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I've been browsing the internet lately, looking for tips to improve my resumé. One sentiment that I constantly ran into was that it's a bad idea to lie on your resumé. Literally every site I visited mentioned this.

I agree that it's unethical to lie on your resumé. But is it necessarily a bad idea?

If the objective is to land a job, lying on your resumé can, sadly, be a good strategy. If you make sure the lie isn't so big that you get caught (either during a background check, or after you get the job and it is discovered you lied about your skills), then there's little downside risk. You just make yourself look a little bit better. For example, as a software engineer, you may write on your resume that you have "extensive experience with the technologies x, y, z"... as long as you know the company does not actually use those technologies, you will never be tested on it. All it does is make you look like an eager and passionate learner.

Or am I wrong?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Masked Man Jul 29 '18 at 14:38
  • Assuming that you don't get caught is simply against all statistics. You could just assume you will win a Ferrari in a Lottery, that would be more ethical wishful thinking. – nvoigt Jul 29 '18 at 17:37
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    @nvoigt what statistics exist on this? And wouldnt they be skewed by the people that are caught being over represented in them? – Martin Smith Jul 29 '18 at 19:02
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    It all depends on what one actually means by "lying", the intent and severity of the lie, whether or not the truth is discoverable, and the consequences of the lie for the organization. These are nuances which tend to get grossly oversimplified by pedantic folks. Yes, people do tend to stretch experiences to get their foot in the door and YES companies do tend to have unrealistic/impractical expectations for what they say are "requirements". – teego1967 Jul 29 '18 at 19:28
  • If you lie on your application form, make sure you can remember what lies you told, and be prepared for a detailed questions about them if the interviewer goes down that rabbit hole. I'm not going to tell you what (simple) techniques are use to spot liars in interviews, but they are very hard to evade. And if you DO get found out, you are 100% guaranteed NOT to get a job offer. Worse, you might get put on a blacklist that is passed around between different companies, with no way to know the blacklist even exists, let alone how to get off it for the next 10 years or so. So, it's your call... – alephzero Jul 29 '18 at 22:33
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True Story:

I interviewed a guy who claimed to have significant experience with a pretty esoteric processor that currently wasn't used at the company. I happen to have pretty good previous experience with that architecture and it has some fairly unique challenges.

So I asked the candidate about it, and it was quite clear within seconds that he had never done any hands on work and misrepresented his skill set on this resume.

Not only did he not get hired, I also made sure he ended up on the "do not hire" list for the entire company.

You can fill technical gaps and learn missing skills. But basic personal integrity is non-negotiable in my book.

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    Aren't anecdotal evidence the only way to determine if this is feasible? The inverse happened at my company: someone lied about their education having never graduated even High School, but he was in a high position and does good work and is a professional writer. Seems implausible but no way to know of risk/reward analysis, only what we experienced first hand. – Dan Jul 30 '18 at 16:19
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    another one: had a coworker who claimed extensive knowledge on a lot of things. He got placed as a consultant with a customer to use that knowledge and caused major problems. Customer threatened to sue, we did a thorough background check and he was fired on the spot, and sued for quite substantial damages by both us and the customer. – jwenting Aug 2 '18 at 11:29
  • The more the merrier! I was interviewing a candidate who had a long list of things he was good at, most of which weren't relevant to the job posting. However, I have experience in a wide variety of areas, like discussing a wide range of topics in the first interview, and so asked him about just about everything on his resume. Some of those "side topics" were items I was especially experienced in and when I asked him about them, it was extremely obvious that he was a complete BSer and just throwing out buzz words. I did rejected him after the first interview. – Conor Mancone Aug 8 '18 at 19:45
  • This exchange still sticks out in my head: Him: "We made our own ERP because we needed [Feature X] and others didn't have it. We tried NetSuite but they didn't have it either". Me: "You tried NetSuite? They don't have a free trial. I've known companies that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and 6 months of time just to get started with NetSuite. How did you try it?" Him: "Well I don't know about Netsuite but ...(change topic)". I also knew that [Feature X] is a feature that is common to most ERPs, including NetSuite. – Conor Mancone Aug 8 '18 at 19:53
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Here's what might happen:

  • The company doesn't use these technologies now, but a month after you are hired, a new project requires their use. Due to your "extensive knownledge", you are put in charge. The project fails due to your lack of experience. An external audit takes place, and identifies that you did not have a clue. Your manager is furious and fires you. Don't ever bother applying again to this company (or other companies who have heard of these events).
  • You might not get the job because you appear overqualified.
  • You might not get the job because you appear to overestimate your qualifications (which is a frequent cause for an inability to improve, see Dunning Krueger effect).
  • Your lying is identified during your application. In most cases, this would get your application tossed immediately, even if you would have otherwise qualified, because the interviewer will suspect more lies.
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    "You might not get the job because you appear overqualified." Note refusing to hire overqualified applicants is illegal in some jurisdictions. Of course that doesn't mean that it doesn't still happen. – Justin Lardinois Jul 29 '18 at 21:52
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    I do not know of any jurisdiction where it is illegal not to hire someone who is overqualified. An example please? – DJClayworth Jul 30 '18 at 1:06
  • @DJClayworth If your overqualification is the sole deciding factor against you for being hired, then in at least some jurisdictions you have a legitimate (albeit tough to argue in favor of) discrimination complaint, and discrimination in such situations is generally illegal in many countries. – Austin Hemmelgarn Jul 30 '18 at 1:23
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    In most countries I know discrimination is only illegal when it is based on specific criteria, e.g UK protected characteristics or US protected classes. Overqualification is not one in any place I know. Do you have an example of a place where it is? Sorry to be harsh but it is important not to give wrong information, even in comments. – DJClayworth Jul 30 '18 at 1:43
  • @AustinHemmelgarn I'd be interested to know which countries these are too. – Studoku Jul 31 '18 at 15:00
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Some lies matter, and some do not. But all lies carry risk. Take your "asking for skills they don't really need" example. The first issue, of course, is how you know they don't need them. The second is this: if the company is foolish enough to list skills they don't need in the ad, and to instruct screeners to make sure you have them before the interview, they will probably continue that foolishness into the interview, meaning you will not get the job even though you got the interview, and you wasted your time a little. The third is that getting caught in a lie, no matter how trivial, can mean your otherwise successful application can come to a screeching halt.

You seem to think there are plenty of cases where people think they need x from you, but they don't really, so you can just pretend to have x and everything will be fine. This underestimates the effort of pretending to have x (it can be checked by contacting your educational institution or former employers, or they can ask you in the interview) and ignore the possibility you really need x. You know what's worse than not getting an interview, or getting an interview but not getting the job? Getting the job and failing out massively and being fired after just a few weeks.

So the company doesn't use those technologies now? Maybe they are hiring so that they can starting using them? But those are old tech nobody could use? Maybe they just acquired some old stuff and want to modernize it. They're just showing off trying to sound important with blockhain and AI and ML and cold fusion? Why do you want to work there?

There isn't much upside to flat out lying and claiming to be an expert in something and hoping no-one will notice you're not. There's plenty of downside, even ignoring the actual ethics of lying.

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For example, as a software engineer, you may write on your resume that you have "extensive experience with the technologies x, y, z"... as long as you know the company does not actually use those technologies, you will never be tested on it. All it does is make you look like an eager and passionate learner.

You are proposing that if a company said in the job advertisement that they require or desire A, B, and C skills/experience. And you boost your apparent level of knowledge and experience in x, y and Z they will never know.

But what happens if they see X,y, and z and then say to themselves we might need that next year on the new project. So they think you should be transferred to the new project if they win the contract. Then you will be caught as you have to explain that you have never used X.

Anything on your CV is fair game in the interview. I have run into people who had taken a free class on X technology, but the resume made it sound like they were an expert, so i tossed them a softball question becasue I knew the developers of that technology. They couln't answer anything concrete, we knew then that parts of their resume were greatly exaggerated, they did not move onto the next phase.

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    Generally, asking about something on the resume for which the candidate may not have expected questions can help with evaluating its accuracy. – Patricia Shanahan Jul 30 '18 at 3:48
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I thinks it basically boils down to two things

  • trust is very important key for building career, both inside the current company you are and with customers, etc...
  • trust builds up slowly (years), but can collapse very quickly, and will be much harder to rebuild then.

Your lies can be discovered at any time, and will be immediately followed by trust collapsing all around you.

If you lie, you need to maintain that lie all along. The risk of your reputation collapsing will still be present for numerous years after your recruitment, which was the goal of the lie.

A simple cost-benefit analysis leads to the conclusion that if you want to build a career path, lying is not a reasonable choice to make, it costs much more than it gives you on the long term.

Of course, there could be some situation where lying would have more benefit, but I seriously wouldn't recommend to be in these kind of situations. It's a bargain. But for any sensible and rational path, just don't. You will be forced to play a casino game continuously, and the casino always win on the long term.


That's not to mention the fact that this also might not benefit you even if your lie is believed :

When you lied on your resume about having previous sheepdog experience

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If we ignore ethical part and focus on utilitarian part, it is still bad idea.
It is quite easy to validate your CV. Diplomas or certificates can be checked directly, technical skills - by simply asking whiteboard questions.
I disagree especially about small lies. What does even mean? If you claim to be an expert in technologies that are not used by company, you could be seen as a person with poor ability to plan your career.
If you apply for a job as a front-end developer, does it matter if you are an expert in back-end technologies? Companies are looking for people with narrow specialization. Why pose as a somebody else?

Last but not least, most likely you will be asked questions about everything on you CV. I know from my experience about candidates being asked about some technology only because their put it on their resume. I don't know Perl but I could ask anybody to implement some basic algorithms in this language, then verify it after meeting.

  • The programming language is called "Perl". – Martin Bonner supports Monica Jul 29 '18 at 14:06
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    Not all companies are looking for people with narrow specialization. Lots of them like people who can do multiple things. Of course, those are also companies that will ask you about unrelated things on your resume. – Erik Jul 29 '18 at 16:36
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The simple answer is: keeping up a lie is more difficult than you may imagine, since people are smarter than you seem to imagine.

  • Before hiring: The technical interview. I tend to ask people to explain something from their CV, no matter how unrelated to the job. Often i think it would rather be good to clearly state that you don't have much experience than giving yourself a 5 star rating and being rated based on the expectation you created.

  • Before hiring: You need to brief the people giving you a reference about your lie. Or do you want that the calls checking up on your references turn very weird?

  • Do you really want to talk to colleagues who have been told that you have a lot of experience in something with them figuring out very fast (always consider: they may have experiences which you don't know about) that you are an liar?

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Lying consistently is by far more difficult than telling the truth (not mentioning it being anti-social and therefore not a natural activity for the human brain).

If you lie, you not only have to remember what exactly you have told and pay attention to not accidentally flip to a true story, but have the whole fake background why/what/where/how information fan-in tree prepared, should the interviewer decide to spot-check the CV. And you would not believe what interviewers with couple of decades of experience are capable of. Professionals in the field can actually use simple techniques aimed at exhausting the mental capacity of the liar. Best is to really believe in what you are saying, but then it gets dangerously close to some diagnosable conditions, so is hopefully not too relevant here.

The worst part (here I'll overlap with other answers) -- it's not a one off effort, you'll have to stick to your story for the duration of your engagement with the employer and keep spending that excessive energy every day. If one is caught lying this may get a severe HR-level issue, not easy if at all possible to wash out in many countries / industries, this alone would be a good reason to think many times before trying.

There is an old Russian saying summarizing the whole thing:

Look after your clothes when they're spick-and-span, and after your honour when you're a young man.

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