’s fake” comment comes up a lot both here and other advice columns. Given the well documented bizarre behaviors at work places it generally strikes me as a very naive point of view. People can be weird. Entire workplaces can be weird. Such that people’s sense of normal is severely warped.

    6. Wander*

      Like some others, I also read this as reassurance seeking. And while this letter makes no mention of it, I’ve seen Internet threads of shady advice (post the job description in white at the bottom! Embellish your title! Etc) endorsed by supposed hiring managers on more than one occasion. Of course, it’s always in situations where the person is anonymous (and let’s be real here, they’re probably not involved in hiring at all, but anonymous means you can’t prove it one way or the other). I can see why that would make someone doubt enough to want to reach out to a hiring manager with confirmable experience, especially if the letter writer is already uncomfortable with the bad advice they’re receiving elsewhere.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        That white font tactic feels like fighting stupid with stupid.

        1. I see wonderful things*

          I think that white font tactic is fighting the AI vetting that reportedly companies use, if the ”magic words” do not show up in the filtering, the AI refuses the CV even if the person actually would be a fit for the job. It is a ”googlebomb” of sorts, back in the day when you did all kinds of metatricks to get your website pop up in search engine results. A bit like battling a robot phone system to speak with an actual person.

    7. LQ*

      I think that this is a little panic, I know this is wrong, you know this is wrong, please tell me that up is still up and down is still down. Asking for reassuring that someone who is honest can still get a job.

    8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I have heard too many people truly trust bad advice before to not accept that some people are seriously just doing their fact-checking, by asking someone like Alison who they trust as a business professional, with the applicable experience. Instead of the collective “parental” advice we get burped up at us on the internet on the daily, for everything in life!

    9. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Unlikely probability but: some might want a “in this pandemic you’re allowed to break the rules” response.

  5. Roxie Hart*

    Yikes…..Some companies hire 3rd party background check companies for this, and a common way to fail a screening is if your resume dates and titles don’t match up completely to the online application.

    If the OP is the type of person who even considers lying on their application, they probably won’t listen to the “naysayers” and will lie on their resume anyway.

    1. Bertha*

      I don’t know about that – it sounds to me like the OP doesn’t want to lie but is worried that they’ll be at a disadvantage if they are honest. Which is why I think as always AAM’s advice is spot on.

  6. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    It’s a funny thing.

    If, for instance, you’re applying for a job that requires Microsoft Office (Word, PowerPoint, Access, Outlook) knowledge – and you learned it in the unemployment office training sessions – you can say “Yeah I got that!” and if you’re challenged on it and can demonstrate your knowledge of it – then go for it.

    Often I’ve been asked in interviews, “Do you have a working knowledge of the Dingbat Software package?” – and if you KNOW it, even if you’ve never worked with it, but CAN work with it if you were put to the task, you can get away with fudging it.

    But don’t overdo it.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I’d be careful not to overstate this type of thing, too. I still remember the temp from 7+ years ago who said she was an expert at Excel and very good at googling and figuring out whatever she didn’t know. I figured that was plausible because I was a mostly self-taught advanced Excel user. She was terrible at Excel and could not figure out anything on her own.

      I also think some people who haven’t used particular software in business or are novices don’t know what they don’t know.

      1. Anononon*

        Yes, I think many people don’t realize how complex Excel, especially, can be. Like, my company does what looks to me like sheer magic with some of the templates and reports it can run.

        1. pancakes*

          lol, yes. I’ve used Excel consistently but lightly for decades and there are features that I think of as wizardry.

      2. CRM*

        This is why we do skill assessments for Excel when hiring. Proficiency in Excel is pretty subjective, and it can mean many different things to different people/roles. We really don’t care as long as you are able to do the stuff that we need you to do.

      3. Cobol*

        She could have thought she was advanced too. I’ll never put advanced X skills, because what that means is open for debate.

        Also, with something like Excel, she could be great at pivot tables, but hoping with creating macros, or vice versa. Both are advanced, so which does your company want.

      4. Melody*

        Yup! I was part of a team hiring a graphic designer. We set up a series of short assignments to test their skills in InDesign.

        One applicant had indicated himself as an “expert” in InDesign, but he sat at the computer for the full half hour and all he was able to figure out was how to type, “I fail.”

        I’m guessing he thought he could fudge it, but the program isn’t particularly intuitive, even if you know other Adobe products.

        1. On Fire*

          +1. I use InDesign frequently; I’ve been using it for years — close to 15? — after using Quark for the previous 8. And I can still learn new things. Don’t even get me started on Photoshop, where new magic gets invented regularly and I have to look up tutorials to learn what X new tool does.

          1. Melody*

            Ha, yes! I always feel like if I’m not.careful to keep up.I wonder know how to use it anymore, even though I literally use it every day.

        2. MissDisplaced*

          I’ve had that happen when hiring designers. Resume said “expert” but they couldn’t figure out how to import copy or photos. Lol!

    2. Zephy*

      This isn’t the kind of lying the LW was asking about, though. Background checks don’t assess your skill level with Office/whatever software program; the only way this could backfire is if the job requires an actual credential or certificate of some kind that you don’t actually have. Knowing really, really basic stuff in Excel makes you “proficient” or “a guru” in the eyes of a troubling number of managers, all these old fuddy-duddies who figured out email five minutes ago and still type with two fingers. I mean really basic stuff, like the Sort and Filter functions.

      LW was asking about inflating titles, fudging employment dates to cover gaps, providing fake references, and gaming the system on background checks, none of which is ethical and all of which has great potential to backfire spectacularly.

      1. Triumphant Fox*

        Yeah, the only thing I can think of is if you say you have a certification and then don’t. You can be certified in languages, software platforms, google analytics, etc. Lying about having one of those could be caught. Many people don’t get those certifications and just say “Fluent in Spanish” or “C2 Level Spanish” or “Proficient in Excel.” For those, I would expect a skills test if it’s actually important in the job, not a background check.

      2. KaciHall*

        I once got to teach the IT person in charge of implementing the new warehouse/order system the fact that you could remove duplicates in Excel. The fact that she didn’t know that but was in charge of moving things from one system to another using Excel exports/imports did not inspire me that the migration would go well. (It did not. At all.)

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      This is also a good illustration of why asking people if they’re proficient in something is mostly worthless. We ask a specific question about a function or two we use most often, if software knowledge is key to a role. That is much less fudgeable.

      1. Nanani*

        That and like, software can be taught.
        If you need someone to do a specific excel/ppt/word thing, you can train them to do it.
        You can also train people on proprietary software that nobody but your current and former employees could possibly have used before.

        Of course sometimes clueless people inserted into the hiring process for whatever reason will ask for self assessment of proficiency or insist that they dont want to train anyone, but that doesn’t make self assessment any more useful.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Software can be taught, but some people catch on easier than others or are more proficient at self-service/figuring out that something can be done programmatically as well as how to do it. I am also at a point where I need certain skills to come pre-loaded. I don’t mind showing people how to use Very Specific Excel Function we use to do X, but if you can’t use SUM, AVERAGE, or write a basic IF statement, that may require more remediation that I’d prefer not to have to do unless your other qualifications are outstanding.

        2. AnotherAlison*

          The “can be taught” has so many variables, though. In the case of the temp, this was budgeted to be a low paying position (shouldn’t have been), all candidates were awful, and we were just hoping to get someone trainable. You know, if a $50/hr person can make this look easy, then it’s easy enough for a $13/hr person!??! It was a cluster from the get-go.

          Now, if I’ve got someone who has proven Excel experience or can pass a skills test in that and they need Tableau in this job, I’d probably take that candidate. I’m not against training people, but as NotAnotherManager says, some people are better at it than others.

  7. Colonel_Gateway*

    And what would you tell your ‘obliging references’? “I lied on my resume, so here’s the cover story… stick to this script…” probably just better to field questions from the hiring employer yourself.

    1. MK*

      Yes, apart from everything else this tactic is too convuluted. To suceed it requires a company that uses an external background check process, then doesn’t cross-check the results, then only calls the references you provided, plus “obliging” references, who must be able to lie convincingly on your behalf. And lots of luck that you won’t be accidently found out after you are hired.

    2. Archaeopteryx*

      And even if your life is full of shady enough friends or relatives who would be willing to lie on your behalf, this will (rightfully) lower your credibility in their eyes, so that if you ever do need them to believe something and you are telling the truth, it’s less likely they’ll just take your word for it.

    3. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      I knew a group of classmates that used each other for fake references. They all got nice jobs and were never caught.
      Meanwhile, I couldn’t pass the initial interview because I didn’t have enough reference, or nitpicked my education choices. I’m still salty about that.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Yeah, I have a sorta-friend (friend of a friend really) who has a lucrative job at a big prestigious company and claims that much of his resume is lies. I’m not good at lying, so I’d be unlikely to succeed at that even if I wanted to.

        1. pancakes*

          There’s that, and there’s also the fact that, as Alison pointed out, a good reference-checker will call the reference’s office or workplace via a general number and ask to speak with them rather than call the direct number provided. If it’s a large company with a local presence they may even be familiar enough with the prefix for the number to look dodgy at first glance.

    4. Observer*

      Wasn’t there a letter here a while ago about a service that actually does this for people. And more than one story about actual “obliging references”.

      Also, how many people have written here all incensed that the prospective employer had the AUDACITY to contact someone who was not on their reference list? (I’m not talking about the people who contact current employers.)

    5. I see wonderful things*

      Snarf. My two latest employers have a ”company policy” that nobody may say anything about anyone externally. Company structures and staffing are internal knowlege on the lower levels. Don’t know how common this is, but in finance there’s so much phishing and confidence tricksters I think this is the modern normal (paranoid) level of security. Anyhow, it is stated that any ”reference” calls or snail mail (not emails) must be directed to a certain HR department, who will only answer to confirm dates of employment and salary if authorised by the person in question. So even if I dropped a name and someone called them, if the person got through they would get a very curt rebuttal.

  8. AnotherAlison*

    It doesn’t really matter what your title was anyway. The hiring company will figure out you aren’t (or possibly are) qualified from your experience shown on your resume. Even if you beat the gate-keepers, what’s your next plan? Just flat out lie in an interview and say you have done things you have not done?

    1. Emily*

      Job titles vary so much across companies and industries that I don’t pay much attention to them. I look at the job duties on the resume, and then how the candidate answers questions in the interview.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I don’t either, but if someone call themselves and “office manager” and the company has them listed as an administrative assistant or receptionist in their records, I’m going to check into that. My industry has not yet decided on the right hierarchy of assistant, analyst, specialist, etc. yet, so those I pay less mind to.

          1. I can only speak Japanese*

            I have also worked at places where all women were labelled secreraries despite doing office manager and much more work.

  9. Perpal*

    This is like pick up artist techniques, only for jobs instead of dating… when do they start “negging” jobs against each other???

    1. Batgirl*

      Those guys fascinate me. They’ve gone to so much trouble to be offensive to anyone who might otherwise actually like them, and if the advice does actually work on someone it’s because she feels pressured or insecure and certainly is not feeling attracted to the guy. The whole trick is about ensuring you ending up alone or with someone who doesn’t like you!
      I think this is the same thing exactly. Desperation is a real logic block and by changing details about yourself all you’re doing is cheating yourself out of a genuinely good match.

      1. pancakes*

        Yes — by design it sets in motion endless and self-perpetuating circling around the bottom of the barrel, and adherents don’t seem to grasp the extent to which they’re limiting themselves.

      2. Long Time Lurker, Infrequent Poster*

        PUA tactics all start from the assumption that every is out to get them and the only way is to outmaneuver them with said tricks. Hence the emphasis on “overcoming sh*t tests” and so on and so forth.

  10. Ms Fieryworth*

    Most online applications have some sort of ‘I certify that everything here is true’ statement. I’ve rescinded offers based on resumes being falsified. Often that’s figured out in the background check process, which includes employment verification and degree verification. We always give the potential employee the opportunity to explain, however I’ve actually had someone say to me “it was just a little fib”…. for a role that has high security needs and requires strong ethics. Lying will get you nowhere.

    1. starsaphire*

      Yep. I nearly lost a good job over this.

      What happened: a previous employer “lost my file” and claimed that I had never worked there.

      The checker got back to me and said, “This is the discrepancy we’ve discovered. Please send us A, B, or C document to verify your employment.”

      What I did: Got the entire household to help me go through the garage and go through old boxes of stuff that I “should have” thrown out years ago. Found documents A (my offer letter) and B (my signed contract) and several pay stubs (C). Took photos of ALL of them. Emailed the photos to the checker. Then panicked and sweated and had anxiety dreams for about a week.

      Got the job, but thank goodness I saved all that stuff. And even though I wasn’t lying, the stress was just awful — I can’t imagine the mental strain if I had been lying and gotten caught!

      This is what happens when a company finds a discrepancy, and these are the lengths you may be asked to go to in order to clear it up. So, OP (and others reading this), don’t be tempted.

      1. Dittany*

        Okay, now I’m dying to know why your previous employer did that. Manager with a grudge, or something shady with the company?

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          It’s also possible they are just terrible at paperwork and records. I find incompetence is more common than malfeasance.

          1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

            I’d also lean towards “a genuine accident” rather than “malice”, unless there’s some reason the company/management utterly despises you.

            I do this kind of background verification work, we routinely have this exact situation. “Nope, no record of X person working here/getting a degree here/being licensed here.”
            “X person provided these documents, are they genuine?”
            “Yup, nvm, we found the records now, X person was telling the truth!”

            That said – don’t be one of the idiots who hands us a fake diploma copy/fake documentation. We check these things. It never works. The fake diplomas, in particular, are usually painfully obvious. But getting more and more common…

            1. starsaphire*

              Yes! This is why I sent all the requested docs instead of just one or two choices. (That and I was terrified of losing this job offer.) Hoping that no one would think I faked an offer letter AND a contract AND two noncontiguous pay stubs.

              Plus I think you can verify with the payroll service too, right? Or so my housemate assured me. I’m thinking, okay, if the company doubles down, they can contact ADP and at least verify that the stubs were legit…

        2. starsaphire*

          Sorry for the late reply – I just now saw this!

          This was a super toxic workplace and they are hella shady in other ways too (which I found out after having been there for a year or s0). I was dubious at first, until a friend pointed out an article in the paper and I started doing some research, and, yeah… dodgy stuff going on for sure.

          They also went through HR staff like allergy sufferers go through Kleenex in spring, so I am sure it was just a paperwork snafu.

          Still. The panic shakes were awful. Hope sincerely I never have to go through that again!

      2. AP*

        These days at least, many companies allow you to access your old pay stubs online. It’s probably not a bad idea to print some out and save them when you start job hunting. Especially if you grab the most recent ones, the ones when you first started the job, and any stubs immediately following a pay raise.

      3. Evan Þ.*

        Something similar happened to me thanks to one job at a startup that went out of business in the next year or two. (Unrelated to my employment there, I think!) Fortunately, I’d kept records with my taxes from that year, so I was able to scan in and email copies of my W2 form and my final paycheck.

      4. Gazebo Slayer*

        That’s awful. It’s so infuriating and humiliating when people treat us like liars for telling the truth.

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      Ahh… degree verification!

      I listed a degree (that I 100% legitimately have) on a CV/resume for a position I applied for and was offered the job subject to a satisfactory background check. I don’t have anything to hide so ok. One of the pieces of “proof” they asked for was the degree certificate, which at that point was about 13-14 years in the past, and I’d lost track of it (i.e. the physical piece of paper) a long time ago…

      … but I did have a “transcript” (which they couldn’t accept as it was a PDF so I could have altered/created it myself) and also photos from the graduation ceremony, including one close up of me holding the degree certificate where the wording was clearly visible, and evidence that I’d posted those photos on Facebook at the time they were taken, which they wouldn’t accept!

      My response was do you really think I set all this up 13 years ago, printed a degree certificate and staged a graduation ceremony just so that I could apply for this job over a decade later with a degree I don’t really have!?

      1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

        I do degree verification for work. We have indeed had candidates that conducted fairly elaborate schemes to ‘prove’ they had degrees that they did not, in fact, have.

        If someone’s been lying about the degree for a long time (which in some cases, they have) it’s not unreasonable that they’d have forged ‘proof’ a long time ago.

        That said, no idea why they wouldn’t accept the PDF – normally we use the documents provided not as proof unto themselves, but rather to help the school in its research. Either your background check company was particularly lazy, or your school has weird policies and it was because the school refused. (Any chance your school was in India? Indian schools almost never verify a degree without the diploma copy, and they’re notoriously picky about getting the exact document, the exact quality of the scan, the edges of the paper must be visible, etc., etc.)

  11. Blisskrieg*

    Can attest to Allison’s advice. I desperately needed help and had an offer out to a candidate. She lied about stop and start dates. As much as I needed the assistance ASAP, that was a hard stop, and the offer was rescinded.

    1. Blisskrieg*

      Oops–I meant Alison with one L. Sorry! I’m a stickler for spelling/pronouncing names correctly.

  12. Threeve*

    Unless it’s a very high-level position or two people are already acquainted, I’ve never worked at a job that sought personal references from anyone the candidate hadn’t listed. Is it really that common?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Personal references, no. Professional references, yes. It depends on who you list. If you didn’t list your last two managers (not counting your current one, who I don’t expect you to list), I’m going to ask to talk to them. I’m not necessarily going to just call them; I’m going to ask you to put me in touch with them (which gives you a chance to explain if there’s something I should know).

      1. Anono-nono-nonymous*

        Been wondering this for awhile, mostly because it is true for me, but what would you do if the answer truly is “I’ve only ever had 1 manager prior to the one I currently work for, despite the fact that I have nearly 20 years of professional experience, and that person is banned from providing references by the company that I used to work for and they still do?” Even the less professional, retail type jobs I had in HS & college had this policy of not providing informational references beyond the factual “yes, they worked here from X date to Y and we would/would not rehire them” with no context provided. So, the only references I really have are people I worked with, and none of them still work for the companies in question, so calling the company still isn’t going to get you anywhere.

        I really feel like this is holding me back professionally and I’m not sure what do do about it. But, I also don’t want to get any former manager or co-worker who has since been promoted to management fired for violating company policy.

        1. LQ*

          I’ve always wondered about this (former manager is dead, all other managers work at this place, I’ve been promoted and been in different jobs plenty, but all within the same current employer). It feels a little bit like a part of the golden handcuffs of some jobs. Once you’re there a long time it’s hard to get out of for lots of reasons (retirement! vacation! sick! health insurance!) but one of the things that feels like it’s never talked about as a part of that is who on earth can be your reference?

          I have a few people who weren’t direct managers but were managers above me who were responsible for work direction who would be willing to break that policy and are pretty confident they won’t get in too much trouble for it. But it makes me much more hesitant, who can attest to my work as my actual boss? No one sort of.

          1. emmelemm*

            Yeah, I feel stuck too because I’ve been here so long, anyone *not* in my small company who could talk about me is many years in the past. No references is a REAL PROBLEM.

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              I’ll join the chorus; no references from the decade that just ended. Perhaps we should take a page from collegiate coaches’ playbook and offer a signed letter of resignation with just the date left blank?

            2. Gazebo Slayer*

              Yeah, I don’t have any usable recent references. It’s only one of the reasons I’m essentially unemployable outside of gig work.

              1. Keymaster of Gozer*

                I told one recruitment agency that no, I can’t give references from my most recent employer. Given that he’s in prison and I gave evidence to the prosecution….

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            I’ve had to use your advice on this too. My last employer is in prison for financial fraud and their company is completely shut down. So I use references from the 2nd and 3rd nearest employers instead.

    2. Kimmy Schmidt*

      I think it depends on industry and location. I don’t think it’s necessarily common, but I don’t think it’s uncommon either. A lot of industries are a small little world unto themselves and the interviewer worked with someone who worked with the applicant or they worked for the same company or saw them give a presentation or met them at a vendor lunch. It happens, and I think you have to bet on it happening because you never know who knows who.

    3. Carbondale*

      Yeah, I’ve been a job applicant, a hiring manager, and a reference for other people. In all of those situations, my experience has been that only the people the candidate listed as references are the people contacted. Like you said, high-level position or two people are already being acquainted are the only scenarios I can think of where the reference checker (who is usually an HR person anyway, not the hiring manager) would go outside that list.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Places that treat reference-checking as a rubber stamp, sure. But anywhere that has rigorous hiring is going to look critically at who’s on your reference list and ask for managers if they’re not listed. (If candidates are already listing managers, it’s far less likely to come up.)

        1. Carbondale*

          I think rubber stamping reference checking is actually a lot more common than you realize though.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            No, it’s quite common! Terrible practice but common (although not in places that hire rigorously, which are the ones most people want to work in). But as a candidate you don’t know who does it that way and who doesn’t.

          2. Mayo Master*

            I don’t think it’s that it’s more common, just that you don’t want to work for people who treat hiring that way. You’ll be working with poor colleagues and for poor managers, and you’ll have a lot of problems to deal with. Anyone who is that cavalier about who they hire is failing at a fundamental aspect of their work, and that’s a major red flag.

              1. Long-time reader*

                Ditto! I mean, yeah it seems like a good thing if you can get hired more easily…but it also means they’re applying the same lack of vigor in hiring your coworkers (who may be incompetent and shove more work on you) and even worse, your future manager (who may be incompetent or a terror or not able to adequately train or menote or you).

                So yeah, it’s not really a good thing.

            1. Carbondale*

              The thing is, rubber stamp reference checking is the only type of reference checking that exists in my industry and I assume there are other industries that are the same way, so saying “you don’t want to work for people who treat hiring that way” isn’t useful advice for a lot of people because there isn’t another choice.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Then you might be an exception! Nothing will apply to everyone. I’m generally speaking to the majority here but there will always be exceptions.

    4. TechWorker*

      Also common – if someone already working at the company knows the applicant personally (and the hiring manager is aware of the connection) they are 100% being asked their opinion.

      1. Anononon*

        This happened when I was hired for my current job. I was applying for a job in a very tight knit field where I somewhat coincidentally had a number of connections, and the hiring people reached out to them on their own.

      2. Gravy Boat*

        Yep. I haven’t had to provide an actual formal reference since about 2003, because it’s all been word of mouth since then (narrow field). Furthermore, people often move together, so my current boss was also my old boss so you’d need to go back more than twelve years to find a reference that isn’t him, and how useful can that reference be?

      3. beanie gee*

        When I check references, I always ask “is there anyone else at the company I should talk to that can speak to [candidate’s] work and experience?” I don’t always call them, depending on how the other references go, but sometimes I do if I have unanswered questions or any of the other references don’t respond.

    5. Roja*

      I’m sure it depends on the field, but my field is small and very informal/personal, where there’s only a degree or two of separation in a local market. Guaranteed someone you know knows who you’re hiring, and absolutely you’d ask.

    6. Turanga Leela*

      It can happen in unexpected ways. I was once hiring and saw that a candidate had worked at the same place as a friend of mine, so I called the friend and asked if she knew the candidate. (Friend had left the state; I wasn’t worried about tipping anyone off to the candidate’s job search.) Turned out they had worked together, and friend shared her thoughts on the candidate.

      It’s a small world, and it would be easy to get caught in a lie because of something like that.

      (BTW, love your name, Threeve!)

    7. allathian*

      I guess I’m lucky in that my current manager has promised to be my reference, I just hope that’s enough. Her predecessor is working for another organization now and is no longer a manager. I liked her as a person but she was not a good manager, and I’m not sure I can trust her to give me a good reference. She’s also due to retire within the next year or so, and when someone retires here, you don’t contact them for professional reasons, only if you have a personal relationship. The boss I had before then, who was the hiring manager when I got the job, doesn’t know anything about the kind of professional I am now. She’s also in a non-management role now. When I started, I made a lot of mistakes, including some that could have got me fired in the private sector. That doesn’t describe the person or employee I am today, at all.

      The job I had before this one was 100% remote. I never even met the hiring manager, talked with him once on the phone and all our contacts were by email. I haven’t saved those emails anywhere. But that was 15 years ago. The hiring manager has since moved on in his career and I seriously doubt he even remembers me.

    8. Not This One*

      My new job did ask for an additional reference beyond the 3 past/current supervisors I’d listed, and specifically wanted to speak to a coworker. I am not certain whether that was because speaking to a coworker was a part of their process, or if it was because one of those supervisors was not as relevant of a reference. (We only worked together for a year, 5 years ago, and I had a lower title/fewer responsibilities then compared to now.) I’m sure she said good things about me, but I also think it was quite reasonable for them to wish to speak to another more current reference.

    9. londonedit*

      This baffles me, too. I’ve had employers contact the two referees I’ve provided (this is the UK, so that happens after a job offer is made) but I’ve never once had anyone do a ‘background check’ or do anything like go through my entire CV and somehow verify my dates of employment. No one has even ever asked me to prove that I have the degree I say I have. The whole idea of a third-party company trawling through my CV is totally alien to me.

  13. Hey Karma, Over Here*

    Do people lie?
    Yup.
    Should I lie?
    Nope.
    Now the real question:
    Can you lie?
    Do you have the intestinal fortitude to sleep at night worrying that you will lose your job any day because lied?
    Can you sleep at night knowing that you asked your friends and family to help you lie?
    Can you look down the road at your next job and imagine having to keep all the bs straight after five years in the position you got by lying and think, “no big deal, I’ll have new references”?
    Cuz hey, if that’s not a problem for you, godspeed, little Jobseeker.
    But I’m pretty sure by writing, you know you can’t.

    1. hbc*

      I think you’ve nailed the issue with the advice to twist, distort, and outright lie: the people who are giving it to you are a different breed. They *do* get the jobs where thorough checks aren’t done because of charm and confidence and unblinking lying. They usually have short stints where they leave around the time the jig is up, unless they find a place so dysfunctional that lies and misdirection keep allowing them to move onwards and upwards. This works for them.

      If you would have been happy working at Theranos, go for it. Otherwise, it’ll eat you up.

      1. starsaphire*

        These are also the same people who respond to every anecdote you tell with, “Ha ha ha, wow, is that really true?” …because most of their anecdotes aren’t. Which was a profound shock to me when I finally figured it out.

      2. Melody*

        Oh yes! I’ve had that coworker. He lied to everyone and when it all started falling apart around him he suddenly felt responsible for how much his family missed his home state.

  14. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    My guess is that this perception is tied in with “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” networking, and being hired for your cover letter and résumé. It really does send the message to the job seeker that the last thing that’s important is whether or not you can learn to do and want to do the job.

  15. Heidi*

    “But more and more people are claiming this has successfully helped them land jobs that might otherwise be out of reach.”

    I’m wondering who all these people are. Does the OP know them personally? Or are they just people on the internet? What “successful” person would admit to having done this?

    1. London Calling*

      They might have landed the jobs but how did they perform in them and did they keep them?

    2. Night Vale Seems Good By Comparison*

      Came here to say this. What people? People on the Internet? We all know they never lie or create outlandish stories as click bait.

      If these stories are actual firsthand accounts (and not “I know someone who”), it’s like someone running up to you, out of breath and holding a bag of money, saying “I found a foolproof way to rob banks!” Meanwhile the bank hasn’t downloaded the security camera footage yet. Just because someone, somewhere, got away with something once, it doesn’t mean a) they will never get caught; b) others can pull the same con.

      It’s amazing how many people forget that the government, companies, casinos, banks… they all read what’s online too! If someone’s One Weird Trick article exposes an actual loophole, you can be sure it won’t be usable for long.

      I get it, sometimes it feels like only the cheaters get ahead. Just remember that most people aren’t going to advertise that they got caught, fell for a scam, owe thousands for tax fraud, etc. Because people prefer reading stories about beating The Man, Yeah! In the end, your integrity will pay off.

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        “I get it, sometimes it feels like only the cheaters get ahead.”
        Same here. It is frustrating. But unless you are the kind of person who really thinks like that, all day, everyday…you are not “someone who cheated once out of desperation after soul searching” but an actual cheater who thinks, “Of course I will do it” then the plan won’t work for you anyway.

    3. beanie gee*

      I had the same question!

      My first instinct was the only people giving this advice are other people actively job seeking.

      You know who’s NOT giving this advice? People hiring/reviewing resumes/interviewing.

  16. HugsAreNotTolerated*

    As someone who has viewed a number of resumes in the past 3 months, I can tell you this. While Alison’s advice of focusing on your resume and cover letter isn’t exciting it’s just so flipping true. The number of people out there with terrible resumes who think that they have a good resume is astounding. By really putting effort, thought, and a lots of editing for spelling & punctuation your resume will stand out. Don’t fall for the gimmicks, stick with classic formatting.

    1. Ali G*

      Yes so much! Cover letters people! This is your chance to really sell yourself. Use it. I can’t tell you how many “cover letters” I’ve seen that are just: Dear hiring manager I am applying for this job, thank you. What a wasted opportunity and frankly I probably won’t bother with your resume since you can’t even muster a few sentences to allow me to get to know you a little. I especially won’t when I have 50+ applicants for one position.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        In the 15 years with my company, HR has never forwarded me a resume with a cover letter, though. I personally would like to see a good cover letter because sometimes it isn’t clear what a person is bringing to the role, and I might be thinking to myself, “Why are we interviewing this person?” I’m not currently the hiring manager, just a senior project manager in my department, but I’m usually involved in hiring people at my level or above in my group. Anyway, I can see why people don’t bother. It’s a lot of effort, and if you’ve been and my shoes knowing that the cover letter doesn’t get forwarded, you might put your energy into other things.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          (I would definitely recommend the cover letter for small company jobs where you might actually be contacting a person instead of going through an AMS.)

          1. Ali G*

            I had this problem at my last job. HR was always removing the cover letters (and they were required!). I had to explain to them that part of the evaluation of the person’s skills is how they present themselves in their cover letter. I mean, come on! This shouldn’t be rocket surgery.
            The HR person from my current job said she knew she wanted to interview me just by reading my cover letter (and the other staff who I interviewed with saw it too), so they can work when used correctly.

          2. Corin*

            You need to be asking HR for the cover letters, then. And pushing for changes to how hiring is handled in your company. You don’t have to settle for whatever poor process is already established, it can be changed to make it work for the hiring manager. And it should be.

    2. Lena Carabina*

      The people with crappy CVs and cover letters aren’t applying for the jobs I am apparently!

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yessssss. I spent hours this month helping a friend who was laid off with his resume, and it’s been a bit frustrating because he’s are taking every bit of bad job seeker advice (keyword loading, colorful and artsy resume for an industry that conservative and competency-heavy, you name it) and then arguing me when I tell him that a senior-level professional needs to discuss achievements not job duties (and that they would NEVER write a cover letter – how quaint and outdated! – when every position description in their ballpark specifically asks for one and they have some killer skills that would be perfect for one. I spent an hour alone standardizing and condensing bullets (because the tense was all over the place and half of them wandered into first-person narrative).

      It kills me because he is a great candidate with all the excellent skills and experience for an in-demand industry, and that just does not come through in the resume he’s chosen to use to present himself.

      1. starsaphire*

        Oh man. I hate trying to help that friend.

        I was reworking a resume with a friend (I do this a LOT) and he was pushing back super hard. He’s trying to change industries from Chicken Feeding to Walrus Polishing, but is listing a whole ton of chicken-only software skills on his resume “to prove he is good at lots of types of software.” I told him to list only the walrus-specific software when applying for walrus-specific jobs, and leave the chicken software for more general positions.

        He argued that he “can’t afford to take valuable skills off his resume” and then constantly complains that his resume gets circular-filed because people see the word “chicken” and assume that that’s all he knows.

        I had to give up trying to help eventually, because he couldn’t see the value of tailoring a resume to a specific industry — and he’s just about the only friend who hasn’t gotten a really positive response after my resume help.

    4. H.C.*

      Agreed; the latest gimmick that drives me nuts are where applicants are rating their own proficiencies in the “Skills” section (& of course, every skill listed is a 5/5 or 4/5.)

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Oh, god, I got one of these the other day with graphical star ratings next to the skills section (mix of both technical skills and soft skills), and they rated themselves as 3/5 stars in “communicating with others”. Nope, nope, nope (with bonus points for honesty?).

    5. Mazzy*

      Preach! I was finding a place to nest this sentiment.

      I see so many resumes with no cover letters where the person just goes from job to job, and has no set narrative and doesn’t describe output, but just “oversaw bills” or a couple vague duties with no context.

      They don’t need more experience, they need to better explain what they already did. Provide a couple of numbers or metrics so I have context. Were you paper pushing, or did you have input into the work and did you regularly find areas for improvement? If the work was low level, did you help someone else achieve their goals? Paint me a picture.

      Also, if you’ve had multiple jobs, find a way to tie them altogether. Either in the cover letter, or include some similar words in each job description so I see continuity, and not job hunting because someone gave you $2 more an hour.

      1. Just J.*

        Oooh. Great words: “Paint me a picture.”

        I think a lot of people have trouble with the ‘sell yourself’ mantra when writing a resume. ‘Paint me a picture’ is a great way to look at it.

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        Unfortunately a lot of jobs – admin jobs especially – really don’t have numerical metrics, or even in some cases “accomplishments” beyond the everyday duties.

    6. zeezeebee*

      what do you do when jobs you are applying for don’t have an option for you to submit a cover letter? I’m finding this more and more common. It’s hard to stand out and show personality when a coverletter is not required

      1. Khatul Madame*

        If there is a “Comment” box for the entire application submission, paste your resume there.

    7. Environmental Compliance*

      I was *so. freaking. proud* of my younger sister recently, who told me she wanted help with her resume (applying for a first non-food-service job after high school), for a job she really seems to want. She sent her resume over and it was actually really, really good. She asked good questions, I sent her some AAM links, and I really hope she at least gets an interview. She did some good research before putting one together!

    8. beanie gee*

      This is such good advice. You don’t have to resort to stupid tricks to stand out.

      A really good resume and cover letter WILL stand out. There are so many bad ones.

  17. LawLady*

    This reminds me of sovereign citizen tax fraud. There’s all these crazy theories on the internet that if you put in the right numbers on your tax return, it’ll be “code” to the IRS to give you a bunch of money. And the problem is that sometimes it works. Our tax system assumes the truth of tax filings and issues refunds right away. Then there’s audits of some portion of the taxpaying population, and if you’re found out as lying, you face consequences.

    But that means that there are a number of loons on the internet who have “proof” that their approach works and they’ve gotten big refunds. But it’s just that they’ve gotten lucky and haven’t been audited (yet). Still illegal!

    1. Scarlet*

      Seriously. If you’re lying on a tax return I think they can still come after you something like 7 years later.

      Not to mention possible jail time.

      1. Evan Þ.*

        The IRS usually has three years to go after you for errors or mistakes, or six years for some categories like “substantial understatement of income,” but there’s no time limit for fraud. That’s why you should save your tax records for at least six years – but I’ll personally save them as long as I have the space, just in case they somehow get the idea I committed fraud.

    2. Willis*

      Yeah, I’m sure there are plenty of people who lie about dates, titles, etc. on their resumes and don’t get caught. But are you willing to risk losing a job offer, possible damage to your reputation, and just generally looking dumb if you get caught? Cause there are also plenty of people who do get caught in their lies.

      And like everyone said, you’ll do a lot better to compete on a solid resume, cover letter, history of accomplishments, and interview than on having an employment gap that’s two months shorter than it really was or a fancier sounding job title. (And really, employers know that titles like executive assistant or office manager are not that meaningful in a vacuum…I’m going to look at what you did in the role regardless of the title…so focus on that.)

    3. pancakes*

      Those dudes—they are nearly all dudes—are a type of extremist I find interesting and try to keep up with news about. One big footnote to “sometimes it works” is that they tend to represent themselves in any sort of legal dispute, and make a hopeless mess of it. Sean David Morton had some success for a couple years but eventually it caught up with him, and the SEC got an $11.5 million judgement against him. The judgement was later declared by a judge to be not dischargeable in bankruptcy on account of his repeated efforts to mislead the government.

  18. ACDC*

    Don’t do it. I personally did this once (fudging dates to make gaps look smaller, embellishing a title) and it was stressful AF during the background check. I had terrible physical anxiety symptoms the whole time I was waiting for the background check to come back. Will never do it again.

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      The closest to fudging dates that you can do is to be less specific – like listing employment by month rather than date. That’s common enough so as to be unremarkable, but ending Job A in March and starting Job B in April can mean anything from no gap in employment to almost a two month gap. (I’ve got a one month gap on my resume obscured in exactly this way: laid off mid-March, started new job mid-April.)

      1. The Original K.*

        Yeah, I’ve definitely done this when applications ask for exact dates (my resume just has months and years) because I can’t remember my exact start and end dates from a job I started ten years ago.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        100 years ago I was a graduating senior and I had a resume that said I worked at XXXX winter break 98-99. I meant I worked there for a month (mid Dec-mid Jan). Some readers thought I meant a year. I see now how it’s confusing for a non-student, but it made sense to me. The people who hired me didn’t do it on the basis of thinking I was a telemarketer for a year instead of a month anyway, but the lesson I learned was to be clear on the resume to avoid very awkward interviews.

      3. Sunset Maple*

        I graduated college in winter term, and started FTE the first week of January. In interviews in my early career, I was asked “what I was doing for a year” and it was hard to make them understand that the time between receiving my diploma and starting work was actually less than two weeks.

      4. allathian*

        Yeah, I’ve done the same on my resume. That said, I’ve been continuously employed for the last 13 years (with a 2-year gap for maternity/parental leave), so what I did before then should be largely irrelevant to future employers. But my checkered employment history before then makes filling in employment applications online a pain.

    2. Lorac*

      This. I graduated a quarter early in winter instead of the usual spring. My first “job” was so terrible I quit in 3 months, just in time to join the rest of the usual grads in job searching over summer.

      My dumb self though it would be smart to fudge my graduation date to hide the 3 month gap (bad advice because in reality, no one cares for tiny gaps like that) and it was not worth it. My resume said I graduated in June, told my 3rd party background checker I graduated in March and spent the 2 weeks waiting in anxiety wonder if they would drop me if they found out.

      Never did it again.

  19. BRR*

    Any job seeking advice that could be considered a way to “beat the system” is bad. Don’t try to beat the system by reaching out to the hiring manager directly, don’t try to beat the system by adding words from the job description to your resume in white font, and don’t make up a resume.

    These examples aren’t even embellishing, they’re just lying. I do think there is a way to word your accomplishments generously, but that’s not making up start and end dates or changing your title.

  20. Flair Pen*

    No to lying on your resume.

    I have had issues in the past where my title was Analyst when I was employed at the company and then after I left there was a restructuring and everyone became a Consultant and then another restructuring and everyone was an Engineer. The company that I was interviewing with did a check and wanted to know why I lied about a position I held 4 years ago. They talked to my previous boss and she told them I was an Engineer or maybe a consultant when I was there. Now if I’m aware I put the new title in parenthesis with an asterisk and explain at the bottom about restructuring.

  21. MissGirl*

    I’d liked Alison’s point that her advice is boring. It’s so true on those forums and in other places that the flashy advice is what floats to the top. Everyone is looking for tricks to get them out of the pile.

    I got my last three jobs by applying online even though all the flashy advice says to network, call the hiring manager, no one ever looks at resumes submitted online. Blah, blah, blah. I applied online with a good tailored resume and Bob’s your uncle.

    OP, if everyone is lying (doubtful), then by virtue of not lying you’re a step ahead.

    1. OyHiOh*

      I’ve had two interviews in the past week from a good resume/cover letter, applying from a posting on a major job search site. Both feel solid. We’ll see how it goes from here but this far had to do with good materials, not flashy advice.

      Now, I did find out yesterday that my best reference and one of today’s interviewers know each other/have worked together in the past so if they call that reference, there could be a small “it’s who you know” advantage but I was careful not to name drop in the interview because if they proceed to a reference check, I want it to be on the strength of what I bring to the position.

      1. MissGirl*

        Your reputation with your reference is part of what you bring to the position! Don’t be afraid to mention it. My point isn’t not to network but that the most boring way often works.

    2. miss_chevious*

      Yep, I have gotten both of my corporate counsel jobs by posting in response to public ads on reputable websites, without knowing a soul in the applicable company. I applied with a good resume and cover letter, and am a very good interview. Of course, if you have contacts where you want to be, that’s great and useful — definitely use them! — but you don’t need gimmicks or games, just skills.

    3. I trade in anecdata*

      “I got my last three jobs by applying online even though all the flashy advice says to network, call the hiring manager, no one ever looks at resumes submitted online. Blah, blah, blah.”

      …and I’ve gotten nearly all my jobs by doing all of that. Blah, blah, blah, indeed.

  22. Sled dog mama*

    Regarding the idea that you could be truthful with the background check and not on your resume and still come back with no discrepancies. Every job I’ve held as an adult has required a background check. The only information I’ve ever been asked to provide the background checker was my consent to the check.

    1. London Calling*

      Current job had independent background checks re dates and what a pain that was, because I was temping before and had gaps of anything up to three months between jobs. Those were tricky to explain (apparently I was supposed to notify anyone I knew of dates I wasn’t working and they were supposed to remember them so the company could make an independent verification) and I was 100% honest with the gaps. It would be a nightmare to remember all that if you are fudging details.

    2. fhqwhgads*

      Same here. The strategy the letter asks about is not only a bad idea, but is dependent on variables that may very well not be in play, and the person attempting that wouldn’t know until it’s too late. So besides being a bad idea because lying is bad, it’s a bad idea because it’s impossible to know in advance if the gambit if even possible.

    3. Emily*

      I was coming in here to say, what background check firm contacts the candidate directly (other than for consent as mentioned)? That defeats the entire purpose – if it’s not independent, what good is it? I’ve had a background check for two jobs as I recall and I had zero involvement in the process.

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yeah, we typically just provide the resume or application (whichever we have) to the background check organization, and they use that as a guide. How annoying would it be to an applicant to have to fill all the same info out multiple times?

    5. KaciHall*

      I currently work for a background check company. About half of our applicants are entering in their information themselves through the website – the employer/school provides the link to get to the application for the background check.

      I’m still appalled that most schools tell teachers to pay for their own background checks. Not to mention all the other not certified employees at the schools.

  23. Sunset Maple*

    If you’re talented enough to get away with lying, and morally ambiguous enough to not care about doing it, you wouldn’t write in to an advice column about it. The fact that this letter exists suggests that this course of action is not for you.

  24. Works in IT*

    When I was first starting out after college, I ran into a series of “recruiters” who wanted you to lie on your resume to say they’d already placed you at several other companies working on several other projects over the years. The fact that they were finding people through my college’s supposedly vetted jobs board left a sour taste in my mouth, but I can definitely see someone with a slightly less… rigid…. sense of morals who trusted them because they were allowed on the jobs board doing what they were told and lying. Because surely they must know what they’re doing and what’s appropriate if the career center said they were okay, right?

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Recruiters who tell candidates to lie – or worse, edit their resumes in a dishonest manner without telling the candidates – are so scummy. Any negative consequences of the lie are likely to fall 100% on the candidate.

  25. Evangeline*

    Letter writer, I understand the impulse to what to “stand out” so to speak. I can tell you for certain that a position I am hiring for has had two different candidates rejected for doing exactly what you are asking. In one case, yes they did submit different information on the background check than what we had received directly. In another case it was attempting to use a fake reference (the name we were given was their previous manager, but the contact info was not for that person). This could have far reaching consequences, including other hiring managers catching wind of it. Really, it sounds like ineffective advice, but make a killer resume and, most importantly, cover letter. I can say I see very few cover letters, let alone good ones. The last three candidates I hired were initially selected for interviews because of their cover letters. One hire didn’t even have all the experience we listed. She’s worked out great.

    1. Emmie*

      Good points. You also want to excel at your job too. You won’t excel if you don’t have the requirements necessary to do the job.

  26. And*

    If you have lots of big gaps in your resume, then you’ll need to tell some big lies to cover them up and there is no way to justify it. Really, no one cares if you found yourself in a bad job and left after 3 months. As long as you have

    1. And*

      Ops, unintentional post! Let me continue…
      As long as you have some longevity in a role and a strong resume, then you don’t need to lie.
      I worry about my husband’s resume because he never really kept tabs on when he started and ended roles. If he has a background check run against it then his only excuse is “I didn’t keep good records.”

  27. Scarlet*

    I hate to say this – but that’s exactly how my company hires. You fill out the background check form and a 3rd party performs the search- our on site HR team never even looks to make sure there’s no discrepancy.

    I sure hope people haven’t cheated the system using this method :(

    1. London Calling*

      From experience it’s very difficult, a colleague’s checks took three months because of all the detail they went into.

    2. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

      It’ll depend on what HR sends the background firm – and what the background firm sends back.

      I work at a background firm, we get a copy of the resume/application. We also send a little report back to the client specifying exactly what we found as true – ‘X person was employed as a TITLE at COMPANY from DATE-DATE’ – and a note comparing that information to the materials provided. If the background firm gets the resume, and is any good at their jobs, they’ll note the difference; and if they do their reports the way we do, HR should notice the difference even if they didn’t send in the resume to the background firm.

  28. AndersonDarling*

    When I was at a healthcare company, the recruiter asked if all the dates on my resume were exactly accurate because that is what they use to run the background check. And that was the only verification they ran…they didn’t even call a reference. So if I fudged a date on my resume, then I wouldn’t have gotten the job.

  29. Emmie*

    The places people want to work for check references, and employment history. Those are places with integrity and strong operational practices.

    It’s not okay to lie about your dates of employment, inflate your duties, or lie about your job level (like state you were a director when you were a manager.) It is not okay to say you worked for a company when you did not. It is okay to accurately describe the duties you did. Add relevant bullet points about your management duties even when you were a coordinator.

    Job titles are sometimes a bit funky. I think it’s okay to slightly alter them to translate them if required. For instance, your official title might be “Ad Hacker” at a tech company, but you’re actually a Market Research Analyst. You can put Market Research Analyst, Ad Hacker on your resume. You should also put Ad Hacker on your background check too because that title will be verified by your employer. Your official title might be Quality Assurance Analyst, but you are not testing production. You are actually doing long-term audits. I may be inclined to list the role as an Auditor, Quality Assurance Analyst on my resume. The key is to be accurate about your level / responsibilities. It is also key to include the correct job title on your background screening too.

    1. Zephy*

      Job titles can be really funky, as you say, especially in startup-heavy industries like tech – there are a number of stories about tech startups with, you know, six employees and they’re all Directors (despite having no reports), and even the person tasked with manning the phones and ordering pens is the Director of Customer Satisfaction or something equally bizarre. I have to wonder what that looks like to a hiring manager, when the Director of Customer Satisfaction starts looking to move on before the startup has grown enough to give her actual Director-level responsibilities to match her title.

  30. nnn*

    What really struck me is the stated question is “how would an honest [resume] stand out”, but none of the lies proposed would even make your resume stand out.

  31. hbc*

    I hired someone who embellished their background, maybe short of outright lying, but definitely misleading. (This was before we did any kind of check other than criminal history.). It “worked” for him in the sense that he wouldn’t have gotten hired without those embellishments. He was also fired about a year later when it became clear that his background and abilities weren’t where they should be.

    So now he’s got a short stint and a bad reference to explain or cover up at the next place. Maybe the paycheck was worth it at the time, but I doubt he’s in a better position now than if he would have taken something that he could earn honestly.

    1. 40 Years in the Hole*

      Former fed govt employee, about 20 years ago, working with – among others – a cadre of specialist “analysts”. One of these “analysts” had joined the team, from another govt department (interdepartmental transfer is common) – apparently with an impressive resume and refs. He had met our Dept head at a social gathering and talked himself up, so much so that the guy was tagged to be the first “in-country” analyst embedded with an op deployment. Fast forward a few weeks and they couldn’t get him on a plane home fast enough: completely fooled his team, useless at analytical reports, snuck his personal weapon into theater(!!). Just completely incompetent to the point of being a security risk.
      Once back the PTB instigated a complete admin review on this guy: never finished his degree (my chat with his former prof was…enlightening); he claimed extensive technical military experience (chats with his former reserve units were equally eye-opening). Turns out the guy’s resume had more holes than a fish net, but it seems the hiring panel and/or manager didn’t bother with ref checks -not sure what HR advice they got/took – which also made me wonder how he fiddled his security check (very high level). Ultimately ITSEC shut down his systems, and security perp-walked him out. At one point even his union rep noped out of the whole mess.
      You can bet our HR was hauled over the coals for their (non)advisory part in the hiring process, and hiring managers got an ugly object lesson in how to…managers. So, also – “caveat emptor” to managers as well.

  32. Bend & Snap*

    My last 3 jobs have required extensive background checks. I couldn’t have gotten away with a lie if I’d tried (I didn’t.)

    This is a no brainer of a question. Just tell the truth.

  33. LTL*

    I feel you, OP. The career services for a course I just finished has told us to put the course under the experience section of our resume (along with the desired job title) instead of the education section. And it seems that most people are doing that and are getting job offers to boot (they’re not lying per se, in that they’re being completely honest about it in the interview, so it’s not a case of companies just being unaware). I’m not doing that and I always highly encourage everyone to be completely honest on their resumes. But I get the temptation.

  34. HR-ing from home*

    First of all…don’t do it. For all of the reasons Alison gave and plenty more. And as someone who has hired many, many people, I can tell you that titles don’t mean a lot to me. This is because I know that titles vary greatly depending on the industry, company or creativity of the person coming up with the title! I am far more concerned with the responsiblities and the results of the candidates. And I can’t agree more with Alison’s suggestion about making yourself standout by writing a killer resume and cover letter. And by killer, I don’t mean lying or even exaggerating. I mean taking the time to customize your resume/cover letter to the actual position. If you really are qualified then this is not difficult to do though it does take considerably more time. Use your resume for a summary of all your qualifications and results as they apply to the requirements of the job description. (This is easier to do if the person writing the description has done a good job in conveying the qualities a successful candidate needs to possess but that is a different topic!) Then use your cover letter to connect all the dots. Don’t tell me everything that the resume just said; tell me WHY you are a good fit for this position and for my company. This might take some resarch on the company including their culture, clients, competitors, etc. Also, use the cover letter to clear up any inconsistencies in your resume such as gaps in employment or education. Don’t leave me guessing! I have screened thousands of resumes in my career and there are only a handful that have really knocked it out of the park. Be one of the home run hitters and you won’t even have to lie or embellish to make an impression!

  35. Luke*

    With social media being what it is, I’d expect more scrutiny of ones background today- not less. Even if a company doesn’t initially check an applicants background , as Alison points out they will check if the LW is up for promotion.

    That won’t be a good time if after 5+ years at Teapots LLC , the LW was exposed during vetting for a higher position. This exact scenario happened to a Radio Shack exec – after 20 years of deception he was found out during consideration for promotion , and resigned accordingly. That’s a stain he’ll have to live with for the rest of his professional days.
    In the 1990s perhaps one could apply at a business that hadn’t heard of the scandal. Today? Good luck. The Internet forgets nothing.

  36. voluptuousfire*

    I added “Senior” to my resume for my most current role. Am I officially Senior, as in that’s what’s on my offer letter? Nope. Does Senior reflect my experience in this role and company? Yes. I was the first person in my role on my side of the country and have grown it out where it’s much more than with what I started. My colleague who is in my role on the west coast is the 5th person in this role and only has 2 years’ experience in this. I trained her and have mentored her quite a bit. The recruiters I work with also confirmed I can consider myself Senior and approve of it. I’m embellishing my title to match my experience and it’s not mattered a whit so far.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Those recruiters have an interest in getting you hired; recruiters have also changed people’s resumes to add fake experience they don’t have. They are not a measure of what’s okay.

      If I verified your title and found out it was X, not Senior X, it would give me real pause. I’d ask you about it, and depending on your explanation, it could indeed potentially thwart an offer. You are taking a risk (and probably not one warranted by any payoff — I doubt adding Senior is getting you interviews you wouldn’t otherwise have gotten!).

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Recruiters lie. They lie a lot – though probably even more about jobs than about candidates. Misrepresenting definitely temporary jobs as temp to perm, lying about the pay rate until after you’ve accepted the offer….

        1. pancakes*

          They can be very sneaky about it too, because obviously they’re not cc’ing candidates on the packet of resumes they send to clients. The candidate may very well not know about misrepresentation by a recruiter unless and until they arrive for an interview with their own (correct) copy of their resume and have occasion to go over it with the interviewer.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      There isn’t any reason to add “Sr.” to the title. “Senior” and “Lead” don’t mean anything to me. I’ve worked in many organizations where those titles are given because a worker managed to show up to work for a year and got an automatic promotion. I’ve also worked in departments where every employee was a Senior, Manager, or Lead, so there were somehow no frontline team members to be senior to, managing, or leading.
      Just having a strong resume showing advanced skills is what will work.

      1. Batgirl*

        This is what’s really puzzling me about these embellishments. They’re extremely mediocre claims! It’s all risk and no gain. Having one months’ extra experience and sealing up a gap is .. dull and unhelpful information unless you did something particularly impressive that month. Voluptuousfire, why don’t you just talk about the experience and role you have as you have done here? It’s way more interesting.

    3. beanie gee*

      These all sound like reasonable things to include in your cover letter to demonstrate why you are a senior level employee at your job. But I wouldn’t put it on your resume.

    4. MCMonkeyBean*

      That’s definitely still not a good idea if they will see your title is not listed as “senior” when they check your references. You can show your higher level of experience in the bullets underneath the title, which is a lot more meaningful anyway.

  37. Dagny*

    I have two words for you: Marilee Jones. Marilee Jones lied on her resume, then kept lying on it, and was found out eventually when she was Dean of Admissions at MIT.

    If you’re just looking to “fudge” your dates of employment, be aware that sometimes, the only thing that a company WILL verify is dates of employment.

    1. Grim*

      I worked with a great engineer for about 10 years, who was put up for promotion to manager.

      2 days later he was perp walked out of the building because he did not have the electrical engineering degree from Stanford he claimed and this was discovered during the background check for his promotion.

      You would have never suspected this was the case, as the guy was extremely hard working, intelligent and really knew his stuff.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        Holy crap! Did he have the degree from somewhere else, just lied about it being from Stanford, or was he role-playing Suits with engineering?

  38. AnnieBananie*

    Oh noooo OP don’t do it! It will impact your reputation if anyone finds out.

    My friend did this – she started out in a minor service role then switched into a technical role – but when she applied for a job at my major financial company she said she was in the technical role the entire time. Basically exaggerating her experience by probably 25% which is quite a lot since she’s only had a few years of work experience.

    She called me during the reference process super stressed, anxious, crying because she knew she lied and couldn’t sleep for that entire week. Already it isn’t worth it.

    Now 2 months into the job, she’s struggling hard. Hates the job, hates the team, spiraling into anxiety and depression. Asks to switch to my team – and guess what my answer is? Not a chance. She’s unqualified and although she’s my close friend, I don’t agree with her integrity.

    Don’t do it OP. It might be fine, but chances are it might not.

  39. Sparkles McFadden*

    No. No, no, no. Just…no for oh, so many reasons. No good hiring manager or HR department will overlook such things.

    I once had a candidate for an entry level position who made it to the final round. We were going to make her an offer when HR called and said her background check found a problem while trying to verify the candidate’s resume. She stated that she had graduated from college, but the college said she did not graduate. I called the candidate and asked about this. She came clean and said “It’s only a few credits and it’s not a big deal. ” She offered to “get more college credits” if that’s what we needed. I explained that the issue wasn’t her lack of degree, it was the lying, and, perhaps more importantly, her inability to understand that the lying was a HUGE deal. I advised her to correct her resume.

    My boss overruled me (and HR) and hired her. HR pushed back, saying that we can teach the job tasks but we can’t teach someone new values. My boss like her “enthusiasm” so I pushed back, saying someone who would lie about something so easily verifiable was either lying about everything as a rule or was…none too bright. No sale. That exchange spurred me to apply for a job opening in another department.

    For weeks after they hired her, I received hysterical calls from this woman, asking questions on how to do her job. She kept telling people she knew how to do things she didn’t know how to do. Then, in a panic she’d call me, crying, saying things such as: “You were nice to me when you interviewed me. Why can’t you help me now?” I kept saying “I am busy with my new job and staff. Good luck to you.”

    I have no idea what happened to her or my old boss after that, but my new boss and staff members were awesome.

    1. nep*

      How maddening that the boss would overlook this and hire her. Glad you got away from that team and enjoyed the new one.

    2. Batgirl*

      There are totally people in the world who think lying is just a gung ho attitude. I do not want to work for any of them.

  40. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    This is worse than the “white text hidden keywords” advice.

    By trying to game a system, you set yourself up to be caught and found to be immoral and unethical. Not a good look when someone you don’t know is the one involved. They won’t have benefit of the doubt, they won’t have anything else to go on but “woah, lying liar pants, throw this resume in the trash.”

    Don’t lie.

  41. Archaeopteryx*

    “ I know that lying is wrong, but I might not get what I want if I tell the truth!“ … said every liar ever.

  42. Grim*

    Reminds me of a time where I worked at a small biomedical start up and they needed an additional engineer to head a new project. We interviewed several candidates and the forces that be decided we needed to bring in “the best candidate” right away and asked for a thumbs up or thumbs down. Both myself and the other engineer said thumbs down, as the guy was too arrogant and really didn’t know his stuff.

    They hired him anyway. He quit within a week to go to another company he had interviewed with. They offered him the job of manager and he came back with a large salary increase and was now the boss of myself and the other engineer.

    Within 2 months he created a steaming pile of additional busywork and the projects became burning dumpster fires.

    I was out of there in 6 months and the other engineer followed me shortly thereafter.

  43. Generic Name*

    I worked with a guy who lied on his resume. I don’t know exactly what he fudged, but from working with him, his skills to do the job did not match up with the type and experience he claimed to have had. He was eventually fired, and was denied an unemployment claim (I guess because he was fired for cause? I don’t know the details). I later found out through the grapevine that he was lying to potential employers in his subsequent job search. He interviewed at one place and told them that our team was really a mess and he had to do a lot of training, which was a flat out lie. The interviewer knows our company and our team, and thought that, and other things he said didn’t sound right. So she called her colleague at my company to confirm, and my coworker said that he had been fired and he wasn’t as skilled as he told people. Reader, we work in a very niche industry, and he’ll never work for the industry in this metro area again.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yikes, he wasn’t even smart enough to change up industries and lied to someone who knew people *head explosions*

      I’m not surprised he didn’t get unemployment. You hire someone with the idea that they can do the job you’re hiring them to do. If they don’t meet expectations or the job is wildly different than advertised, etc. Then you are eligible for unemployment if you’re fired for performance issues. However this is why you keep resumes in someone’s file, to go back and say “He presented us with this reasonable expectation that he knew how to turn a light switch on, turns out he’s never actually seen a light switch in his GD life.”

  44. SEM*

    Just speaking for myself, my current employer and my previous employer both did background checks completely based on resume. If your resume has inaccuracies you’re effed

  45. Knitrex*

    Have background check procedures changed? Last time I was job searching they compared my resume/online application to what they found. They were very thorough (I had to provide a W-2 for an employer they couldn’t reach) so I assume it was a third-party service.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      A W-2? I’ve never been asked for that. I find that really intrusive because it shows your wages and that is not a potential employer’s business.
      And how are you supposed to get a W-2 from an employer you may have worked at years ago? Unless you save all your tax records going back years and years.

      1. Khatul Madame*

        I had to provide a W-2 from one employer as part of background check. This employer was bought by another company and did not have an active HR department that could confirm I’d worked for them.
        The background check service actually requested pay stubs, which I didn’t have – I’d had direct deposit and several years had passed since my time at that firm. I sent them my W-2 instead and the information on the company that bought the original employer, so they could verify my tenure with them.
        Intrusive? You bet. However, by the time background check took place I’d already negotiated my pay with the employer that ordered the investigation, and received an official offer. Besides, background checks and security clearances are part and parcel of my industry, and basically one has to disclose privileged information in order to be employed. If you prefer to keep this information private, it’s your choice, but the consequence of that choice is being shut out of some lines of work .

        1. MissDisplaced*

          I see, security clearance. I heard that’s the case.
          I’ve never been through one for my work, so didn’t know what they’d ask for.
          I’d have a hard time digging back that far. Plus, I’ve had a lot of part time, contract or freelance jobs I simply don’t include on my resume anymore because it’s too much to list.

  46. Observer*

    OP, Google “yahoo scott thompson” for a high profile example of how this can go very, very wrong.

    It’s also a good example of the kind of dysfunction in hiring that Allison talks about.

  47. Laura*

    The advice sounds like the people who will tell you they won $X in one night in Vegas. They “forget” to mention the other nights they lost $8X.

  48. MissDisplaced*

    Yeah, no it’s not a good idea to lie or embellish your resume or application. It’s too easy to check and verify now.

    However, I think it can be ok to leave off start/end “calendar days” on your resume and just leave the Month/Year.
    Of course, some applications systems will ask for the actual start/stop day of the month. If I don’t remember and must put that in, I will just say the 1st of the month I started in or the last day of the month I left in. I don’t feel this is lying as long as the month and year are correct. Like, who remembers the actual last day from a job you had 10 years ago?

    There are also some jobs I leave completely off my resume for various reasons such as relevancy or time. So, is leaving them off now considered lying?

  49. Bostonian*

    I really like that the answer to this not only included the obvious ethical and logistical reasons, but gave the detailed “selfish” reasons why it wouldn’t be in your best interest to do this: If it works, it may mean that the company you work for is not well managed and/or your coworkers aren’t well-vetted. PLUS it will be an uncomfortable tenure knowing you could be found out and fired at any moment, which will do more long-term damage.

    As a hiring manager, I 1000% agree that the way to stand out is to write an authentic cover letter expressing your interest in and qualifications for the job! Very few applicants take the time to write one (and I’m in a field that you would think I’d see more); OR if they do, it’s a formulaic and stilted regurgitation of their resume. If you can pull off a personalized cover letter even half as good as the examples on this site, you will certainly get their attention!

  50. Delta Delta*

    Here’s when it’s okay to lie: when someone is trying to guess the contents of a Christmas gift.

    Here’s when it’s not okay to lie: basically all the rest of the time.

  51. Georgina Fredricka*

    reminds me of the kids in college who convinced themselves that they had to take study drugs in order to compete with everyone else taking study drugs.

    No – you can do fine without them. If you just figure out a good study plan. Drugs take the place of that and you might be fine or you might drop dead of a heart attack while on the treadmill because you’re self medicating.

    You’re kidding yourself if you think embellishment is what everyone is doing, and how they’re getting the job over you. That’s convenient to believe, but not necessarily the truth.

  52. Betsy S*

    Omitting jobs is not lying unless you have a form that says ‘every job’
    Putting just months, or just years, is not lying
    Putting a second title in parentheses *if accurate* is not lying. For example I worked for a state university and they had us all down as Staff Assistant I/II/III/IV , but we also had working titles.

    Twice, while I was there, I had employers call to verify employment history for student employees who had , um, rounded up their jobs to make it sound like they had been full-time professionals. They didn’t give my name as a reference but the hiring managers found me anyway. One student had said he had *my* job!

    1. irene adler*

      And yet you are collecting the paycheck for the job the student claimed was his.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I’ve been actively working since 16 for more than 30 years now. I couldn’t imagine listing every single job I’ve had!

      1. allathian*

        Same here. Most of the jobs I’ve had are absolutely irrelevant to my current career. The only ones that are relevant are my current one (13 years) and two jobs before that, both project-based fixed-term contracts, but they were crucial because I got the experience necessary to get my current job working those jobs. The 17 years I worked before that were in entry-level jobs in call centers or retail, and I just list those as Miscellaneous work experience. I can provide a full CV that’s been verified by my current employer’s HR dept. if necessary, which lists every job I’ve had since I was 17…

  53. Maude*

    A co-worker of mine lied about having a college diploma TEN YEARS ago. He applied for a promotion in a new division (with a huge pay increase), got the promotion, started the job and was floored when the new division re-checked his background. He was fired. He had continued to lie on all of his materials when asked what his education was during his ten years of employment. Lying can catch up to you eventually. I feel so sad for him to be out of work during this time when jobs are hard to find.

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      Many people do not realize that your current employer will re-vet your credentials for a promotion or even a transfer…or if HR just thinks they need to do a review. I think the embellishers figure that, once they’ve shown they can do the job, the previous lie won’t matter. I’ve even seen a person who got let go complain that the first lie shouldn’t matter: “I did that to get my foot in the door. My experience with the job should outweigh that!” Yeah…no.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        My employer does them annually to comply with audit criteria.

  54. aebhel*

    SUCH a terrible idea. If you’re fudging in small ways, it’s not likely to make you stand out enough to make a difference, and lying about major things is almost certainly going to come back to bite you. Good lord, do not.

  55. Employee #24601*

    I was specifically asked by my current company’s HR team about a (accidental) discrepancy between my resume and my background check application.

    I was at my previous job from March 20xx and when working on the background check application put “03” under month. Or so I thought. It was a terrible webform and when tabbing through the fields I accidentally hit the up key after putting “03” so the answer became “02” and I gave myself an additional month in the previous role by accident. They understood the error (especially because it was only one month and I selected the month prior by accident), but they did actually call me to discuss the difference.

  56. Shadow Dancer*

    I have an odd situation with my title. I received a “promotion” to the title “assistant director of llama grooming.” In actuality, it’s a title that doesn’t exist in the HR system and my formal title is “manager of llama grooming.” I function in all ways as an assistant director except that I don’t manage any staff, which is our HR’s criteria for holding an actual assistant director title. But that department and my boss oked my using the AD title. How does this get reconciled on a resume or job application or interview? I’m not lying but the positions don’t formally match up.

    1. Observer*

      I would put it in as “assistant director of llama grooming.” (Formally is “manager of llama grooming.”)

  57. iglwif*

    It’s so discouraging that people are still being given actively harmful advice like this.

    Don’t even think about it, OP. It will not end well, and honestly the longer it plays out the less well it will end.

    For instance, you might end up being loudly and publicly fired from a very senior position when it’s discovered that you plagiarized your EdD dissertation (true story from my local school board).

  58. Coder von Frankenstein*

    If you do find a company where you need these sorts of tricks to get a job… then, by definition, your coworkers will be the kind of people who use such tricks. And so will your boss. And so will the folks in charge of making sure you get paid.

    If that’s where you want to work, more power to you. But watch your back.

  59. Lora*

    First job out of college, at Small Midwestern Employer: boss who interviewed me had already quit to go work at Major Regional Employer between sending me a job offer and my first day at work. A few years later, I got a job at the Major Regional Employer and at a Friday beer thing, asked “oh hey, what happened to Vince? Wasn’t he here for a while?”

    Silence around the table. Vince had gotten a mid-level bench scientist job, claiming a MS from Big University in chemistry. Then he had applied for a job in the New Sexxxy High Tech Department, which did Department of Defense contracts. Naturally, this involved a more extensive background check. Vince did not have a Masters; he had an Associate’s from a local community college. He was a heck of a smooth talker, but that didn’t stop him from getting perp walked out. His current job is junior quality manager at a dental products company, god help us.

    1. Lora*

      Forgot to mention – that was decades ago. The guy’s career has literally made 0 progress since, uh, at least 1995.

    2. Coder von Frankenstein*

      I kind of want to know what dental products company, so I can ask my dentist not to use any of their products lest they explode in my mouth.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Vince must’ve been an absolute joy to have as one’s boss. /s He did you a huge favor by leaving!

  60. Elysta*

    I work in HR, and utilize a 3rd party vendor for this as well. We always check to see what the applicant has submitted to the background check company. In fact, in comes back with the completed report. This is a large, multi-national background check company. Please do not do this!

    1. OwlEditor*

      My current job (in the U.S.) was the first one that did a third party background check and it was intensive! I remember phone calls, but the request that still sticks out is that I had to send them a scan of my diploma! I’d graduate from a uni in the UK, so I don’t know if that was why, but it made me glad I hadn’t lied.

      1. Sorrischian*

        Well now I almost want someone to ask for a scan of my diploma, because it’s in Latin (no, really) and I’d like to see how they’d react.

        1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

          In a lot of cases, this is because some schools require a copy of the diploma in order to verify the degree, just as standard operating procedure. When I request a diploma copy from a candidate, I don’t really care what it says, because I’m not going to believe the diploma itself (I’ve seen way too many fakes), I’m just handing it over to the school to see what they say.

  61. Anonymous Educator*

    Does this mean the advice to lie and cheat won’t ever work? No, of course not. Sometimes lying and cheating goes undetected, especially at companies that aren’t rigorous about how they hire. But those are the exact companies you don’t want to work for if you care about having good co-workers who don’t make your work life frustrating

    I’m not sure I agree with the assessment that those aren’t companies that you want to work at. I guess you could say that if they know you’re lying but hire you anyway, but sometimes people’s lies take a while to catch up with them.

    Google Marilee Jones and Joseph J. Ellis to see examples.

    1. OwlEditor*

      I had to thank you for that. I googled both names together and it brought up a photo of actors Tom Ellis and Suranne Jones and that made my day. :)

  62. Sharon*

    BIG NO!!! I once got a job offer that was contingent on a very thorough background check. They used a 3rd party vendor to do it and the vendor screwed up the paperwork. I had to account for my whereabouts for the prior 15 years. This could be accomplished through employment verification; however, I was only 28, so I didn’t have 15 years of verifiable work history. As an alternative, the company provided me with a verification form that could be sent to a school, doctor, or dentist to verify that I lived in X city during X dates.

    The vendor sent an employment verification request to my childhood dentist, who of course said I never worked there. So, the vendor told the company I lied and closed the file. HR told the hiring manager I lied and couldn’t be hired. I was so desperate for this job and this news completely devastated me. Fortunately, the hiring manager was able to pull some strings and get HR to have the vendor re-open my file and send the correct paper work out for verification but it was an absolute NIGHTMARE.

  63. Granger*

    “… most people don’t take advantage of and which truly does work — and that’s having a résumé that highlights a strong track record of getting results and writing a compelling cover letter that explains why you’d excel at the role and adds something well beyond just summarizing your résumé.”

    This point is basic, but SO TRUE. It’s a truly sad reflection of where we are today (U.S.), but at this point a well written, clean resume with 100% correct spelling and grammar can stand out regardless of experience for most entry and mid-level positions (in my industry at least).

  64. Bowserkitty*

    Isn’t this kind of what happened to Jeff for the premise of Community? They find out he was lying about being a full-fledged attorney so he suddenly has to go back to school.

  65. natter*

    I kind of envy the apparent…smoothness…of so many peoples’ employment histories!

    I had one job where I was given more money and more responsibility a year into it, but no title change. (I was young and just happy to be recognized; if it happened again today, I’d insist on the title change.) It’s always been a feat to express that promotion on my resume without technically lying about my title. At another gig, I left as a full-time employee in May 2013 but stayed on as a part-time employee until December 2013. But the person responsible for payroll forms didn’t officially close my part-time slot until October 2014! I wasn’t getting paid because I wasn’t logging any hours, but there’s only one termination date and it corresponds to that super late paperwork, not my last paycheck. So now I put October 2014 on application forms because I recognize that’s the date HR will give to a background screening, but it’s actually a lie. And I’m always awkward about how I express it on my resume, because I want my resume and the form to match. At the same time, I have had two jobs where I did time as a contractor and then got hired on full-time. Actually a sign of competence, but a potential viper’s nest of lies. I’m not some kind of exotic adventurer, my career has just not been…straightforward, I guess?

    Any of this can be easily explained if asked about it, but in order to get to the point where you’re having a conversation about your history with an employer, you have to present a clear and logical resume. They want to see a story that goes from A to B to C in a sensible fashion. And if there’s 85 caveats about starting full time this day, contracting that day, on the books but not actually paid until this day, the hiring manager isn’t going to give you half a glance. It’s a real problem.

    1. allathian*

      It is a problem. And it’s not like it’s even relevant to the employee’s ability to do the job some 15 years and 4 employers down the line. Really, it’s not.

  66. Lunita*

    Don’t do it or the lie will come out during a work party with ice sculptures you host at your house while your mom is out of the country. Anyone else remember Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead with Christina Applegate?

    Really though, no good can come of this.

  67. Buttons*

    One other thing to note is that if this is discovered, the third party background check company flags your name and SSN. If your name and SSN come up in the future they are alerted to what happened in the past and check even more closely. There aren’ that many large 3rd party vendors, I know about 25 companies who use the same vendor for this service, it is very likely that a future job could use the same company.

  68. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    OMG, I had an acquaintance have me do it a couple of years ago. There was an opening on his team that I was qualified for, and, for whatever reason, he was really hellbent on bringing me in for it. He said to send him my resume for his review before I applied through their automated system, so I did. He called me back and said no one at his workplace would understand my job title (“Software Engineer (level that translates to senior)”? what’s not to understand??) and that I *absolutely had* to change it to “Web Developer” (which had never been my title anywhere I worked). I am embarrassed to say, I was so puzzled and confused that I went with his request; but filed it in the back of my mind as a pink flag about the job. Was extremely relieved to have them tell me on the very first phone interview that they could only bring me in with a 30% pay cut, and that I probably did not want that. He contacted me again six months later saying that he’d negotiated a raise for me, but I said no, change of plans, cannot change jobs at this time, etc. I just had a bad feeling about that job at that point. Will never find out why he wanted me there so badly, he’d never even worked with me – he’d worked with my ex-husband (the weirdest reason to want someone on your team that I’ve ever heard of). I probably dodged a bullet. I’m now positive that the discrepancy in the job title would’ve come to bite me in the rear if I’d moved any further along in the interview process. In hindsight, I should’ve just told him no and wished good luck in their search the minute he told me to make the change.

    1. Betsy S*

      If you actually were doing web software it wouldn’t be lying to list the job as something like
      Software Engineer (Web Development)
      or some such thing. Otherwise confusing

      I knew someone who was working in an ISP call center and was promoted to manage the knowledge base content for the support team. They gave him the title “Database Administrator”. I warned him, but it stuck.

      The company was bought.
      The new owners expected him to manage the Oracle database.
      It was not funny when he had to tell his new bosses that he was not, in fact, a DBA.

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