I lied about my education to my employer and background check revealed I did not graduate. How do I respond to my employer after they send me the following?

In order for us to move forward and complete the background check investigation, we need to understand the reason for the discrepancy and know about your highest level of education completed.

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    Can you please clarify whether this is a job you already have, or a job that you are in the process of applying for? Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 16:47
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    Two questions: you say "your employer" but this is the sort of thing that happens before they employ you; can you clarify the scenario you're describing? What exactly are they "moving forward" on? Second, you say that you "lied about your education"; can you say a little bit about why you lied? A lie is a deliberate attempt to mislead; why did you make this attempt? That will help us advise you about good next steps. Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 18:50
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    @EricLippert That's usually true, but sometimes background checks may be conducted after someone is already employed. For example, I've known of cases with friends where they had background checks going on months after they started working at a job that required a security clearance, just due to the backlog of background checks that needed to be conducted. They just had to work on unclassified stuff until the security clearance was completed.
    – reirab
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 19:10
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    @Pharap It would be a much better question if it made the stage of employment clear (before starting, just started, worked there for 10 years). Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 19:36
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9 Answers 9


In some locations, it is a crime to provide certain types of false information to a potential employer. If this is the case where you are, or you are not sure, you should consider Eric Lippert's Answer. Otherwise read on:

Side note: they are very professional.

You should own up to the the lie, apologise, be honest about the reasons why you lied, indicate that you are committed to learning from the experience, ask for a second chance to prove your trustworthiness, and thank them for giving you an opportunity to explain yourself.

Then you should indicate what your actual highest level of education is, and don't lie this time.

Your chances are very slim. Hopefully you can rationalise why you were dishonest with them in a way that they are willing to accept. But I wouldn't hold my breath.

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    Emphasis on the don't lie this time Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 13:33
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    Also, plus one on the side note. This is definitely a laudable attitude on the part of the employer. Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 14:43
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    2nd emphasis on very slim. People have made very successful careers, only to have it all taken away from them 20 years later due to being caught lying on their resume that they used to get their foot in the door. There's a politician or professor that comes to mind, but the name evades me.
    – Travis
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 15:53
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    @Nelson They're informing them in case they made a mistake. For example, the applicant could have graduated under one name, but now use another (marriage, legal name change, sex change, etc). Or they could have contacted the wrong school (U of Chicago vs U of Illinois Chicago). Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 18:18
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    @BobRodes: It is a class C felony in the state of Washington to lie about your education on a resume. Five years in jail, $10000 fine. The OP should contact a lawyer and stop taking advice from random strangers on the internet who say things like "from what I've read...". Commented Mar 23, 2019 at 1:17

I lied about my education to my employer and background check revealed I did not graduate. How do I respond to my employer after they send me the following?

  • The presupposition of the question is a bad supposition. You do not respond. You're in a hole of your own digging; stop digging.
  • You stop soliciting legal advice from strangers on the internet and get it from a lawyer.
  • Once you have a lawyer, ask them if you have committed fraud or any other crime, and how you should proceed so as to decrease your risk of being prosecuted if you have.
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    @JoeStrazzere: I'm suggesting that the OP get a lawyer and ask them what to do. They might have committed a crime; that's the high-order bit, not the job. Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 23:27
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    @JoeStrazzere: Fraud is a crime pretty much everywhere. Don't think of it as "lying on a resume". Think of it as an attempt to defraud a company, because that's what it is. Now, as for whether it is a "felony" or not varies by jurisdiction, but that's hardly relevant. Here, I'll edit the text to say "crime" instead, how's that? Commented Mar 23, 2019 at 1:06
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    @JoeStrazzere: But to answer your specific question: in my home state of Washington, it is a class C felony to lie about your education on a job application. Five years in prison, $10000 fine. Commented Mar 23, 2019 at 1:15
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    The original poster should stop taking advice from people who are googling the law and get a lawyer. Commented Mar 23, 2019 at 2:22
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    I second the line of do not respond. Whether the situation is serious enough to get a lawyer, one would need to know more. Presumably the OP is in enough of a financial hole already.
    – Therac
    Commented Mar 23, 2019 at 6:34

I would say that you take it as a life lesson, and be more scrupulous about preserving your integrity in the future. I would also say it's safe to assume that you've blown your chances of getting this job.

Honest people aren't people who are never dishonest, they are people who regret their moments of dishonesty, and are not dishonest in quite the same way again. By admitting that you haven't been entirely truthful, you've made a step in the direction of being an honest man, and a step away from the direction of being a dishonest one.

Now, you'll need to ask yourself why, and you probably ought to spend some time soul-searching before you try to explain it to the employer. (Things like being scared of not being able to find a job come to mind.) When you do attempt to explain yourself to the employer, you might start by saying that you recognize that you have blown your chances of getting hired, but that you wanted to speak on a personal level. Then pretty much bare your soul, in 100 words or fewer. (Not to try to get the job back, but to get it out of your system.) Then apologize and leave it at that. (You could thank them for the life lesson, too, if you can be sincere about it.)

(EDIT: Eric Lippert has pointed out that there are laws in some states that criminalize lying about your education on a resume. I would suggest that you get a lawyer's advice before telling the employer that you did this.)

Finally, you can be glad that you got caught now, instead of two or three years in. If you are an honest man, it would have eaten at you, and you would feel relieved when it finally came out in spite of the fallout. If you aren't an honest man, you'd probably find that you were unable to talk your way out of it, assuming you hadn't been fired already for some other lapse of integrity.

So, man up, face the consequences, forgive yourself (even if other people don't), do your best to put it right, and don't do it again.

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    If OP has blown the chances of getting the job, then what are the benefits of "baring their soul" versus just withdrawing the application? Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 14:58
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    @NateEldredge Well, firstly, we're just assuming he's blown his chances. (I agree it's the most likely outcome, but there's a tiny chance this employer might defy the odds yet.) Being honest keeps that door open, however slim the chances may be. Walking away without explanation definitely closes it. Also, depending on the industry OP is in, word might travel to other employers about this guy who lied on his resume. Taking the time to explain himself (no matter the reasoning) can't possibly make him look worse than ghosting as soon as he gets caught in a lie.
    – Steve-O
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 15:38
  • "you've made a step in the direction of being an honest man, and a step away from the direction of being a dishonest one." I get what you mean here but I think it comes off as kind of judgmental of OP. There's an interpretation of this where you're calling them a dishonest man, which wouldn't be fun to read (despite the topic of their post) Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 15:52
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    @dataprincess the first two words of the question are "I lied". Dishonesty isn't an implication here, it's a fact to be dealt with.
    – hobbs
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 16:22
  • @NateEldredge, The OP said, "I lied ... to my employer" and "How do I respond to my employer ..." I took this to mean the background check wasn't done before the OP joined the company.
    – CramerTV
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 16:39

How close are you to graduating?

If You're Not Close

If you're not close, the other answers are spot on. Please read them and come clean.

If You Are Close

If you are close, contact your school. Find out everything you need to graduate. It may not just be credits, there are often money issues that can prevent you from showing as graduated, too. Get the full list.

Now, respond to your employer along the lines of "I contacted my school, and it turns out you're right, I'm not showing as graduated to them. I spoke with a counselor and received the full list of what I need to show as graduated, and will be remedying the situation as soon as possible. I hope that this will not impede my ability to work here, as I am very excited to be here, etc etc."

It shows you admit that there's a problem, and that you're taking the initiative to remedy the problem. If they keep you on (and yes, that's still very much a big if), make sure you do take those steps, though.

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    @JoeStrazzere Agreed. This could be a solid tactic coupled with an honest response to the question of why the discrepancy exists. 'I'm sorry, this is why this happened, and this is what I am doing to remedy it."
    – Saiboogu
    Commented Mar 23, 2019 at 2:58
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    As an anecdote: This actually happened to me. I completed all my credits, and intentionally skipped my graduation ceremony because I was going to grad school and didn't care. Turns out: I never submitted my request to graduate, and so when a company that had offered me a job conducted a background check, they found that even though I had said that I graduated, the school disagreed! I wrote them back to the effect of "Turns out you're right, I didn't graduate" and then immediately filed for it. Thankfully they were understanding (I really did have all the credits) and we went forward.
    – dlev
    Commented Mar 24, 2019 at 4:20
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    @Abigail I like those odds better than "yeah, I lied, you caught me."
    – Michael W.
    Commented Mar 24, 2019 at 23:06
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    @dlev I once was prevented from showing as graduated because I owed the school around $3,000 that loans didn't cover. Luckily, it didn't stop me from getting a job, and I eventually paid it off. Sometimes, somebody not graduating is over a really minor issue that shouldn't effect how employable they are.
    – Michael W.
    Commented Mar 24, 2019 at 23:12
  • @Abigail It may increase the chances of not being prosecuted for fraud. Commented Jul 30, 2019 at 11:27

Be as honest as possible. If you were on track to graduate but fumbled at last minute that is understandable. But otherwise very hard to save this, if there was a less positive explanation.

Keep whatever you say simple and truthful.

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    Fumbling your course at the last minute may be understandable, but later pretending that you did not is not. Commented Mar 23, 2019 at 15:00
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    The overriding concern is going to be that you lied, not that you aren't fully qualified. Unless there's something about the wording of your resume that makes it ambiguous (and that's still not a good look) I don't think there's any comeback from this. Commented Mar 25, 2019 at 0:39

I am tempted to claim this as a duplicate of "How can I fix my relationship with my 7 month old cat after I've constantly abused her the past month?". While this may sound ludicrous, the problem is the same: you have broken a fundamental rule of social interaction for a relation that ultimately is dependent on mutual trust and trustworthiness. This is a question of the "how can I resume using a bridge I have burnt?" kind.

This bit will determine the stance of management and HR towards you in future because it casts into doubt everything that needs to be trusted at face value in a robust relationship.

You probably should consider polishing your resume. Or in this case, unpolishing it. It is quite likely that you'll be better off moving elsewhere even in case that your current employer can be made to swallow that toad (likely at a price).

  • I'm not used to recommendations of making a resume look less polished. But since the last resume was apparently over-polished, "unpolishing it" strangely sounds rather sensible.
    – TOOGAM
    Commented Mar 24, 2019 at 20:03

You definitely need to own up to not having a degree. If you are close to having or it's a paperwork issue explain that.

Many companies do a minimal clearance when they hire and as the company takes on new clients or changes in insurance requirements, they will often do in depth background checks.

I worked for a company that did in-depth background checks every 5 years. The equivalent of an FBI Check. Be prepared that companies can retrieve information very cheaply on their employees and use it to their advantage.

Good Luck!


I'm confused as to why there is a background check after you are employed rather than before. I'd also need to know how long you have been employed. That makes a big difference. Also, is this a highly skilled position? And does your intended degree really matter?

If the job is software engineering and your degree was art history, then having the degree is largely irrelevant, and you could come right out and say that. A sales job is another job where your choice of degree is often not meaningful. So, it's still a lie, but it's not a grievous one. You can probably talk your way out of it.

If the job is software engineering, then you are lucky, because that is a field where being self-taught is not usually a liability, and plenty of people never finished their degrees. Famously, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, and lots of others who are lesser known. But you need some credibility. You need some kind of proof that a degree would make no difference to your performance, and that's where it would be nice if you had already worked there a year or more. If this is the case, then you can probably talk your way out of it.

If this is a job that you just started, and you have established no credibility or meaningful performance, then I the only reasonable option is to fall on your sword and offer your resignation. It's not likely they will keep an unknown entity that has been caught in a lie. I wouldn't even try to explain the lie. Note, I didn't say quit. I said offer your resignation. They may accept it (the most likely scenario), but they may not. If they don't accept it immediately, it's because they like you for some reason and they will probably call you in to explain the lie. If you don't have a really, really good explanation, then don't waste their time.

  • One example could be for a government clearance. Most people aren't given a background check for that before they are hired. Another example is that many companies don't do an in-depth background check upon hiring but if something comes to light afterward they will initiate a more thorough check. You see this in the news at least once or twice a year where a high level person comes under scrutiny for some reason and it is discovered that they lied about their education or work history.
    – CramerTV
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 16:42
  • I once had a colleague who messed up a customer project very badly, in ways only someone lacking the basic knowledge his resume said he had could. Customer threatened to sue for misrepresenting the guy, my employer ordered a thorough background check of his resume and found the entire thing was a solid pack of lies (normally here your resume is taken on good faith, most often that's no problem). He got fired on the spot, and got some serious claims for damages against him.
    – jwenting
    Commented Mar 25, 2019 at 8:19
  • I had an employer do a background check on me after I had worked there for a few years. They had simply increased the requirements for employment, so they could win more government contracts or something. They applied it to new hires first but eventually got around to checking pre-existing employees like myself.
    – stannius
    Commented Mar 25, 2019 at 20:27

Do you want this job? Than you need to research every power of persuasion out there. 1. Do not admit to a lie. 2. Take a moral high ground.

"From past experience, companies discriminant against those without a degree. Either through automated filtering of resumes, or direct hiring biases. It is unfortunate, but this was required in order to cut through discrimination to showcase my skills that I can bring to your company, sans degree...."

Someone with better persuasion and manipulation can likely come up with a phrasing far more powerful that what is presented above. Many will dislike this comment. But apologizing, or whatever is stated above, will not get you the job. good luck!

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    Um... what? How can somebody who was caught in a lie "take the moral high ground"? Did you mean "attempt to steal the moral high ground"?
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 15:23
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    That means in addition to lying implicitly accuse the company recruiters of some sort of unfair discrimination. Yes, I'd definitely would want someone in my company that tries to twist the truth by making up accusations and that uses illegal routes to achieve what she/he thinks is right, I wouldn't see any lawsuits coming up in the future from or due to that employee. Btw. the example actually does admit to a lie, just doesn't call it by name or apologize for it. Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 15:57
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    I understand the visceral response that makes people want to downvote this as it comes across as 'when confronted with the lie, go on the offensive' but if the candidate/employee actually has such experience, this would be an honest explanation for why they did it, and probably their best chance. The company/recruiter would not necessarily need to be corrupt or incompetent to accept it as an explanation, frustration/desperation can lead people to do things they wouldn't otherwise do. They would however be foolish to accept it without further investigation to verify it is an anomaly.
    – Mr.Mindor
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 16:49
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    This is terrible advice. There's a reason why job boards and applications usually have the option of attaching a cover letter or portfolio. This is is to help showcase and let the recruiters know what you've done/can do even if you have no formal/accredited degree or professional experience. Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 17:49
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    @paulj - A good indication that you might need to rethink your approach: you're trying to explain that the right answer is psychologically manipulative persuasiveness... yet you're not able to persuade people that your method is a good idea.
    – Kevin
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 18:20

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