I padded my résumé because I wanted to write experience commensurate with my (real) skill level (and years of effort which can't be directly documented). The bright-line I used to justify this was, "Can I own these skills in an interview, and can I deliver on the job?" The answer to both of these questions is yes, but I still feel terrible about it.

I've given this résumé to a single recruiter, who asked me to make some minor modifications, and said he would not submit my résumé his client(s) until I had updated it. So, this is my last chance to recover. He seems like a stand-up guy, and I'd like to continue working with him. Is it possible to correct my mistake without losing his trust?

The extent of the damage is this: I worked for a small company as a contractor in two stints, 3 months and 8 months, respectively, with a gap in between. On my résumé, I combined the two, which about triples the amount of time I worked there (from ~1 years to 3 years). I also padded one of the "X years of experience in skill Y" to be consistent with this. That skill is critical for the particular job I'm applying for, so trimming it back down would hurt, but there are other open positions which would not need it particularly.

This is the biggest (and almost the only) piece on my resume, so chucking the whole bit isn't an option. I'm looking for an entry-level position, so I'm not afraid of getting caught right away, but I will lose sleep over it for a long time, and be very nervous whenever I'm up for promotion.

Please understand that I have not lied about my skill level; just my "formal" work experience. In performance, I compare very well to others in the field, even in positions one or two levels higher than entry-level. (It's very frustrating to try to convey that on-paper). My estimate is rough, but also conservative: I just don't have a very long track-record, because often-times I had no (immediate) need to keep track.

Regardless, its really not worth spending the next two years at a new job loathing myself because of a single act of desperation! What I should have realized earlier is this: I can put together 2-3 strong portfolio pieces in 3-6 months that really do convey my aptitude; but I can't undo the damage that's done, and if I proceed along this course, it will only get worse and more risky to confess.

How should I present this to the recruiter, and salvage our relationship? His agency is national, and he's probably well respected by employers throughout my city: If he tells his clients about what I've done, it could end my chances of getting a local job, and perhaps many jobs out-of-state. Should I just walk away from this recruiter ("Hey, I'm sorry, I'm not interested anymore"), and burn the relationship (never use his services again)?

NB: Please forgo anecdotes of bad experiences with recruiters; at this point, I am at his mercy whatever I choose to do. (Continuing to deceive is not really an option for me.)

Thank you for reading this long post!

  • 1
    What were you really doing in the two years you claimed to have been working for this company, but weren't? Mar 20 '15 at 16:52
  • I had a family crises to deal with. However, I was also working on an independent project, which I could have listed on my resume.
    – user33458
    Mar 20 '15 at 16:55
  • Thanks. I believe it's bad to lie in general. I talked myself into it, and suppose I might not be able to talk my way out of it!
    – user33458
    Mar 20 '15 at 16:57
  • 1
    If this post does nothing else, it will serve as a reminder to anyone else who considers cheating at work. It adds value to the community. As a question, I don't believe it deserves a downvote, though certainly I don't deserve any upvotes for what I did.
    – user33458
    Mar 20 '15 at 17:08
  • @user33458 Yes - and your post is actually very well written. You've done a good job conveying your situation, not just an "I overstated; help". Mar 20 '15 at 17:09

Your best option is to send the recruiter a fresh resume with the correct data, and then tell him in person (or over the phone, if in-person is not an option) that you lied on your resume about your work experience, and you would want to rectify it before he sends it to any employer.

You are worried about damaging your reputation and relationship with the recruiter, but guess what? It would get damaged beyond all repair if you do nothing. Your padded work experience will be easily caught by a background check, which will almost certainly lead to:

  1. You lose the job.
  2. The employer loses his trust in the recruiter (which, in turn, can lead to loss of business for the recruiter).
  3. You burn the bridge with the recruiter, not just burn it, but douse it in napalm before burning it.
  4. Word gets around and you find it harder to engage with other recruiters and employers. Realize that recruiters usually have a substantial network of contacts, which is not even restricted to a specific industry.

Fixing it now is clearly going to be far less serious. You might even earn some brownie points from the recruiter for honestly owning up your mistake.

  • 3
    Just exactly what I was writing. The lie will be caught in any cursory employment check. If he has sent it already to anyone, request he pul it back.
    – HLGEM
    Mar 20 '15 at 17:23
  • While this is all true, I should emphasize that I am working for a small company. In my specific case, I could manage the spin of the story among my co-workers, because they trust me. But, relationships are too valuable to burn that way. I couldn't live with it.
    – user33458
    Mar 20 '15 at 17:33
  • 3
    No, dont take the risk. You never know what people will say behind your back. It only takes one grumpy co-worker having a particularly bad day, and your pack of cards comes crashing down. Besides, one lie leads to another, and can hit you out of the blue when you least expect it. I have had a co-worker accidentally talk about his "pleasure trip" (taken when he was supposed to on a business trip) during a lunchtime conversation (ouch!) You dont want to live with that kind of fear, constantly measuring what you are going to say next!
    – Masked Man
    Mar 20 '15 at 17:39
  • 3
    Hmmm. I am hung up on your 'I only want to fix this because I'll get caught' attitude. 'Managing the spin' with the coworkers? Consider how hard it is to earn back trust once it's been lost. You might get away with it, but if you don't, expect people to treat you pretty poorly forever. It's so much easier come clean on your own. You can recover from that. But if you try to get away with it, and someone calls you out on it, you'll be that guy and that's how everyone will remember you.
    – Kent A.
    Mar 20 '15 at 22:15

First things first

You don't seem to have done anything wrong, yet

Well, not quite, anyway. Sending an incorrect resume to the recruiter was probably wrong, but as far as I can see, you haven't yet materially gained from this bad resume. You haven't fraudulently gained employment from it, you've not misled an employer or prospective employer. You've not benefited from your lie or cost anyone any money: even the recruiter has pulled up other issues and will wish to re-read the resume, so it's not even like you've wasted 20 minutes of his time.

Now that's not to say you didn't act with ill intention, nor that you didn't make a mistake. You did, and if the recruiter hadn't paused to ask for minor updates you would probably not have caught in time.... but as of right now, you're still in a retrievable situation. Misleading the recruiter is certainly not a good thing, especially if he's recommending you, but no direct harm has yet been done.

You're updating your resume currently for the recruiter: fix the error now and send it back in. You can choose to be honest and state up front that it was a lie which you've rectified, which may bring negative consequences but is at least 100% honest. Alternately you could ignore the change entirely and merely state that this is the up to date, to your knowledge correct, resume which you'd like him to use going forward. He shouldn't use the old resume, and in all likelihood won't even notice - the disadvantage being that if he accidentally uses the old resume, you could have problems. You're not admitting your misjudgement and subsequent lie, but you are rectifying it.

The final option would be to point it out, but not specifically state that it was a lie. "Here is my updated resume with the changes you've asked for. Please also note that I've corrected the dates of xyz employment: please discard the earlier copy of my resume which contains incorrect details for this employment"

You're not specifically bringing up the fact it was a lie, but you're raising awareness of the issue (to avoid problems going forward) and making sure he's aware of it. The recruiter may or may not realize it was deliberate, and he may or may not care - honest mistakes happen, dishonest mistakes happen. The point is that any employer will be getting the correct information.

To an extent, all three approaches are honest: You're correcting a dishonest/incorrect resume to be correct and honest. It all comes down to how "up front" you wish to be about it. If your fraudulent resume had gone out to employers, your only recourse would be to admit your lie and raise awareness with them and the recruiter: fortunately I think you've caught it early enough that you can merely correct the mistake and put it down to life experience. We all have lapses in judgement from time to time, the important thing is that you've corrected it.


If you are as good as you say you are, strengthen your portfolio of apps so that recruiters and prospective employers can see for themselves that you can do the work.

If you cannot claim the three years of chronological experience, you must be at least be able to claim the three years of effective experience. I am pretty sure that there are plenty of individuals out there who claim three years of experience but three years of chronological experience are not necessarily the equivalent of three years of effective experience. Sometimes, it could be just one year of effective experience, if that.

As far as retracting your claim that you have three years of chronological experience, the ship has already sailed. Claim three years of effective experience and back up your claim. If you studied during the gap time, you still can claim three years of chronological experience. And hopefully, you can claim that what you learned during your gap time made it possible for you to get your second programming job.

On a side note:

Using years of experience as a yardstick is one of the world's biggest jokes. If you can do it, it doesn't matter whether you learned how to do it the day before yesterday. If you can't do it and you claim five years of experience, it simply means that you haven't learned how to do it in five years. In my book, it's not complicated: either you can do it or you can't.

I graduated from high school, starting as a non-English speaking student after taking the toughest classes the high school had to offer. Within the same time frame, other students graduated from my high school with seventh grade reading ability and eighth-grade math competency. Only a fool would exclusively use length of time as a yardstick of experience or skill. I don't work with fools unless I have no other alternative.

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