I lied to get a job and can’t let go of the guilt

A reader writes:

I’m currently struggling with deep guilt about my work situation. Five years ago, I falsified experience on my resume to qualify for my first professional job, a junior associate position. The job required two years of experience but I had about a year’s co-op experience. So on my resume, I falsified work experience at two companies I had never worked at, got interviewed and was offered the junior associate job which I started at right away.

After two years, the dishonesty plagued my conscience, so I left the junior associate job for a different job. I resolved to be honest going forward, and applied for this second job with an honest resume only including the junior finance associate experience from the first job and previous co-op experience. At the time, I felt like this was honest and my conscience felt at peace. I was offered the job where I have been working for the past three years.

However recently I’ve been extremely plagued by my conscience reminding me of my dishonesty and that by working at this second job, I’m profiting from my earlier dishonesty. I’m bothered on a regular basis and I feel terrible that I made up the first job experience. I feel my chest tighten and some gnawing pains in my stomach and I know that it’s somehow tied to my earlier dishonesty. I have made an effort to be honest in all aspects of my life, making sure to be truthful on my insurance, taxes and benefits claims, but the last few months have been mentally tough when I think about my actions.

I plan to make amends in other ways. My plans primarily range from leaving my current job and going back to college for an 18-month course and starting my career anew (this will give me the most mental peace) to telling my manager at my current job and remaining there, to changing career paths completely (this is most challenging given how empty my resume would be). I’ve also completely eliminated the first junior role from my resume and instead of having five years of experience, I have three, in a bid to make up for my dishonesty, but a part of this still bugs me.

I’ve reviewed this situation with a trusted work manager, a therapist, and other professionals who agree about the dishonesty but have implored me to find a way to move on, as I applied honestly for my current job. They reason that because my current job is based on honest credentials, I should forgive myself and move on, yet I still feel a troubled conscience on occasion. They’ve also asserted that my dishonesty doesn’t discard my experience. It wasn’t a good professional start, true, but it doesn’t have to be how I define myself. That I can learn my lesson, acknowledge my guilt, and try to move forward. I’m aligned with these thoughts but I can’t help but feel guilty pangs.

How can I try to resolve this guilt? What else can I do to make amends for my dishonesty and a seared conscience? What advice would you give to make amends from an ethical or professional perspective?

You did do something wrong. But this isn’t a capital crime, and you don’t need to punish yourself forever.

It’s useful, I think, to think about the purpose of guilt. In many cases, guilt serves to reinforce for us what we do and don’t want to do in the future. If you do something wrong and feel terrible about it afterwards, a healthy person will use that as impetus not to do something similar in the future. Of course, in some cases that’s not enough; when you harm another person terribly, it’s not enough to just learn not to do it again. In those cases, living with that guilt long-term is part of the price you pay.

In this case, you did something wrong. But is it in the category of “harming another person terribly”? The category of “you must feel awful for the rest of your life”?

You got a job under false pretenses. Very false — you didn’t just puff up your experience. You made up two jobs out of whole cloth. You deceived an employer about what experience they were buying when they hired you and gave yourself a leg up over whoever would have gotten the job otherwise. But also … that’s an employer that didn’t bother to do a basic reference check, and you apparently did well enough to keep the job for two years until you decided to leave. (Of course, for all I know, maybe your lie about experience did hurt them — maybe they had to pour resources into training and supervising you that they hadn’t expected to need to spend. Although if that were the case, they had options: they could have let you go.)

I want to be clear: What you did wasn’t okay even if it worked out for the employer and even though they were negligent about reference checking. If you’d written to me when you were contemplating it, I would have strongly warned you against doing it. I would have told you that it was unethical and that there was a high chance of it coming back to harm you. And if you didn’t feel guilty about it now, I’d have a serious problem with that.

But it was five years ago, you know it was wrong, and you’ve tried to undo it to the extent that you can (leaving that job and leaving it off your resume).

Since that job led to your current job, the only way to completely undo the advantages you received from the lie would be to change careers entirely and start with an empty resume. But I don’t think the situation demands that of you.

I’m not suggesting that you should go merrily along your way and never think about what you did again. Feeling guilt is an appropriate reaction and an appropriate consequence. But I don’t think you need to blow up your career over it either (which I suspect telling your current manager would do, by the way). You can know it was wrong, feel the guilt that’s warranted, and use it to power a resolve to conduct yourself with the utmost integrity going forward.

If you really want to leave your job to go back to school and start a fresh career … well, if that’s the only way you’ll find peace, that might be your path.

But there are other paths forward too. You can find ways to counter the wrong thing you did by intentionally doing good now. You can be generous with your time and skills to help people who are coming up behind you. Go out of your way to help people who need help. Be kind. Give money to charities that help people who don’t have professional advantages. Put good into the world.

I’d also ask: Is the world better served by someone who messed up and keeps punishing themselves, or by someone who messed up and becomes a better person because of it?

Sometimes the biggest mistakes teach the most important lessons.

{ 223 comments… read them below }

    1. DennisM (OP)*

      Agreed. It definitely resonated with me, even outside of a professional perspective. Thanks for the well-wishes!

      1. SallyB*

        Yeah I agree! And in the grand scheme of bad things you could have done, this soooooo mild omg.

        I see it like this: when I was young and just starting out I made sooooooo many mistakes. Some of them has bad consequences like people losing their jobs or me making things more difficult for myself. But, thats being young! Chalk this up to an embarrassing mistake you made when just starting out, remember it for that, and try to move on (easier said then done I know).

        If we were all punished for the rest of our lives for what we did when we were just starting out, then none of us would have jobs or any reputation to hold on to.

        And if you want some perspective on this, I would recommend looking up the woman who freaked out when the woman she bullied wouldn’t let her work at the company she worked for. That was pretty bad. But it doens’t define her whole life.

        This doesn’t define you. You did it. You learned from it. Its ok (and necessary honestly) for you to move on.

      2. wittyrepartee*

        I second what Alison says. The greatest penance here would be to help people in the same situation as you previously were in- having trouble getting the experience for employment. Is there an internship program that you could mentor for at your current job? If not, could you create one?

      3. Accountant who wants purple hair*

        This response from AAM hit me on many levels, personal especially. Is this a capital crime? Good point. Thank you AAM, your response applies in so many ways. I wish it could go viral.

  1. Louise*

    Given we are coming up on the holidays where it is seen as a time to help others and the new year that can be a fresh start, I think coming up with concrete ways to you can help other with professional development might help with a plan to start implementing them in 2021.

    I grew up in a religious household and decades later still occasionally suffer from Catholic Guilt even though I am not Catholic anymore. Guilt can be a tough emotion. Best of luck in finding a way forward that will let you turn a mistake in an opportunity to be a better person and make your corner of the world a little better.

    1. Indigo a la mode*

      Your first sentence got me thinking. OP, are you in a position where you could take on a paid intern, the kind that actually gets to be involved in business tasks and gain meaningful skills? Imagine personally providing someone with the experience and coaching they need to get into the field and jumpstart their own career the way you wish you had started yours. You could (tacitly) prevent a bright young professional from making the same mistake. That’s such a valuable thing to do for someone, and personally I think it would go a long way toward wiping your karmic slate.

      1. 'Tis Me*

        I was going to suggest that if OP has any say in job advertisements, pushing for more accurate distinctions between amount of experience needed and amount of experience preferred.

    2. wittyrepartee*

      Former Catholic here: One of the nice things about Catholicism though, is that you’re supposed to do something about that guilt. Go make the world better. Pay it forward. Be better. Do penance, then go and sin no more.

  2. HR Ninja*

    If I may be so bold, I would also suggest counseling to work through what you’re feeling. Talking through it might help alleviate some of the guilt.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          No worries. It’s still a good idea for OP to continue that relationship because the shame spiral she’s in isn’t helpful or healthy.

          1. Momma Bear*

            If the therapy is past tense, it might be good for OP to get a current therapist or to see what else might be causing this guilt/anxiety. Is OP unable, for example, to accept that OP deserves anything good in their life? Often when things like this pop up and become unmanageable it’s really about something else – Anxiety can be crippling. OP needs to dive deep into the root cause so they can forgive themselves and move on. Maybe OP needs more than talk therapy.

            IMO, OP should forgive themselves because they have changed jobs and been honest since. They learned from that lesson and will not repeat it. Do volunteer work or something, but there is no benefit from self- sabotage at this point.

          2. Okay, great!*

            I just wanted to say I agree with this statement if the OP is reading through the comments. They have had a few people who’s counsel they sought out tell them to acknowledge it but move on, yet they are still having trouble. Spiral was a good word. OP please revisit with your therapist why this has become so hard to move past. I wish you the best.

      1. Observer*

        Yeah. It sounds like they could use another therapist. It’s not enough for the therapist to tell the OP to move on. They should be helping the OP figure out HOW to do that, and why they are still so stuck on this to this level.

        1. Rachel*

          If OP doesn’t want to move on (because he thinks he deserves to suffer forever), there’s not much a therapist can do to convince him otherwise. The tone I am getting from the letter is that he is trying to assuage his guilt by endlessly punishing himself and cannot/will not internalize any suggestions of stopping.

          It’s a terrible spiral (that I have also been in), and he will have to want to stop punishing himself first before anyone can help him determine how to.

    1. Chance of thunderstorm*

      This is a horrible stressful time for so many people. Is it possible that your stress is manifesting itself as an extra dose of guilt? You’ve done your best to atone for lying and have changed because of it. It sounds like your brain might be glitching on this one thing and may need some help to put things in full perspective. Sending good vibes.

      1. Ally McBeal*

        Yeah, I wonder if the global/national emphasis on and anger about people not following safety policies (mask wearing, etc.) is aggravating OP’s anxieties. I have always been a rule-follower, and a bossy person, and I have been struggling with anger issues whenever I see rule-breakers who could quite literally kill me and my family with their rule-breaking.

        1. 2020storm*

          this is how I feel about the lines in stores telling us which way to go!!! Look at the lines! They’re right there! Just go the way they say!!! I cannot!!!!!!!

      2. wittyrepartee*

        Yeah, also- the intense guilt and relief I currently feel that neither I nor my partner are unemployed. I bet that’s playing into it.

    2. DennisM (OP)*

      Yeah I’m still doing this with a therapist. So far, it’s a work in progress addressing underlying feelings and looking for ways to make amends

    3. FormerTVGirl*

      I agree with you — even though OP has mentioned talking about this with their therapist. From the sound of this note, OP is really, truly pained by an action that SHOULD cause some level of guilt and discomfort, but absolutely should NOT be all-encompassing or lead OP to blow up their career, pay to go back to college and start over. I think it might be helpful for OP to work through this more in depth than it seems they have up until this point. OP, as an anxious person who sometimes stews on things unnecessarily, I feel you! Good luck!

  3. Jules the 3rd*

    OP, keep unpacking this with your therapy. It reminds me a *lot* of the kind of intrusive thoughts I get with my OCD. With years of experience, therapy, and prescription treatment, I’ve been able to identify and minimize these intrusive thoughts.

    Yeah, you messed up, but contrition and resolving never to do it again are sufficient for your error.

    1. EPLawyer*

      “but contrition and resolving never to do it again are sufficient for your error.”

      This x 100000. Yes you messed up, in a big way. Which you then corrected and DID NOT DO AGAIN. So many people say sorry but then go right back to that behavior. You did not do this.

      You stayed 2 years at the first job. Then you have been at your current job 3. You are — at the very least — competent at what you do. If you really couldn’t do the job it would show. this does not justify lying about your resume. But at this point, you don’t need to lie anymore. You DID THE WORK to stay in your current job.

      It’s time to move on while remembering not to do this again. You don’t need to wear a Scarlet L for the rest of your professional life.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        All of this, but especially this:

        You stayed 2 years at the first job. Then you have been at your current job 3. You are — at the very least — competent at what you do. If you really couldn’t do the job it would show.

        1. Who Plays Backgammon?*


          An employer isn’t God, and you aren’t going to hell for this. Lying isn’t good, if only because you might get caught and have consequences, but you realize that now. As you’ve learned, lying also isn’t good because it goes against your personal morals.

          Please don’t keep beating yourself up for something you did when you were younger and needed a job. You’ve grown and matured.

    2. Retired Prof*

      I wonder if the fact that LW is still talking this over with so many people means she knows that her proposed solution is overkill but is trying to find a way to let that idea go. If you’ve already talked over your proposed solution – starting over and changing fields – with trusted colleagues and your therapist, why are you now taking it to an internet advice column? I also suspect that if the problem is the guilt, then changing fields does not change the fact that she now knows she was a person capable of that deception. That’s the piece that needs work – learning that she doesn’t have to be that deceptive person in the future, and learning to forgive herself for having done something she deeply regrets. She can do that without changing fields, and she could change fields and still not learn how to deal with the guilt.

    3. Empress Matilda*

      Yes, and I think it’s also worth being honest with your therapist about how many people you’ve asked for advice.

      Tell her this: I’ve reviewed this situation with a trusted work manager, a therapist, a workplace advice columnist on the internet, and other professionals who agree about the dishonesty but have implored me to find a way to move on. If your therapist doesn’t know this part, it’s important. If she thinks she’s the only person who has given you this advice, it’s going to be a different approach than if she knows that lots of people have told you exactly the same thing.

      The idea of moving on is obviously really hard for you. And it’s not just that it’s hard – the problem is that it’s *so incredibly hard* for you. You’ve asked multiple professionals for advice, they have all given you the same advice, and still you keep asking more people. I mean this gently – are you looking for someone who will tell you it’s okay to feel guilty? It is okay. But it’s not okay that the guilt is taking over your life like this – you’ve done what you can at this point, and it really is okay to move on.

      Sending love – please give us an update when you have one.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        “it’s not okay that the guilt is taking over your life like this”

        This! The point where I go back to a professional is when it starts to impact my life again (started SNRIs two months ago after 2ish years of no meds, working out better than SSRIs so far, but *man* do I wish I qualified for a psilocybin trial).

        OP, you’ve hit that point. Working with a professional for an extended period on these feelings is a better solution than blowing up your career. Working with a therapist gives you tools to resist such temptations in the future, while still having resources to do some restitution – that’s justice. Blowing up your career is just punishment.

    4. Elliott*

      As someone who struggles with anxiety and intrusive thoughts, I agree with this. I know the OP has already talked to a therapist, but I think this is something that’s worth continuing to unpack (and it may be necessary to explain how strong these feelings of guilt are if the therapist is perhaps unaware).

      Feeling guilty when we do something wrong is generally a healthy reaction, but disproportionate guilt can be a form of intrusive thoughts.

    5. runn16*

      I’d also add that I read recently that self-blame and guilt are ways for a person to continue to exert a sense of control over a situation. It might be worth asking yourself if holding on to this guilt allows you to feel like you have some control over the outcomes of your decisions. It might make it easier to unpack the immense guilt and blame you’re shouldering.

    6. Koalafied*

      This is an important distinction – that the intrusive thoughts never go away, you just learn how to deal with them so they don’t make you miserable and affect your life negatively.

      I would say on an almost daily basis I recall my friends and I throwing an end of school year party in the 5th grade and inviting everyone in our grade except for two unpopular girls. And every time I want to crawl into a hole and die. As far as I’ve been able to work out thus far in life, there’s nothing I can do that will ever make that feeling go away. I’m always going to remember it and I’m always going to get that gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach when I do. I just have to use the skills I’ve developed through therapy to accept that I did that and have to live with that and try to learn from. (And that’s far from the only intrusive thought I get, but is perhaps the most closely related to LW’s feeling of crushing guilt that nothing can alleviate.)

      1. 'Tis Me*

        I used to be plagued by intrusive thoughts of the super-fun self-loathing and suicidal depression variety. Getting a name for them was actually really helpful as then I knew it was a thing, those aren’t really my inner thoughts even though they sound like them, etc, just the depression speaking. But I am mostly fine these days. I worked through most of my issues and they just don’t routinely happen. When they do, I recognise them for what they are which also helps me to give them the power over me they merit (i.e. Note that I might need to find my SAD lamp or sleep more, be aware if they’re more than very occasional, but don’t engage with them and don’t listen to them).

        But I do tend to go months at a time without having any, so they gave largely gone away. So it can happen…

  4. Annie Porter*

    Please let this go. Like Alison said, go do good in the world. We ALL screw up, many of us royally, and while there’s no justification for what you did, it’s now behind you and you learned a hard lesson from it. I’m no moral compass, but it seems (to me) that five years of beating yourself up for this is punishment enough.

    1. you bet I'm anon for this*

      I agree.

      When I was much younger, I stole money from a job. Not a lot of money. Like, twenty bucks here and there, because I was poor and hungry and desperate and stupid. Worse, I never got caught, and they never noticed.

      I can’t make amends here. That business is long since closed. The proprietor’s grandchildren don’t need an anonymous gift of $100 in the mail, and something like that might raise questions or trigger concern, and cause more harm in the end.

      So when it gets to me — when it really gets to me — I take a careful look at my finances, decide what I can go without, and go on a KickStarter or GoFundMe binge. Before there were those options, I did volunteer work and donated to good causes whenever I could afford it. (I was poor and hungry for a loooong time.) There’s something about charity work that really lightens those burdens.

      It will never atone for the theft; nothing can or will. But it certainly does help me sleep at night.

      1. kt*

        This — this!

        Letter writer, what can *you* do to help other young people get a leg up so they don’t have to lie to get a job? Can you mentor, volunteer, give money? Can you work with the Boys & Girls Club or the science club at a school? Give Zoom talks about your job to high school students?

        1. DennisM (OP)*

          I worked with an organization to mentor kids in the summer last year. Albeit I had none of the guilty feelings then, I recognise I felt happy being able to give back. The pandemic’s made it challenging but it’s something I can look into again

          1. Elliott*

            If the guilty feelings have gotten worse recently, I think that’s an especially good reason to think about your mental health. What has changed between then and now to make you feel so horrible?

            Before I got my anxiety under control, stressful times would sometimes trigger spirals where I would obsess over something that had happened months or years ago. This sounds really familiar to me, and I think it’s something that’s worth considering.

            1. Rachel*

              Yeah this is a major detail!! Why is your guilt and shame over it flaring up now?

              Is it general anxiety, where your brain starts looking for things to dwell on? Is it that you got praised at work or some other positive thing you feel you don’t deserve because of how you started? If you can be thoughtful about why now with your therapist, you might find some underlying thing that has gotten entangled with this issue, making it larger and stickier than it is on its own.

          2. kt*

            Thanks for your reply, DennisM (OP). Glad to hear it, and also, I second/third/whatever Elliott’s question.

      2. logicbutton*

        Oh my gosh. Please, PLEASE find a way to forgive yourself. If the proprietor was a decent person, they would absolutely forgive you if they knew, and if they weren’t a decent person, forget ’em, it obviously didn’t hurt them if they didn’t even notice. If I ran a business and found out that an employee had stolen $20 here and there purely out of desperation and I hadn’t even noticed at the time, I would genuinely be relieved that they had had a safe way to keep themselves afloat.

  5. Kait*

    I think physical pain is a good metaphor for guilt. The point of pain is to warn you that you may be damaging your body. It’s why your ankle hurts when you twist it, your body is warning you that if you don’t rectify the situation, it may result in worse or permanent damage. However, there are many conditions (e.g., fibromyalgia) that are the pain system misfiring, not providing any useful feedback and just overloading the body.

    It sounds like the letter writer’s guilt has the same issues. It’s overloading to the point that it’s no longer providing useful feedback. As noted, the appropriate response would be a) not doing this again, and b) trying to make amends in a constructive manner.

    Blowing everything up may seem like it would make you feel better, but from an outside perspective there’s a performative aspect (showing EVERYONE that you have changed) that might be better channeled into, as suggested, mentoring others or giving back in a smaller, less noticeable way.

    1. sacados*

      Seconded. It also begs the question — would any of the more extreme options help either?
      If OP did decide to blow up her career and start fresh in an entirely new industry with a blank resume, would that *actually* make her feel better?
      Or, when she managed to land a job in this new industry, would she be plagued by thoughts of “well I may not have used any of my fraudulent experience to get this new job, but I still hid the fact that I have a past record of lying to get a job, which means that I’m lying by omission to my current employer because if they knew how unethical I was they would never have hired me.”
      The outside stressors causing OP to get mired in this guilt/shame spiral are likely not going to go away even in a new industry.

      1. londonedit*

        I’m also curious as to how the first option of quitting, doing a college course and then ‘starting [my] career anew’ would work. It sounds like this would involve going back into the same industry, at perhaps a lower level, but with a qualification to ‘prove’ OP’s worthiness (seeing as option 3 would be ‘start on a new career path altogether’). How would that play out? OP would spend time and money doing a course for 18 months, and then what? They carry on leaving off the falsified jobs but add in the extra qualification? How does that realistically make a difference, apart from somehow making them feel more worthy of the job? In most industries it’s hard to take a step back – so would they leave off all their employment history to date, and try to go in ‘cold’ with just this new qualification to their name? Do they feel like they have to somehow go back and ‘repeat’ the two years they did as a junior associate? I think the 18 months would be better spent unpacking the guilt and shame as part of therapy, and looking into ways of mentoring/lifting up young people in OP’s industry.

      2. DennisM (OP)*

        @scaados You hit it on the head so much it’s scary. Someone else mentioned I could be guilty of the dishonesty of omission if I choose to restart career paths without mentioning my current (and valid) employment. The best step is to move forward and learn from this. Thank you

  6. katiejones*

    OP, I wonder if the reason you’re feeling guilty is you haven’t done any external repair. While you’ve worked on changing things for yourself, none of this deals with the fact that you got a job that someone else would have gotten if you hadn’t lied — so guilt over that makes sense.

    Have you thought about offering mentoring/skills training to those who could benefit from it? Is there a college program you can help mentor, or an intern you can teach additional skills to? Now is the time to use your knowledge and experience to help lift up others.

    1. Pretzelgirl*

      You could also donate to scholarship funds or something of the like. Perhaps scholarship funds for people/students who are minorities, women, who might not otherwise have the chance at a higher education as the rest of America.

      1. Temperance*

        First generation college students. Offer to mentor a first-gen student from your college. Serve as a resource.

    2. SierraSkiing*

      I’d add – are there organizations out there for underrepresented groups in your profession? They might have a mentorship program that you could volunteer for. Also, is there some way you could volunteer your professional skills to an NGO? ie working pro bono for a civil rights org if you’re a lawyer. You can use the skills you’ve built in your profession to help make the world better for others. No one is better off if you throw those away.

    3. MissMeghan*

      That was my first thought too. You made up two years of employment, so in your spare time commit to two years of volunteering to help others get jobs. You maybe made a little more money than you think you should have, so find a place where you can donate suits for people to interview in.

      You definitely don’t need to restart your career, and that won’t really help any one. Put an equal amount of good back into the world and hopefully it will ease your mind.

        1. Big hugs!*

          I like this one! Yes, 2 years on volunteering would be a great way to payback for the mistake you did.

          Let go of the guilt! The world is a much better place when people realize their mistake and make amends, rather than stuck in frozen guilt .. you are given a great life.. help others and thereby you’ll be helping yourself as well, to move on.

        2. Lady Meyneth*

          OP, your’re a good person. There are so many who could have done what you did, profited from it, and then moved on guilt-free. So remember, you are a good person, you did no lasting harm to anyone, and you deserve to be happy in your own skin.

          I like MissMeghan’s ideas on how to do that. I suggest you pick one or two ways to give back and a fixed timeline for them (2 years sound good!), and think of it as a sentence of sorts, like court-ordered community services. Not because what you did would require such a thing, mind, but it might help you reach that “my debt is paid” mindset, even if you end up continuing to volunteer after.

          Good luck, OP, and remember: you are a good person and good persons get to make mistakes too. I hope you can forgive yourself and be happy.

        3. wittyrepartee*

          You’re an ok person Dennis. I’ve screwed up just as royally as you have in life. Here’s my mantra.

          “You will make all kinds of mistakes; but as long as you are generous and true and also fierce you cannot hurt the world or even seriously distress her.” – Churchill

    4. LilyP*

      I’d also suggest, if you have any influence on hiring processes at your current workplace, pushing to remove unnecessary degree/experience requirements for entry-level positions. It’s clear you succeeded despite not meeting their on-paper experience requirements, so there are probably others like you out there who could thrive if given the chance.

  7. Former Usher*

    Her workplace advice is always fantastic, but I sometimes wonder if Alison’s greatest contribution is bringing much-needed mercy to the internet.

    1. TPS reporter*

      yes! we don’t automatically cancel everyone on this blog. You can redeem yourself.

      what is more productive- ongoing self flagellation or pushing those feelings into another more helpful direction? giving back will help you feel better I promise! We’ve all done things we’re not proud of, to varying degrees. Constant mocking and criticism is not the answer.

  8. KHB*

    You say this has been particularly bothering you over the past few months. Well, the past few months have been a stressful time with respect to world events, and it doesn’t help that there’s not much for any of us to do but sit at home by ourselves and feel bad. A lot of us, I think, have been spending some of this time replaying our past mistakes in our minds and feeling plagued by them. But it helps to remind ourselves (in Captain Awkward’s parlance, I think), that this is the JerkBrain talking. You are better than the worst thing you’ve ever done.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      This! I am stickler for integrity and I think the LW has done enough to make up for the lie. She left the first job obtained through dishonesty of her own volition. She got a new job without lying and by being honest about her experience. I think the anxiety and stress about EVERYTHING 2020 has wrought is manifesting as revived and unnecessary (at this point) guilt.

      I think you’ve made it right and you don’t have do more penance. If you wanted to do more, I think the advice to look for opportunities to mentor is great, but you don’t have to blow up your career. It seems like you did an okay job at your first job despite lying about your experience since you left of your own volition. You have now obtained experience and skills.

      1. londonedit*

        Also, I think a lot of people are experiencing guilt for just *having* a job in 2020 – we hear so much about all the awful predicaments people are in, in hospitality and entertainment and healthcare, and people trying to juggle jobs and childcare and home-working in less-than-ideal situations. People who actually are doing OK through all of this, who can work from home easily, who don’t have jobs that are in peril, can easily feel a lot of guilt just because of that. I can imagine OP feeling that guilt plus an extra cherry on top of ‘I shouldn’t even be in my job in the first place, I don’t deserve it, I don’t deserve to have a job when other people are losing theirs’.

        1. Momma Bear*

          Yes. It is sometimes hard to be in a good position when others are not. Survivor’s Guilt, in a way.

    2. HS teacher*

      Came here to say this. When I have too much time on my hands, I stew. Maybe the LW is going through something similar.

  9. SusanB*

    Brene Brown does a lot of great work on guilt and shame. To put it really simply: Guilt is saying “I did a bad thing” and shame is “I am a bad person” – it sounds like you’re very bogged down in shame right now. You did a bad thing but you are not a bad person. You are the sum of all of your actions. I agree with the previous poster who recommended therapy. I think dealing with the shame of what you’ve done will be important for you to move forward.

    1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      Was coming here to say this as well.
      Guilt brings forth positive change and peace after doing what you could to amend it.
      Shame on the other hand continually berates you and never lets you free. It is not productive.

      If you keep thinking “but I could do more!” – we all probably could, but you definitely have slipped into a bad cycle and should consider a different therapist. These sound like obsessive thoughts and go far beyond making amends. Discuss this with your doctor. I went through this and there ARE ways to let go. It may take more therapy, or medicine, but letting go should be your priority now, not continually trying to fix an old bad decision. Some can’t be fixed and you need help to accept that.

    2. Llama face!*

      I came here to say the same thing about guilt vs shame. The two cents I’ll add is: it is helpful to clarify for yourself whether you are dealing with guilt or shame. Generally guilt can be alleviated by making amends, doing better in future, and such because you are doing what you can to fix a bad choice of action. Shame will never consider anything you do to be enough because it is not an action regretted but an identity you can get stuck on. The solution to shame isn’t to do more penance but to recognize that it is not true- you are not exclusively and always a resume cheater and nothing else- and keep reminding yourself until it sticks (that’s a reductive way to say it but hope it makes sense anyhow).

    3. Bluesboy*

      I think the guilt vs shame comparison is an interesting one. The concept of shame leading to ‘I am a bad person’ – well, if you really were a bad person, you wouldn’t be feeling this. You would either be feeling nothing and not caring, or you would be proud that you were ‘smart’ and got away with it.

      OPs guilty feeling, I think, is actually proof that OP IS a good person – just a good person who made a mistake. Like all good people.

  10. Hey Karma, Over Here*

    Please think about talking to a disinterested party.
    Absolution can come from a religious leader or a therapist, or some other professional who will listen without judging and help you accept and move on.
    And this person can help you find the real reason this cycle of thoughts started.
    There is probably a tangible or traceable reason why you are in this thought cycle.
    Maybe seeing so many people lose jobs because of Covid, (I didn’t even deserve my job!) maybe because you subconsciously (sp?) connected a task or project you are doing now to something you learned how to do at the previous job. (I wouldn’t have this knowledge without “sneaking” into that job.)
    Guilt can be healthy and useful, but it must be controlled. Please find someone to help you work through the fact that: Yes, you did something wrong. No, you don’t need to punish yourself for it, or run away from it. You need to accept it and make peace with it.
    Good luck.

  11. Diahann Carroll*

    You can be generous with your time and skills to help people who are coming up behind you. Go out of your way to help people who need help. Be kind. Give money to charities that help people who don’t have professional advantages. Put good into the world.

    I was going to say exactly this, Alison. OP, just strive to do good deeds going forward to make up for your lie. You can’t change the past, but you can make a better future.

    1. Loosey Goosey*

      Yes, this is so wise. Take the guilt and make it into something productive. Torturing yourself with it will only continue to hurt you, while also not helping anyone else.

  12. KR*

    You really hit the nail on the head with this one Alison. OP – what you did wasn’t great but keep in mind many companies would lie or deceive you without a second thought. You are feeling way more bad about this than you need to be. Please don’t blow up your career over this.

  13. 867-5309*

    OP, I’m not sure if our voices adding to the others in your life will help but you do not need to do this yourself any longer. You made your amends by leaving the first job and getting your current role with an honest resume. You have not done the same thing again.

    As Alison said, you can “make amends” to others if that helps your conscious and she provided excellent ideas for this, but you did something unethical and then you righted it as very best you could. It’s done now. Leaving your field, blowing up your career or “starting anew” serves no one.

    When I went through the amends process of AA, this quote gave me comfort and maybe it will for you also.

    Richard Brautigan,
    Are You the Lamb of Your Own Forgiving?

    I mean: Can you forgive yourself/all those crimes without victims

    1. Smithy*

      I think this is a very helpful way of thinking of this.

      The job hunting universe is not a zero sum game in that for every job any of us receive, the flip side is not people being hurt. Not to dismiss or minimize the unethical behavior, but in the context where the wrong behavior does not truly have a counterpart to grant absolution. Therefore the work that needs to be done with a therapist or other support network is from within.

  14. 7.12*

    PLEASE keep going to therapy!! this sounds like an internal problem rather than an external one. that doesn’t make it any less serious or real, but it changes how you should approach it. please don’t blow up your professional career over a mental health issue. with time and work, you can work through this with a mental health practitioner.

  15. Esme*

    If the LW made amends and was at peace for a few years and now the guilt is back with a vengeance, I suspect maybe this has a lot to do with outside stressors. The way they are reading out to all these different people looking for absolution/punishment/comfort for something they did years ago in a job they no longer hold… I hope they find peace. I hope we all find peace.

  16. CatCat*

    Blowing up your career isn’t going to help anyone and isn’t going to change the past. But making a diligent effort to do good going forward could help so many people and help you find peace of mind. Before giving up, try putting your lesson learned to good use.

  17. JohannaCabal*

    OP, I read about someone who did something similar. That person found they could not escape the retail “trap” despite a college degree, so they lied about working in an office to get their first non-retail job. This person also felt guilty for starting a career off on lies so once they were in a position to hire, they made a point of moving up candidates from similar backgrounds in the hiring process. The idea being that fewer people in similar situations would feel the need to start their careers off on lies. Perhaps, this is something to consider.

    (I hope I didn’t offend anyone working in retail by referring to it as a “trap.” I just know too many people who had to work in retail during college, often delaying graduation, and then found it hard to get a non-retail job after graduation. This really angers me.)

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I was thinking about every job that I should have been able to do except they wanted 3 years of experience. For a $10-an-hour beginner gig.

      No wonder people fib to get a toe in the door.

      1. EchoGirl*

        I have something similar with the particular grad school program I want to pursue (not going to be too specific, but it’s in an arts field). A lot of the programs want people with experience working in the field; unfortunately, my undergraduate experience involved a chaotic department and not a lot of chances to network, so I wasn’t really able to break into the field the way I’d hoped in the first place. Grad school would probably help with that, but, well…

    2. Mel_05*

      Totally understand. My husband is trapped that way now. He has a college degree, but it has turned out to be worthless (not for-profit, just lousy guidance from his advisor) and he’s been stuck in the restaurant business for the last decade.

      Now, 10 years out, we’re at a loss as to how he makes the switch to another career. Does he have to go get a whole other degree? Start at the bottom making half of what he makes now so he can have an office job? It is quite the trap.

      1. Moose*

        A good way is to start at a call center (preferably for something like a bank or university). Call center jobs really really really really suck but they’re one of the only entry points into the office world these days.

    3. Diahann Carroll*

      The idea being that fewer people in similar situations would feel the need to start their careers off on lies. Perhaps, this is something to consider.

      This is definitely a good idea.

    4. AndersonDarling*

      I was thinking this as well. The best thing the OP can do is strive to make a world where other people in her position aren’t tempted to make the same decision. Whenever possible, encourage hiring managers to loosen their requirements and look for more diverse candidates. Offer to mentor junior employees so your employer knows they can hire less experienced staff and there is support to train them.
      OP can keep feeling guilty and punish themselves, or change the world into the one she needed 5 years ago.

    5. MsChanandlerBong*

      I understand what you mean. My husband’s father paid for his college tuition, but in return, my husband had to work at his dad’s manufacturing business for over five years making $7 an hour. So then when he graduated, he had no internships or work-related experience, just low-paying manufacturing experience. He spent over 10 years in low-paying jobs, doing grueling work, because the only jobs that would hire him with his experience were other low-paying manufacturing companies. The only reason he escaped is because we moved 2,000 miles away and had the good fortune to get a PT job as an aide in an art program for adults with developmental disabilities. He was quickly given a FT job, and then he was promoted to a teacher position based on his work as an aide. That four years as a teacher gave him the opportunity to delete all the manufacturing stuff from his resume, and he was able to use that resume with professional experience on it to land a government job that pays more than triple what he used to make.

  18. Finance guy*

    My biggest suggestion is to realize that a junior associate should not need any true experience. It’s a junior associate, entry level position. One recommendation I have would be in the future when you have power over hiring choices is to think about your experience here and analyze what level of experience you truly require vs. would be nice to have. This type of requirement on truly entry level positions is what can lead to poor choices about resume fudging. I manage a financial analyst, when hiring the current employee, we wanted someone with experience as a boost, but it wasn’t a true requirement. We ended up hiring internal with a candidate with no finance experience (finance degree), but whose knowledge of the company was useful and required less training from that side vs. more training on the finance side.

    1. Observer*

      This is perfect.

      You really want to make amends op? Work to change the triggers that push people to lie.

      1. Gaia*

        Exactly. I’m not saying it is okay that OP lied, it isn’t. I’m saying there is a bigger game being played here and it all needs to stop.

    2. tiasp*

      I like this point. Obviously, lying was a mistake. But on the other hand, it’s not like you faked a medical degree and started doing surgeries. Or drove a million dollar company into the ground as an unqualified CEO. If you are one day in a position to push back on these kinds of requirements for entry level jobs, then you will be doing some good. And I bet as you rise, you will be more compassionate when people make a mistake. Take it as a lesson and move on.

    3. Tiny Kong*

      This is my take. Lying about your work history is obviously bad, but when you factor in the “need experience to get experience” trap that exists nowadays, it’s like stealing a loaf of bread, in my opinion. I don’t think it’s even all that bad, in the grand scheme of unethical actions.

      If OP can contribute to making a work society that doesn’t require 3 years experience for entry level jobs, then I don’t think there’s any need for guilt or shame at all.

  19. Matt*

    This may be coming from a different angle, but OP, I’m curious how your work experience was at your first job. Were you able to do the job really well without the actual experience? If so, another possible angle to think about this is that your employer beefed up the job description unnecessarily. Some podcasts I’ve been listening to have featured some economists writing about how jobs are becoming unnecessarily credentialed as part of our entire economic inequality. Jobs 20-40 years ago that only required a high school diploma are starting to require bachelor’s and master’s degrees when they aren’t really necessary, (oh and they aren’t paying more for it either). If you were able to perform the job well then maybe it might help to think of it as evidence that they were asking for more experience than necessary. I remember when I just graduated college and I had quite a bit of working experience as I had been working since 15, but still couldn’t get a decent job and most of the descriptions I were seeing, even for entry-level jobs were requiring 3-5 years experience, bachelors, etc.. and they were only offering a few dollars over minimum wage per hour. I had friends working at In & Out without a degree making more money than I was at the time.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      I agree. I also wonder if the LW still wasn’t the best candidate despite not meeting a 2 year experience. The year’s co-op experience would meet half the experience requirement in my opinion. and the LW seems to have succeeded as a junior associate, which does sound like an entry level job to me.

    2. JohannaCabal*

      As much as I enjoyed my undergraduate experience (it was an escape from a not-so-good homelife and I’m one of those people that likes learning–well, at least for the things I’m interested in), I’ve often wondered why I had to go to college for a career in writing/editing/marketing. Honestly, for my field, it would have made more sense for me to come on board as an apprentice after high school.

      And I’m not denigrating marketing (I work in marketing), I just think it lends itself more to an apprentice-ship type model. Same with journalism. There’d be less student loan debt plus a more diverse workforce.

      Things to think about.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        I wholeheartedly agree with you, and I was a journalism major. I learned nothing in college that I hadn’t already learned in high school as a writer and editor on my school’s newspaper.

    3. another worker bee*

      Yeah, unless OP’s first employer was incredibly non-confrontational, they did alright in the role despite not having the requisite experience (since they didn’t get put on a PIP or fired). I’m not condoning the lie, but this is a pretty good indication that as a whole, we need to seriously re-think experience requirements, as it ends up locking a lot of good people out.

  20. RetiredThief*

    Having done something like this in the past (stealing money from a previous employer and eventually getting caught and fired), I understand how you feel. I felt guilty for a long time after, still do sometimes. I justified it by saying it was for help paying my mortgage as somehow that gave me the right to do it. I did use some of it on my mortgage payments but also spent some of it in Hawaii. I thought I deserved it. The guilt won’t go away; at least for me it hasn’t and it’s been 14 years. I had an extremely hard time finding a job after and eventually did go back to school for a different career. All you can do is learn from this giant mistake. In some ways, I’m grateful for the experience but very sad about the people I hurt. Alison hit the nail on the head with it should make you a better person. It made me a better person. I hope you can see this as a mistake but one you can learn from. Good Luck, OP!

  21. Sarah*

    Use this experience to spur you to be a dedicated, purposeful mentor. Give other people starting in your field the kind of guidance and opportunity that would have let you avoid making your mistakes.

  22. Chriama*

    I’d also ask: Is the world better served by someone who messed up and keeps punishing themselves, or by someone who messed up and becomes a better person because of it?

    This, I think, is key. What you did was wrong, but you know that. At this point, you’re no longer profiting from the lie. When it comes to making amends, the potential people harmed are pretty hypothetical (e.g. a more deserving job applicant). You can’t change the past, but you can pay it forward in so many ways. Is it more meaningful to seek punishment for yourself or seek to help other people?

  23. DennisM*

    Hi Alison,
    I’m the OP and I want to sincerely thank you (and other commenters) for sharing your thoughts. You’ve examined this in more angles than I had thought about, and given me things to reflect on.

    The last question, “Is the world better served by someone who messed up and keeps punishing themselves, or by someone who messed up and becomes a better person because of it?” is very profound and I’ve written it down as something to think about when plagued by this guilt. Acknowledging the wrong, practising self-forgiveness and striving to make amends instead of simply wallowing in guilt.

    I strongly agree with you that there are other ways to move forward and find peace: making amends, volunteering, donating and mentoring others. The current circumstances make it difficult but not impossible, and I know ways I can give back professionally and otherwise. I will explore those options to “put good into the world”.

    Thank you again

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Good luck, OP. Continue working with your therapist on the shame spiral stuff so you can truly move past this error in judgment.

    2. Sarra N. Dipity*

      I think that there’s definitely a part of you that is trying desperately to embrace self-forgiveness… or else you wouldn’t have written in.

      If there’s not much that you can do for giving back outside of your regular job – maybe you could look into proposing/setting up a mentoring/etc. program at your *current* job – is there a D&I committee? some other internal initiative?

      I hope you’re able to continue to heal. You deserve it.

    3. mreasy*

      Best of luck to you. I am very familiar with the guilt and shame spiral, and one thing I’ve learned so far is that closure is not real! Especially at times of stress, your brain will still find ways to bring up old guilt, old embarrassment, old anxiety, etc. – and no matter how thoroughly you “right the wrong,” this will still happen. Even if you changed careers and started over entirely, you’d still encounter occasional guilt. All you can do is keep going from here. Love the donation & volunteer suggestions as well.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        one thing I’ve learned so far is that closure is not real!

        This is so true, and as a society, we really need to let this idea go.

      2. DennisM (OP)*

        That’s something I have to acknowledge in all of this, and I’m glad I’m not alone. I’ve beat myself up to the point of scrupulosity, that no matter how I try to “right the wrong”, there’ll be moments of occasional guilt.

        I’ll work with my therapist on ways to acknowledge this, be self-present and still be able to move on. Thank you

        1. lazuli*

          Yeah, I think the goal of the internal work is less “I’ll never think of this again” and more “I’ll make amends, and then I’ll integrate what happened into my own understanding of myself.” I think part of the shame comes from the way we often think of things in binary terms, as either “all good” or “all bad,” which means that if we do something bad we start to feel shame that we must be a bad person, rather than just acknowledging that we are all a mix of different qualities and actions and moods and such. By working to understand that we can (and do) *all* do things that aren’t aligned with our values at all times, and to understand that we can make amends to re-align ourselves with those values, we start to understand better how one act can’t define who we are as people.

    4. Anon Sparrow*

      Hi OP, I’m glad that Alison’s advice is resonating for you, and I hope you can find a way to move on!

      One thing that I find helpful when I am agonizing over something is to imagine that the situation was happening to a close friend, rather than to me. If your best friend told you that they had falsified their resume years ago, how would you react? Would you disown their friendship, or would you recognize that your friend, like all human beings, sometimes shows errors in judgment? Would you reevaluate everything you know about your friend based on one of their worst mistakes, or would you still love them? Try to show the same kindness to yourself that you show to your loved ones.

      1. DennisM (OP)*

        Well said Anon Sparrow. I will give them grace, compassion and help them to see how they’ve moved on. I’m trying to do that to myself. I’m a bit tougher on my wrongs than I should be, but it’s work in progress

    5. Some Lady*

      One thing I’ve found helpful when I’m feeling angst over something is to, in that moment, donate a few bucks towards a cause related to that angst. I am the type of person who feels better by taking an action, and this small act not only creates active good but also helps me recommit mentally to my values. Maybe the next time you feel a ‘pang’ of guilt, you can give a small amount to a program that does workforce development work or some other related cause. I’d also recommend that you make the amount small enough that you could give multiple times without putting yourself in danger, so that it remains an option for the next time you get that feeling. Best wishes!

  24. Artemesia*

    So many jobs have requirements that are bogus — you don’t need a college degree to do most entry level jobs well, but people without are screened out. You don’t need X amount of experience as you demonstrated — you did well with one year. so you should feel zero guilt about somehow not having been qualified or depriving someone else of a job. Obviously lying on the resume is risky and some kinds of lies like forged college degrees can come back and bite you years or even decades later. There are examples of people successful in careers being fired when a fabricated degree is discovered years later. I personally know of one such case where a person claimed two masters degrees when they had a sort of double major and they still got fired for the lying.

    But all this is about hazard to yourself not about some ultimate moral standard. Don’t lie even about things that are ridiculous requirements because it can get you fired down the road and like me you also have trouble living with this sort of thing personally. So don’t lie. But this one is over and done and no harm was done to anyone. Get what ever help you need in working it through because obsessing about it is not about the job or even the lie but about some issues you are having.

    1. Alice*

      Your point about bogus job requirements is a good one. Look, Alison is not wrong when she says “And if you didn’t feel guilty about it now, I’d have a serious problem with that” — but I wonder about people on the other side of the interaction.
      Sure, OP shouldn’t have lied, and shouldn’t be cavalier about it even today. But the person who decided to screen out applications from people with <2 years experience in a situation where the evidence suggests 2 years of experience were not actually necessary — I bet they don't even remember it.

  25. bunniferous*

    I can only speak for myself here but the only way I could have ever been at peace in this situation is to tell the truth to the original employer. I understand that is a risky strategy for a lot of reasons but nevertheless that would be the only fix that would work. As to whether to mention it to any other employer, I don’t think that would be necessary in this particular case. Again, just speaking to me and my conscience. The rest of us can say to the OP till they are blue in the face that they are ok and can move on, but what can any of us say that their counselor and other folks they have told this to have not already said? I won’t tell OP what to do since ultimately only they know what will bring them peace in the long run.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      I see the emotional logic in owning up to the original employer, but OP hasn’t worked there in three years. If I got a call from someone I hadn’t worked with in three years to inform me of a lie they told when they were hired five years ago, I would be beyond confused.

      If OP is still in touch with the manager who hired him, then maybe it’s worth considering? But if not, I think this isn’t a helpful route.

    2. Artemesia*

      This isn’t embezzlement or some other serious failing, this is overreacting to a minor fudge to get the foot in the door for a very entry level job where the requirements were unrealistic. Imprudent maybe? But something to atone for? Why? This is a personal issue the OP needs to deal with with a therapist, not a real world moral issue she needs to involve others including an employer years ago in.

    3. Observer*

      It’s not just risky, it’s useless. Helping others get jobs, working to change the bogus rules that push people to lie, etc. are things that could assuage a conscience because they actually address the thing the OP did and help to reduce lies while making the world a better place. Telling the first employer won’t help because it does NOTHING to change the situation – it does nothing to right any wrongs nor does it do anything to improve the world.

      It’s purely performative and totally not substantive. It is likely to harm the OP, with no corresponding good done to anyone and ALSO without really alleviating the guilt.

      1. bunniferous*

        In my faith practice on the other hand, it would be ….required? Look , we all have different perspectives on this. I’m not saying to this person that they have to look at it the way I do, but if this is something that would be possible for them to do, it might do the trick for them emotionally, and if it did who cares if someone else thinks it’s weird?

        1. Observer*

          I’m not going to get into anyone’s faith practices. But that has nothing to do with the issue at hand. Even if the OP were concerned about a breach of their faith, the answer to that is not to suggest what “I would do in my faith tradition” but “Speak to your pastoral counselor and find a path forward that is consistent with your faith.”

          But the OP’s concern isn’t related to their religion, apparently, at least not in a direct way. And outside of a religious tradition that requires this action, IN THIS CONTEXT, this is not something that is going to address either the substantive or emotional aspects of the OP’s issue.

          Which is to say there is no reason why this would help the OP emotionally, and there IS reason to believe that there is potential for harm.

        2. Observer*

          On a separate note, and one that I didn’t want to get lost in a wall of text, I do think you raise an interesting issue that it might pay for the OP consider.

          OP, if you are religious, perhaps seeking some practical guidance from a faith practitioner would be useful to you. Pastoral counseling is a thing. I wouldn’t suggest this INSTEAD of a good therapist, but in addition, to help find a way forward that is consistent with your faith, if that plays a role in your life.

  26. Person from the Resume*

    If you had asked me (and Alison) before doing it, we would have screamed “NO, don’t do it!”

    If you had asked me while still at your first job, I would have recommended the exact actions you took because you could still be caught in the lie and fired.

    At this point you should just continue on with your career. Confessing to your current employer whom you did not lie to is unnecessary. You do not need to be punished further.

    1. TechWorker*

      +1 – confessing to your current employer serves no purpose – they hired you on the basis of *doing* that first job, not because you were hired into that first job.

  27. blepkitty*

    I want to add the list of potential things you can do: in the future, if you’re ever in the position to hire employees, give serious thought to taking a chance on hiring entry level employees with little to no experience or offering paid internships, fellowships or practicums that will give the people in them the experience they need to get their career started.

  28. Elle by the sea*

    Well, first of all, OP, even if you had done something that severely harmed others (and that was certainly not the case), you are not honour bound to feel miserable for the rest of your life. The point is to learn from your mistakes, do as much good as you can to make amends, and then move on. By moving on, I don’t mean forgetting and ignoring completely what happened, as if it had never happened, but instead, letting your experiences guide you in making having better judgement in the future. And, if you so wish, help others make better decisions using your experiences. If, despite all your efforts, your guilt still troubles you immensely, I would recommend seeing a therapist with whom you can discuss your experiences and figure out constructive ways of channeling your guilt into something that’s rewarding for your growth (both personal and professional) as well as the growth of people around you

  29. Jaybeetee*

    OP, I’m someone who has always tended to be very harsh on myself for missteps and mistakes, and I’ve felt similar things to what you’re feeling. A little bit of counseling, and a lot of work on myself, has helped with this (though hasn’t gotten rid of it completely). I’ll share some bits and pieces that have helped me over the years, and maybe something in there will help you.

    First off, I had to acknowledge I’m not worse than other people. Or better, really. But I had to address my own internal idea that I needed to work harder, be better, do more than others to be worthwhile. All people are inherently equal.

    Related to that, what would I say, and how would I feel, if a friend told me they were tormented over the same thing I was tormenting myself over? I’d probably go a lot easier on my friend than on myself. And I’d mean that honestly – I wouldn’t see the same mistakes as badly if it was someone else committing them. Refer back to above – I deserve the same slack I give other people, and mistakes aren’t somehow worse when I’m the one making them. If a friend confided this to you, what would you say?

    And finally, a sense of proportion. Nobody goes their entire life making every decision correctly. Sometimes the stakes are higher, sometimes they’re lower, but *everyone* has at some point made a decision that fell short of their own morals (anyone who says otherwise is frankly lying – if you’re Christian, I’m pretty sure there’s something in the Bible about sins and stones). This isn’t to brush away what you’ve done, just… you’re a long, long way from being unique here. A lot of people have been where you are, in some way or another. Eventually all there is is to try to move past it and do better.

    As others have said, blowing up your life won’t undo what you did, and won’t help anyone either. If you feel the need to pay a penance, look for a way that lifts others up, rather than tearing yourself down. Good luck.

    1. DennisM (OP)*

      I actually considered this situation from the angle you mentioned. If a friend had approached me with this very issue, (and I’ve had friends go through far worse) I would approach them with compassion and help them acknowledge they were viewing this worse than it was. I want to try to that do myself.

      Sincere gratitude for the last line: look for a way to lift others up, rather than tearing yourself down.

    2. LilyP*

      Hard agree on the last part. I see an impulse in your letter to “make amends” by harming yourself or your career but that really doesn’t make anything better.

      Looking at the pattern of escalating “amends” in your letter also (fixing your resume, quitting the job, taking the job off your resume entirely, changes in other areas of your life) which have not brought you peace I sincerely doubt that more sacrifice would ever get rid of the guilt by itself.

  30. narya*

    I really think you ought to let this go, OP. You were young, probably desperate, and did something wrong. You didn’t rob a bank or hold someone at gun point. We’ve all done stupid things of varying degrees we regret. And you wouldn’t believe how many people have lied or done unsavory things to get the jobs they have. Probably working right along side you. Not everyone comes by their careers honestly or fault-free. It’s not right, it shouldn’t happen, and it’s not an excuse, but you are far from alone in what you did. And what you did was far from the worst-of-the-worst of what people do to climb the ladder. You learned your lesson, you’re making amends, and now its time to move on. Alison is right that forgiving yourself at this point is the best thing you can do for yourself and for the greater good.

  31. animaniactoo*

    LW – what about advocating for helping people to get on-the-job experience and looking for ways to volunteer for programs that try to help match people without a lot of job experience with jobs that will help them get experience?

    We have a serious issue in this country with the “requirements” for jobs that don’t actually need those requirements. It creates the never-ending loop that you found yourself in – with the skills to do the job but without the proven work experience to do it and no way to get the work experience while being boxed out of it by hiring requirements. Lack of paid internships, entry-level jobs that require college degrees when a high school degree should have conferred all the basic knowledge and critical thinking skills to learn and perform the job, and so on.

    It seems to me like a good way to atone for your desperation choice would be trying to create opportunities so that fewer people feel squeezed into that box you found yourself in, and don’t find themselves facing the same desperation choice.

  32. ATM*

    OP, I am not diagnosing you, just referring to my own history, but I used to go into those guilt spirals as well. It turned out that u have depression + adhd. I’m on medications for both and it’s honestly helped a lot. I can acknowledge I messed up in the past (mostly cheating in college), but the guilt and the shame no longer is overwhelming. It might be something you want to float with your therapist maybe if you think it might help at all?

    1. The Rafters*

      ATM You told some of my story. I overdid it by working full time AND volunteering almost full time. Looking back, I should have been medicated and sought therapist years before I actually did. I realize now that I was no good to anyone. OP: Continue seeing your therapist and talk to your Doctor about the *possibility* that you may have depression or some other mental health problem. There is no shame in it. Also, please stop talking to coworkers about this. That can lead to no good.

  33. staceyizme*

    Guilt is a hard place to live in. You can’t undo what was done. You’ve made some amends and must move on. You can’t afford to dwell on this act forever. It isn’t the last word on who you are. You may be holding on to this because it distracts from other pain points, because you feel driven to fix it even though it cannot be fixed or because you have anxiety or phobia that need clinical assistance to resolve. For you, the thing (this old wrong done)

  34. Bird*

    I feel like I’m in a similar situation. I was recently in a specific certification program. I completed all the coursework and was told that my certificate would be on the way. At that point, I was accepted to the job I currently have, and I asked people both who worked for the institution and other people I knew from the program whether to put that I had completed the coursework for my reference check. They told me that I could, former classmates from the program told me that they had done it, so I did. A few days after the reference check, I got an email from HR saying that according to the records they looked at, I hadn’t fully completed the program. I explained the situation, that I was waiting for the certificate and had spoken to the institution, and they said it wasn’t an issue. Then COVID hit. What was supposed to arrive within a few weeks has been delayed by the circumstances. I keep contacting the institution asking about the progress of the certificate and apparently “it’s coming”. Meanwhile, I’ve been wracked by guilt and consumed by my draconian super-ego. Every time I think about the situation I feel like the worst person in the world, some sort of evil, lying menace to society, even though I’ve told my boss about it and he doesn’t seem to have an issue with it. When my boss praises my performance all I think is that I shouldn’t even have been hired in the first place. Every cent I’ve made feels like it was stolen. I worry that my company is going to be reminded of this situation, think about it, and decide to fire me and blacklist me. A few years ago, I got my depression under control, but this situation has brought it back. When I read about con artists and fraudsters, I feel a pit in my stomach and think “that’s me.” I know it seems kind of irrational for me to hate myself this much for this, but I feel like I can’t help it. I wish that I could disappear or start over.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Well, first of all – you didn’t lie. You put the certification down because you were told you completed the program and the certificate was on its way. The school has confirmed this, so I’m not sure why you think you’re a lying liar who lies. You also said your boss doesn’t appear to be concerned about this after the situation was explained – again, that means you did nothing wrong here. Trust me, if they thought you were a liar, HR would have had you terminated. They didn’t. Stop stressing about this, keep following up with your school, and do good work. That’s all you can do right now.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      NO – don’t do that to yourself. You didn’t do anything wrong and your explanation for what happened is perfectly reasonable. If it is a real concern to anyone, you can write a letter authorizing your HR rep to talk to the organization and get the records. Or, you can ask the organization to forward a transcript of your courses to your manager. Or you can hound the organization to get that certificate sent to you (there’s really no excuse this far along into the epidemic).

      Also, please get some support from your mental health professional – your self-perception is really, really out of whack with this situation. Remember that depression is the lying liar that lies!

    3. Elliott*

      You didn’t do anything wrong. You answered honestly and explained the situation honestly when a question arose. Your boss is aware of what happened and isn’t concerned.

      Please bring this up with a doctor or therapist if you can. Concern over this situation might have triggered your depression, but at this point it sounds like your depression is to blame for your guilt, not the reality of the situation.

    4. theletter*

      You’re beating yourself up because a piece of paper is in the mail.

      Email your institution, get something back that says you’ve completed the coursework, then thumbtack it to the wall. You did the work. You got the grades. It’s done. Bureaucratic delays have nothing to do with your success and cannot make your accomplishments go away.

  35. boop the first*

    It doesn’t seem fair that you think you have to flip your life upside down while the largest corporations get to earn billions of dollars for destroying natural resources and causing deaths around the world. You got a modest job and you did it okay for a while.

    The problem with your suggested solutions is that if sacrificing your spoils and moving on wasn’t enough, none of those things will be enough. You’ll quit your job, you’ll train through a new industry and then get stuck with an empty resume and you’ll still feel guilty. Worse, you’ll put your self in a situation where you are tempted to do the exact same thing again because you’ve emptied your resume of relevant experience.

  36. Laura H.*

    “ I’d also ask: Is the world better served by someone who messed up and keeps punishing themselves, or by someone who messed up and becomes a better person because of it?”

    Oh this is good and not just related to career mess ups.

    OP, what you did wasn’t ok. But beating yourself up for it isn’t okay either, not this long after the fact. Now is that guilt ever gonna leave you completely? Probably not. But at its core, despite its severity, it was a decision- not a mistake- but like a bad mistake, it’s a decision that I hope you will never make again.

    How we handle our less than ideal decisions matter just as much as, or maybe more than how we celebrate our successful, more morally correct ones.

    1. DennisM (OP)*

      I agree. Alison’s question will stick with me for a while even outside of professional situations. Allows me to focus on moving forward instead of staying in the past. I appreciate the sentiment in your last sentence. Thank you!

  37. Data Ana*

    Yes, it reminds me of the “confessing” kinds of compulsions some of us get with OCD. Armchair diagnosis aside, OP – what would you tell a friend in this situation? Would you tell them that blowing up their career, even in a time of unprecedented job uncertainty, and spending money on going back to school, was the only way forward? Or would you think that maybe they’ve suffered enough, and done every reasonable thing to make it right?

    1. Yorkie*

      As someone with OCD and that compulsion to confess stuff, “what would I tell a friend in this situation?” is something I ask myself all the time that’s often effective, so I second this! Nearly every time I discover I’d treat a friend much more kindly than I’m treating myself.

  38. Georgina Fredrika*

    You’ve got to stop punishing yourself – you already did the right thing by letting go of that job and getting a job with only your real accomplishments.

    It was a bad decision, but it also hurt no one in the process – so if your guilt propels you to not lie again, I think you’re fine at this point.

    Also, plenty of us get jobs because the hiring people overestimate our ability to handle X task, based on assumptions they make our work history – and we do just fine once we learn X. While you’ve done something wrong by actively making that overestimation happen – definitely – I think you’re also building this up to be a world-destroying event that it’s simply not.

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Not going to lie. My first graduate research assistant job was because the hiring committee thought I was Jewish (I’m not but my name fools people). My boss, when I convinced him I wasn’t Jewish as opposed to the self-hating Jewish person he believed I was (Mom is Maltan so obvs I can’t be Jewish or whatever :/) he told me he never would have hired me had he known. Luckily it was far enough in that my ethnicity and religion didn’t matter and I was the only one who knew the passwords

      1. learnedthehardway*

        Yeah – Do NOT feel badly about your success. If anyone should feel badly, it’s the people who tried to hire based on ethnicity / religion. Notice that they don’t seem to feel all that badly about it!

  39. An*


    Scrupulosity is a bad path you can fall down. Speaking with a therapist or religious leader may be of help.

    Good luck! None of us is the sum of our bad actions!

  40. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

    Hey OP, maybe mentor folks from communities that have been historically disadvantaged and probably would never get away with a lie on their resume? I don’t know your industry, but most have programs and if yours doesn’t pour your guilt into starting one.

    Guilt is a luxury. Make it something good

  41. DJ*

    Hi OP,

    From Bryan Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” You made a mistake but you are so much more than that.

  42. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

    One thing that has helped me move past guilt: I realized that I was applying the standards I have for myself today, as a 40-year-old with decades of professional experience, life experience, and therapy, to my younger self. I’d remember mistakes I’d made as an adolescent or a 20-something with absolute mortification, because if I’d made those mistakes today I would and should be mortified–but when I was younger, I did not have the tools and resources I do now, and I was doing the best I could.

    LW, do you know anyone who’d currently the age you were when you lied on your resume? Can you imagine how you’d respond to them if they confessed to you they’d made that mistake? You might think, “Jeez that was dumb, they really didn’t think that through.” You might think, “I really hope they learn from this and become more trustworthy.” You might think, “That was a terrible decision but I understand how a 22-year-old could think that was a good plan — live and learn.” You probably wouldn’t think, “They are now, and will be forever, a Truly Terrible Person. They deserve to suffer for the rest of their lives to pay for this mistake!” The you who lied on the resume is not the same you of today.

    We all do dumb things in life. We all make mistakes. Good people do feel bad when they screw up, and they use that bad feeling to ensure they won’t make that same mistake again. You have learned from this, and you won’t turn to dishonesty again. That’s a good thing.

  43. Port*

    LW, I hope all the comments here help you move forward. Your situation makes me think of the Jewish approach to charity or tzedaka. In it, people are actually forbidden from impoverishing themselves in the name of giving to the poor. Why? Because it’s counterproductive to put yourself into a situation where you now need help from others and where you’re not able to continue helping others in a sustainable way. You’re required to give tzedaka, but within reasonable limits.

    In the same way, I think there may be an ethical imperative in your situation too, which is to avoid doing things now which can take away your ability to, as Alison said, put good into the world. You sound successful at your job and may be better positioned to help others than if You start over and change up all your resources. The risk of starting over in a new career may also contribute to diminished ability to help yourself and others.

    Basically, harming yourself for the sake of doing something you perceive as morally good is actually ethically questionable. You are more than your mistakes and you need to stick up for the good person (you!) who is suffering and being punished by the guilt and shame you feel.

    Wanting closure is understandable, though. I wonder if you might consider beginning a project with a specific end date, something like volunteering that puts good into the world, or maybe something artistic or crafty that puts beauty into the world—and telling yourself that when the project is complete, you will consider your debt to the world (as far as this matter goes) completely paid off. This would probably work best if you began a dialogue with yourself over the course of the project with positive messaging like, I am making so much progress toward my goal!, Soon I can think about other things!, Look at what I’ve accomplished today/this week/this month!, There is so much more to me and my life than I have been paying attention to! And so on.

    Good luck, LW!

  44. Sparkles McFadden*

    LW – As far as I am concerned, you addressed the problem by acknowledging that what you did was wrong, and by attempting to address the error by leaving your first job and starting clean elsewhere. You cannot go back in time and undo what you’ve done. At most, you could let the first company know they should do a better job of checking references, but I really don’t see how that would help anything at all. They won’t bother, and you won’t feel any better about things. It sounds as if you are doing the hard work of becoming being a better person, and that’s the way to go.

    We’re supposed to learn from our mistakes, not suffer forever. You were tested, you failed, you addressed your failure. Now you need to find a way to forgive yourself.

    Be a great worker, be kind to your coworkers, help someone who is struggling, mentor someone who is brand new. Blowing your career up doesn’t make the world a better place.

    Best of luck and please send us an update, even if it’s only to check in and get some support for the hard work you are doing.

  45. Boof*

    OP, you already took the false info off your resume and have been doing well in that job for several years. That was the right thing to do and I think that is amends enough. I get still feeling a bit guilty about it but at this point it’s ok to tell yourself you’ve corrected the mistake, you’ll never do it again, it’s part of history and there’s nothing else to do. Maybe remember to be kind and advocate for only requesting necessary qualifications on a job, etc.
    Random – a long time ago I didn’t quite understand tipping and instead of asking, way undertipped someone I wish I hadn’t once I realized what I’d done. Still feel reeeeally guilty about that and wish I had done things very differently, but I can’t change it (I mean, I could try to hunt them down decades later and give them some large amount of money, but that would be frankly probably really weird and a bit overkill); I just make sure to be generous with tips now.

  46. That_guy*

    Thank you Alison. This response is full of kindness and wisdom. Any of us who have done things we regret (which is to say, all of us) need to hear this kind of message from time to time, and you really spoke to my own need right now.

  47. Meghan*

    OP, I do think Alison might have been a bit harsh with you. Yes, you did something regrettable. In my experience though, the stress of looking for jobs can make anyone make some off decisions. I have also dealt with issues of guilt and shame from past decisions and my therapist gave me some great advise. Please please please watch the TED talks from Brene Brown. They changed my life and the way I think about my past and I can’t suggest them enough.

  48. Barbara Eyiuche*

    Employers often overstate the qualifications an applicant needs to do the job. You did fine in the job you lied to get. That tells me the two years of experience the company wanted was not necessary. The one year of experience you had was actually enough. So I would not derail your career now because of this. You did well in that job and are doing well now in your current job. Don’t quit just because of guilt. I would resolve not to do something like that again, and try to pay your luck forward. Make amends by being a mentor to others, for example. This would help others without leaving you without a job, or trying to start over.

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

      the two years of experience the company wanted was not necessary. The one year of experience you had was actually enough.

      Maybe that experience was necessary or maybe not, but the fact is the employer stated it as a pre-req, and the OP dishonestly gained an advantage over other candidates who (or at least, a subset of whom!) told the truth and lost out on the opportunity as a result. It isn’t a “victimless” lie.

  49. Observer*

    OP, please find a better therapist. Your reaction at this point is dysfunctional and self destructive. I also doubt that your plans would really make your guilt go away.

    You say that you plan to “make amends” and you describe a course of action that doesn’t actually do that. It won’t undo any harm that was done. It won’t make you any more honest. And it won’t do anything whatsoever to help you avoid cutting ethical corners in the future. In fact, it might put you under renewed pressure to cut ethical corners.

    I get that you want – NEED – to make amends. It may or may not be possible. But IF there is a possibility, it won’t come through blowing up your career and life, which is more or less what you are suggesting here.

    Please find a therapist who can help you figure out something you can do that might actually make amends, at least partially. And also, to help you figure out why your guilt has suddenly spiraled so intensely that you looking at making plans that could be very destructive to you – AND TO OTHERS.

  50. c_g2*

    OP, think about it like this. If the job truly needed that much experience, then you would have failed quickly. Yes, yes personal integrity and all that, but the reality in the U.S is many employers demand more than they truly need. Would the place that hired you feel bad for laying you off, despite having the funds to keep you on? No.
    I’m not saying you made a good decision. I’m saying you beat the system — now go on and improve that system like others suggested. No matter what you do there will be other people who won’t get a job because of you (and vice versa).

    1. Victoria*

      I came here to say exactly the same thing! I certainly don’t condone what you did, but also many jobs over-ask in terms of the experience they require. You did the job despite having less experience than they thought they required, and as Alison said, they could have fired you if you weren’t up to standard.

      By all means pay it forward–one way you could do this is to advocate for realistic expectations if you’re ever in a position to help set job requirements, and push for roles that expect to train people up rather than only accepting people who already have experience. When I helped to rewrite my job spec last year, I advocated (successfully) for removing the requirement for a general masters degree in my field, in favour of a masters *or* practical experience in some of the specific skills I use, to try and remove an unnecessary barrier.

      Ultimately though, I hope this comments section is making it clear that this is not a mistake you need to spend the rest of your life self-flagellating for–or even another five minutes. No one died, or was harmed in any way, or even lost money. We should all hope to make such mistakes!

      Please try to find some peace with it, and enjoy the mentoring, volunteering or whatever else you decide do, for the pleasure and challenges it brings.

    2. lazy intellectual*


      And in general, employers routinely do much more unethical stuff than the OP did, and at a grander scale.

  51. Jessi*

    OP, have you tried confessing/ apologising?

    Like the one person who is in a good place to absolve you of the guilt is the manager that you worked for. Could you reach out to them and say something like “I wasn’t 100% honest when I applied for the X role and lied about some of my experience. Its now Y years later and I still feel terribly guilty and really ashamed of what I did, so I am reaching out to apologise. I still think fondly / use x skill you taught me and hope you are doing well”

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Honestly, I would not do this. If they didn’t check, I would not open that door.
      You’d be surprised how vindictive people can be. What if that supervisor went on to call OP’s current company and disclose this information? Or ruin them professionally (some industries are small).

      I’m not saying what OP did to get that first job was right. But good grief, they surely don’t deserve paying for it the rest of their professional life.

    2. theletter*

      I would absolutely not do this. OP no longer works there, and it would look very odd and would probably only be used against them if anything else.

      Given that the company did not do a real background check, I seriously doubt their professional integrity. It sounds like they had puffed-up job requirements when they just wanted butts in seats, and all that OP’s lie did was increase their confidence at the time.

      OP’s best move would be volunteering to counsel job-seekers from disadvantaged communities, helping them craft an honest resume that gets their foot in the door and past the ‘2-years experience for entry-level’ requirement usually only exists to weed out people who don’t have that industry knowledge.

  52. Washi*

    OP I’m getting the sense from your post that your logic is “I did this bad thing. I feel terrible. I have made some amends and I still feel terrible. Therefore, I need to keep punishing myself, and once I stop feeling bad, I will know that it is enough.”

    Sometimes this works, but sometimes our emotional brains get stuck in a rut and will keep going over the same ground over and over and there’s no “enough” point. But at least for me, the feeling terrible is evidence that I don’t deserve to forgive myself, that easing up on myself is getting away with something.

    For me, I have found the solution in two seemingly opposing ideas:
    1. Radical acceptance of the feeling. Really letting myself feel and experience that feeling with out trying to avoid it through fixing strategies.
    2. Otherwise, having my intellectual brain take over. Even if it doesn’t feel right (because I feel so terrible) I force myself to move on, to not just totally ruminate. Instead of waiting to feel better and then start moving on, I go through all the motions of moving on, and in the process, start to feel better.

    At some point, you have to decide that it’s time to move on and DO it. Your feelings will follow when they’re ready, and until then, just accept them as part of your experience for now.

  53. AnotherSarah*

    I want to suggest that the OP contemplate the idea that many, many people have some dishonesty or unfair advantage in the foundation of their career/relationship/etc. Not that that makes it right! But just that it’s very common. Think about an average student whose parent pulls some strings to get them into a great internship that leads to a great job…A person who meets someone special and only after that breaks up with the person they were dating….Thinking about these other examples isn’t to let yourself off the hook, but to remind yourself that you’re not the worst and you’re far from alone in what you did.

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

      an average student whose parent pulls some strings to get them into a great internship that leads to a great job…

      Yeah, unfortunately this particular type of “leg-up” is acknowledged as legitimate generally, I suppose because it isn’t dishonest (on the part of the person receiving the opportunity, if not necessarily the parent!) but rather is taking advantage of an opportunity with all cards on the table, it just so happens that you are Sarah’s co-worker’s daughter or whatever. As much as I hate nepotism etc I can’t put it on the same level as active dishonesty on the part of the applicant/job-seeker…

      1. AnotherSarah*

        That’s true. I meant more that many people aren’t in their positions through merit alone, and yet aren’t contemplating the steps OP is.

  54. GreenDoor*

    OP just know that a great many of us have had at least one really horrible, terrible, no good, very bad screw up in our professional lives at some point. It happens to the best of us. You’ve acknowledged it, you’ve done all you can to make amends and to resolve to never repeat yourself. Give yourself some grace!

  55. Bess Marvin*

    As a manager, I’d be super confused if one of my reports came to me to confess that years earlier they had lied on their resume when getting a previous job. It’s not useful information for me to have; it’s not actionable in any way really, since you didn’t falsify information when I was the one hiring the person. All it would do would make me suspicious of their ethics going forward, which in your case is not useful for you, either, since you are so committed to honesty going forward. Frankly I’d be annoyed at being saddled with this information.

    I can’t speak to your other options, but please take this one off the table as it serves no one.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Frankly I’d be annoyed at being saddled with this information.

      Precisely. What would the former manager be expected to do with this information? It just doesn’t make sense to keep dredging this up.

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

      It’s not useful information for me to have; it’s not actionable in any way really […] All it would do would make me suspicious of their ethics going forward,

      Then I beg to differ: it is useful information! If it makes you question their ethics going forward then that’s a good thing, because it should.

  56. Gaia*

    OP, when I was younger I did something very bad. Not like criminal bad but it hurt someone that didn’t deserve to be hurt and there’s really no way I can properly make amends.

    For a long time I thought I would never be able to move past my guilt. Everything was a reminder of what I’d done. But over time I came to realize that while I can never undo what I did, I can do something to help others not repeat my same mistakes and hurt others. And the more I did that, the less overwhelming my guilt felt.

    I still feel bad for what I did. I always will and I should – it is a reminder not to do it again. But it doesn’t overwhelm my life anymore.

    Maybe there are things you can do that will help others and, in turn, make up a bit for what you did?

  57. Jeannine Laible*

    Go ahead and let that guilt go!
    The guilt served its purpose when you sent out an honest resume.
    You got a job, based on your honest resume. You aren’t an imposter.

    If you really want to make amends, get involved with an industry group or roundtable, or find people to mentor and assist.

    Volunteering and giving back will have a positive impact on both the community and YOU.

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

      The guilt served its purpose when you sent out an honest resume.

      On the surface yes, but the OP fraudulently / on the basis of a lie obtainedd that first position, which then gave rise to the second position, so there isn’t any real way to tell whether she legitimately holds the position now (i.e. would they have recruited her with a different history? hard to tell), or if it’s still predicated on a lie.

      And on that basis I understand feeling the need to burn down everything and start again as the only honest way to re-start.

      I fear it may be out of a sense of “looking over the shoulder” rather than “internal” conscience, though.

  58. Another Perspective*

    Personally, I would be grateful nobody at the first job “discovered” the discrepancy and you left the job on good terms. You got your current job based on your actual work experience. The past is the past. I would leave it be and move forward. There is no sense in contacting your old boss and explaining the situation; it would just look odd and take away from what you accomplished there.

  59. HarvestKaleSlaw*

    There are so many wise, and kind, and empathic responses here. I will add one small thing for the OP, which is to check in with yourself and notice if, lately, you are thinking in terms of black and white or extremes of good and evil. I do this, when things are tough or I’m trending toward depression. Are you thinking in terms like: this one falsehood makes you bad or tainted or unforgiveable FOR LIFE? and if it is every discovered, you will be RUINED and people will HATE you and SHUN you? but maybe there is some glorious, self-sacrificial, grand gesture you can do to be REDEEMED?

    What helps me, if I get in that mode, is this: Ask yourself if you would ever judge another person this way. Would you ever write off someone for a single mistake? Decide to hate a dear friend because they lied on a resume fresh out of school? Refuse forgiveness to someone who is filled with remorse? Declare that a person is unworthy of love because they fell short?

    Of course not. You wouldn’t treat another person this way – so don’t treat yourself that way. Give yourself the same decency and care you would extend to another.

    Nobody yet has heard your story and condemned you. So if you are struggling to see the world right now in anything but Manichean terms, please do talk to someone, as you are able. If not a therapist, a friend or someone you trust. Talking with someone can help pull you out of your head and into a world that’s a bit more shades of gray and a lot more forgiving than your current headspace.

  60. Alisha*

    If someone told me they were thinking about doing or had just done this, I’d tell them it’s wrong.

    But to someone who did it years ago, and who acknowledges and deeply feels the wrongdoing, and who will never do it again, I’d say it’s time to let go of the gnawing guilt. Think about how many people get underserved jobs through personal connections, looks, nepotism, etc., who don’t for a moment acknowledge the advantages they were given.

    You can’t go back and undo what you did. The only path is forward towards better decisions.

  61. FormerTVGirl*

    I agree with you — even though OP has mentioned talking about this with their therapist. From the sound of this note, OP is really, truly pained by an action that SHOULD cause some level of guilt and discomfort, but absolutely should NOT be all-encompassing or lead OP to blow up their career, pay to go back to college and start over. I think it might be helpful for OP to work through this more in depth than it seems they have up until this point. OP, as an anxious person who sometimes stews on things unnecessarily, I feel you! Good luck!

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

    I have a very thick line on any form of “cheating”.

    Whether that’s lies (or softer “misleading” statements, etc) on a resume or during the hiring process, or cheating on certification exams, or any kind of dishonest or fraudulent behaviour in any walk of life, even cheating on playing a board game. (I once “cheated” on a game of chess with my grandfather, when I was about 9, by distracting him at a crucial moment with a view to taking his queen, and thus it was — totally unsportsmanlike, but again, I was 9.)

    (There are maybe a small number of exceptions, like I wouldn’t judge someone for stealing from a big company grocery store if they were starving and had no other means to eat, for example.)

    If OP came to me as a manager, confessing to the lie they’d told earlier… I had to think about how I’d respond, and I wouldn’t fire them just for that but I would make it clear that ethical violations aren’t acceptable and they will be under the microscope for the foreseeable future. The way of the world is that one lie, or dishonest act, tends to lead to another and another. It would take a lot for me to trust them again.

    I had a conversation just this week about “certification exams” (e.g. Microsoft) within my group, in which some of the people apparently thought it was acceptable to pass the exams by means of “brain dumps” (i.e. questions and answers from the actual test published illiictly on the internet, so that instead of having to actually use one’s brain and decide that the answer is ‘X’ — the question and answer have already been published). When I pressed for why, they answered that this was clearly the more “efficient” method (we are techies, so I can relate to efficiency, but…) because someone’s already done the work to publish these brain dumps so why do the work of actually learning the material, when you can take the “optimal” approach of just learning the answers to the specific questions.

    I don’t have words for the level of rage and betrayal I felt (I usually operate on a pretty even keel!), especially as my boss seemed to tacitly acknowledge and sanction that approach.

    But – it is fraud, no doubt about it.

  63. Fezziwig*

    To be frank, I know a handful of people who did this while we were young and living in an expensive, urban city. Despite experience and higher ed degrees, many of us couldn’t get hired. So several people went the route you did, to falsify resumes or embellish experience. They got hired and no one found out. I would argue that the problem is with the employers, as much as it is with the person who lied.

    But while I never made this choice, I understand deeply why people did. Having an income, job security, health care benefits, etc. can make people scared and desperate. That doesn’t negate that someone has lied, but it should make it easier to find forgiveness and a path for healing. Who were you when you made this decision in your own life? Can you find some empathy for that person? Can that empathy empower you on your journey forward?

    It shouldn’t be so hard to get a job. Sometimes it is. Be kind to the part of yourself who did wrong and knows better. Find a supportive therapist who can work you through that shame. If you’ve stalled out with your current therapist, find a new one. Allow yourself that privilege. Remind yourself that you’re loved! And that you’re human.

  64. MissDisplaced*

    If you applied honestly for your current job, and you have the required education and experience for your current job role, and did good enough work at your previous job (aside from how you got that job) there is no reason for you to leave your current job or career over guilt.

    I get that you probably feel like an imposter because of the lies you told to get that first job. By all means, if you want to return to school (learning is always good) do so, but you do not have to feel you must quit your current job in order to do that.

  65. NotHostage*

    I would feel guilty for that sort of lie; then again, how strict are the experience requirements? Often, they are not hard limits, and a person with less can be hired if they’re charismatic or have other skills. Supposing you faked that level of charisma instead, would you feel guilty?

    I have a similar struggle. My undergraduate had strict math pre-requisites in order to graduate with anything. I needed to either take several remedial courses or scrape a pass in statistics somehow. I failed the placement test for math and aced English.

    I have never been good at math, and the pressure and punishment around it meted out by a perfectionist mom who insisted on also seeing college grades caused severe anxiety. I could not pass the course in these conditions.

    I knew what line of work I wanted. I would not need algebra, calculus, or statistics ever again, but if I didn’t pass, I couldn’t graduate from college and would be stuck with low-paying service positions. It would totally change my life trajectory and result in abuse from family. My life and plans for independence through college was held hostage by math.

    I decided I wouldn’t be a hostage. So I cheated. I figured if I got caught and failed, I would be no worse off than if I’d failed on my own, and if I scraped a pass, I could move forward honestly on the strength of my abilities from then on. So the circumstances are a lot like your experience lie.

    It’s not great. I feel guilty. But do I let it stop me from living my preferred life now? Do I feel guilty for doing an unethical thing so I could get my degree? No. I’d put it on par with using a “white-sounding” name on a resume, or having an AFAB person called Alexandra or Samantha go by Alex or Sam on resumes to get past the initial look, for jobs.

    I just wanted to get past an obstacle to prove my chances. If you can reasonably do the job with 1 year’s experience, and have since been honest, I think, OP, you’re doing the above. Let it go.

  66. Malarkey01*

    I wonder if it would help to hear a similar situation from the other side. I had a great employee in a pretty entry level job. She has worked there almost 2 years and came to me to tell me she had lied on her resume- both including a job she didn’t have and a special award that she didn’t win. Her ex was threatening to reveal it and she thought it was better to hear it from her. She was preparing to quit.

    Honestly, she was a fantastic employee. If this had happened in the first 6 months I would have let her go because it would have cast doubt on her judgement and integrity and it’s a big deal in hiring. However she now had a body of excellent work, had demonstrated responsibility and good judgement, was a helpful and pleasant team player, and in the scheme of things this didn’t justify losing her job (from my perspective). I have had to fire people for much worse- stealing, lying about their current work, fudging work documents, etc. So I think putting your “sin” in a little perspective might help. We give people a chance to make amends for much bigger things without imploding and upending their lives.
    I also echo others suggestion for therapy because I think you’re contemplating some destructive behaviors (quitting, changing careers) for a somewhat mild offense (again big deal if found during hiring but at a personal level not proportional to blowing up your career). Best of luck!!

    1. Batgirl*

      I think the saddest thing about your example, and OPs story is that they are both competent employees with no real need to lie to gain acceptance; so what whispery voice told them both they couldn’t make it with the truth? I think the OP has harmed themselves more than anyone else by lowballing and insulting their own capability and messing with their own head. I really think it’s time they stopped believing in the biggest lie – the one they told themselves before trying to lie to anyone else.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, and the ex essentially blackmailing her, probably out of some jerk impulse for daring to leave him certainly didn’t help. If an ex even contemplates sabotaging someone’s career, they deserve their ex status whatever else they’ve done.

  67. Phoenix from the ashes*

    I too have issues with guilt. Like, getting deeply distressed at 3am because of something stupid I said when I was 5 years old. Now I have a five year rule. I refuse to beat myself up for stuff that happened more than 5 years ago.

    Like, OK, what you did was a bit wrong. If your then-employer had found out, they’d probably have been unhappy. Some employers would have fired you, others would have counted it as a big mark against you. I can think of a few people I’ve worked with / for who might not have cared. Either way, you sound like a diligent person so I’m guessing you did your best in that job, and you’ve moved on and put it behind you, which I think was sensible. Nobody died, you didn’t do anything that you’d be sent to prison for, and this doesn’t call for public shunning either. Let it go, OP. It’s time to let it go. Five year rule, remember? Your guilt has been your punishment, and now your sentence is served. Go forth and be your best self :-)

    1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      I am oddly comforted to hear that I’m not the only one. I do exactly this, from time to time. Nothing like awake-at-3-AM guilt and dread.

  68. L6orac6*

    You are not first nor will you be the last person to enhance time or experience on their application for a job or resume. Whilst employer was after 2 years experience, you clearly had that in less, you stayed for 2 years and have moved onto your current employer, you have the skills and knowledge to do the job. Please, please, stop beating yourself up, and don’t potentially sabotage your current job, especially not in current climate. You made one mistake, let it go.

  69. JXB*

    If you can’t find a way to move on (which I’d encourage you to do) perhaps you could decide privaely what reparations would be fair and help you feel you’ve paid back your “debt” to the universe. For example: mentoring young professionals, volunteering at a job seeker resource, being a presenter or trainer.

    I agree with the advice already given: learn from the past, forgive yourself, and pledge to do better in the future. But if you can’t manage that, then perhaps providing a tangible service related to your industry or workforce development would help you feel that you “evened the scales”. Good luck.

  70. L'enfant terrible*

    There is no need for you to quit your current job. The resume you submitted for it was accurate.

    There is no need for you to omit your previous job from your resume. You worked there for five years.

    There is no need for you to “change careers completely” to “make amends.” There is no one you need to make amends to, other than your own conscience. The only other “amendee” would be your former employer, whom you no longer work for.

    There is no need for you to return to school to “make amends.” By all means, go back to school if it helps you build your skills or fits into your career/life plans. But “making amends” is a TERRIBLE reason to go to college/grad school.

    1. lazy intellectual*

      Agree – don’t go back to schools just to make amends – only if you want to switch careers.

  71. Badasslady*

    As a woman of color working in primarily white and male dominated field, this post is very upsetting to me. Knowing the hiring biases we have to face and the downgrading we have to sometimes do to land a job (the saying of you have to work twice as hard to get half as much is fairly accurate in my experience), it is extremely upsetting that someone would think themselves entitled enough to take short cuts. This is an equity issue.
    But what done is done and there is no point in punishing yourself by starting a new job or going back to school. Whatever you do, you are still going to benefit from the experience of that first job (even in term of knowledge, experience and connections if you choose to omit that job off your resume). This is something you have to accept. Punishing yourself or setting your career back won’t help the person who’s opportunity was missed.
    What you can (and should) do is find ways to use your current position to benefit the community, and particularly people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Can you be a mentor for people interested in entering your industry? Can you make yourself more available to informational interviews? Can you volunteer with youth? Can you advocated for equity issues in your job? Doing these things would be much more meaningful and help correct the damage done than punishing yourself or confessing to make yourself feel better.

  72. lazy intellectual*

    I would let go of the guilt. You learned your lesson, and it didn’t seem to have any lasting consequences. You didn’t seem to F-up the junior associate position, so no one got hurt. Obviously, don’t do this again, but we all do dumb shit when we’re younger.

    Also, one can argue that, like a lot of employers, the first company you worked at required too much experience for what they actually needed. With all the companies requiring 2-3 years of experience for basic, entry-level jobs, I sometimes wonder how people actually get those jobs without making up experience out of thin air. (***DON’T DO IT THOUGH***)

  73. ValancyJane*

    Hey OP,

    I don’t know your situation, obviously, and am NOT trying to suggest a diagnosis, just offering another perspective.

    I suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder with scruples, and your sudden intense guilt over something from years ago that you’ve already made reasonable amends for reminds me strongly of some of my own thought patterns.

    When I find myself consumed by this sort of guilt, I try to remind myself that the guilt has already done its work. I’ve made amends, I certainly won’t do anything of the sort again, and now I have to practice consciously letting go of the act I feel guilty about. Continuing to punish myself or try to make further and further amends doesn’t relieve my guilt at that point—it actually makes it worse, because it confirms the thought patterns. Instead, I have to practice letting go, knowing that I am imperfect and the situation is imperfect. It takes practice and time.

    Just something to consider. I’m glad you’ve recognized this is a problem for you and are working with a therapist, and I wish you peace.

  74. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

    OP, I strongly believe that you should not be trying to “shed” your past by switching careers.

    If 5 years ago, you had taken money that should have gone to someone else – invested it, and grown it – and were now suffering terrible guilt, would you throw the money into the sea, or use it to benefit others? You can’t “undo” what you did. If you truly want to restore the balance and make amends, do something positive with your experience. Mentor people who are trying to get into your field, advocate for hiring people with little or no experience, coach people who are in their first jobs and might need support.

    I hope this helps you to get some peace of mind, and do something good with what you have.

  75. Purple caterpillar*

    OP I hope you can find peace with your past. Yes what you did was wrong. But that one error doesn’t have to define you.

    I’d like to put your dishonesty in perspective. You lied in order to advantage yourself over others, in a context where honesty is expected and relied upon. You know that what you did was wrong, and have corrected as much as you are able the situation (you left the job, you don’t use that experience on your resume).

    What you have not done is lied to take advantage of vulnerable people (as mentioned your employer could have sacked you if you weren’t performing). You have not physically harmed anyone. You have not bullied or intimidated people. You’ve not exploited anyone.

    Telling your manager doesn’t really achieve anything. It doesn’t help them, and places them in a difficult position of trying to figure out what to do with that information (cue next letter of my employee told me that they lied at a previous job, what do I do with this information).

    Quitting your job doesn’t really achieve anything. It doesn’t right the wrong in any way. And I am not convinced it would bring you peace. If you love your new career will you later be thinking I’m only here because…

    I would encourage you to think about what you believe in terms of rehabilitation of offenders and forgiveness. If you believe that people with a criminal conviction in their past should be afforded every opportunity to move beyond their past wrong doings, then surely you too super be allowed to move on.

    I’d also encourage you, as others have done, to focus on where you can be a positive force in your workplace and industry. Not as atonement, but because that’s always a good thing and I think your experiences have made you think through the importance of opportunity to get through the door.

  76. a nony mouse*

    I think you are beating yourself up too much. Yes, you did something BAD. But other than nebulous harm of taking the job from someone more deserving ( who had, what, more experience than you?), no one got hurt. Your employer seems to be satisfied with the work you did, so they have no real complaints. Your guilt shows you to be a caring person, and there isn’t much you can do about it now, so try to move on and resolve to be more ethical in the future. Know that we have all seen people express much less guilt for far worse workplace malfeasance.

  77. Luke G*

    One thing that struck me is that the guilt might linger because there’s no way to properly make amends for it. You could tell your current manager and they’d either not care or they’d punish you- but your current manager wasn’t the one you lied to, so it’s neither their place to forgive or to punish and any amends you make shouldn’t be to them. Likewise, you could torpedo your career, change careers, jump through all kinds of self-imposed hoops, but that still doesn’t have any concrete relationship to the original harm done.

    Bottom line: the parties impacted by your lie are the company who hired you under false pretenses, and the person who theoretically would have got the job instead of you. You could let the company know the truth and they would do… what? They could say they forgave you or that they didn’t care, or they could try to wreck your career out of anger, but none of that would change the past. You have absolutely no way to know who their alternate hire might have been, so there’s absolutely no way to make any apology or amends to them.

    That doesn’t change any of the other amazing comments I’ve seen here, but it might help contextualize it. If I were in your shoes a big source of my persistent guilt would be the feeling that nothing I did could ever connect with “the ones I really hurt.” To that I say- you just have to find a way to come to an acceptance of that. If making amends is simply difficult or costly, it may still be worth it. When it’s pointless or impossible, you can give yourself permission to stop obsessing over it.

    1. Another Perspective*

      I would also say to OP that maybe this alternative hire got a better offer elsewhere if the OP feels he or she “wronged” them, and it worked out for both parties. The OP got some job experience and moved onto something else when it was time, like anyone else would have done in the role.

  78. employment lawyah*

    One last idea:

    Treat it like an “indulgence,” which is an old system of paying–literally, paying money–to expunge yourself of sins. In this case that also meshes well with many culture’s systems of “curing” the problem (making things better) rather than simple punishment (making it worse for you, w/o making it better for anyone else.)

    1) Figure out an amount you could donate to an appropriate charity–maybe something related, like one which helps homeless/young/disadvantaged people get jobs.

    2) Choose an amount which will really make you feel like you are paid off. Maybe it’s a lot! But hey, maybe it’s cheaper than a year of therapy….

    3) Pay it. If you’re feeling really guilty, you can always do it anonymously (no credit) openly (“I am paying this to help others avoid the mistakes I made” or whatever.

    4) Move on.

    Good luck.

  79. Courageous cat*

    Not one single person gets through this life without making at least one very bad mistake. You have self-flagellated enough, and I know your guilt very well from a job situation of my own (not the same circumstances), but it’s time to move on. You learned from your very bad mistake and didn’t repeat it; not everyone has the luxury of being self-aware enough to do that.

    You didn’t physically harm anyone. You didn’t take someone’s freedom from them. You didn’t insult them or wound their self-confidence. So many people do so much worse than you and feel so much more at ease with their misdeeds.

    Just practice giving yourself some grace when these thoughts come up. Over time, as you begin to trust yourself and your abilities more, this load WILL get lighter on its own.

    1. Courageous cat*

      Also: your employers have all paid for the work they got. They didn’t pay you for your past experience, they paid you for what you did for their company. You exchanged your labor for money and they were fine with that arrangement. That, in and of itself, should hopefully absolve you to some degree. You performed according to their expectations and ultimately, when money is at hand, that’s really all that matters.

  80. rev. meggus wolf*

    Guilt is an acceptable emotion, but often our guilt goes beyond to a place where it’s unhelpful and emotionally unhealthy and/or turns into shame. There’s a lot of good information out there online about dealing with shame and unhelpful guilt. a lot of times though it involves examining the standards we set for ourselves and how reasonable or unreasonable they are. This is definitely something you should continue to work on with your therapist. It’s difficult and unpleasant work and I have been there (am there). But I can also tell you that doing that hard work, digging down into my core beliefs and deconstructing them has helped me immensely. A lot of this work is covered in cognitive and dialectical behavioral therapies which are different than regular talk therapy. In general, however, it would be worth your time to talk to your therapist about different strategies or approaches to this issue. Be well, stay well.

Comments are closed.