We’ve all been there. You’ve sat down to write your CV, ready to spin the heads of all the prospective employers out there with your sheer awesomeness, when you hit a bit of a snag. It turns out that your grades are a little low and your work experience is a bit sparse, and it won’t cut the mustard for that dream job you’re looking to land. So, in these situations, is it ever acceptable to lie on your CV?
Although some people argue that you shouldn’t, others claim that the odd harmless fib is standard practice. But what are the consequences should you get caught? And does it really make much of a difference in the overall hiring process?
Everyone Else Does It – Right?
The number of people willing to admit to lying on their CV is actually pretty low. According to StatisticBrain, 14 per cent of job seekers in the US admitted to “enhancing” their resumes in 2017, whilst 13 per cent conceded that they had at least considered it. It’s a risky game though, as 75 per cent of human resource managers claim they have discovered discrepancies upon further investigation, with just 12 per cent of those managers stating that they would call a dishonest candidate back.
In the UK, candidates are a bit more honest, with only 10 per cent admitting to being economical with the truth. The poll, conducted by YouGov, also revealed that it is education and qualifications that most people embellish, although this too is now a sure fire way to get caught out – organisations such as Experian and the Higher Education Degree Datacheck (HEDD) are able to perform quick and thorough checks at a moment’s notice.
If it is found that you deliberately falsified something on your CV, the consequences are usually at your employer’s discretion. If it is something serious, you will likely be fired and legal action may even be taken against you. Even if you do manage to keep your job, your reputation will be severely tainted, such as in the case of Felicity Wilson, a disgraced Australian MP who lied about having an extra degree on her CV but is still employed by the national parliament.
In some cases, the consequences can be even worse than losing your job. Whilst it is technically not against the law to lie on a CV in either the UK or the US, it has resulted in convictions; in 2017 NHS manager Jon Andrewes was sentenced to 2 years in prison for fraud, after he spent 10 years bagging lucrative senior posts based on false qualifications.
So in short, falsifying your CV is definitely not recommended – and in some cases is even illegal. Being “creative” on the other hand is a different story altogether.
While you should always avoid lying about actual facts, such as qualifications, dates or the amount of experience you have in a particular role, you can still “enhance” certain aspects of your CV. Nobody wants gaps or unexplained time periods jumping out at potential employers, but you can justify them with a little creativity.
For example, if you started a course but didn’t finish it, you can argue that you were keen to get started in the world of work, as investment broker Richard Li famously did when he dropped out of university (Li, incidentally, wasn't lying, having amassed a personal worth of $4.4bn). Unemployment gaps can also be spun in a positive way, by claiming you were doing something positive and worthwhile during that time, such as travelling and experiencing other cultures (after all, how is anyone going to be able to check that?)
You should be careful not to trip yourself up though, as one candidate did in my previous workplace when he justified an employment gap by claiming he had been playing lead guitar in a band. Unfortunately for him, his interviewer just happened to be a music enthusiast with an office full of guitars, and when he was invited for a quick jam his inability to string two chords together didn’t reflect well on his integrity. After all, if he was lying about that, what else could he be inventing?
Don’t Trap Yourself In Your Definitions
While that may be an extreme example (indeed, you might be pleased to know that 72 per cent of UK employers are not all that bothered about the hobbies & interests section anyway), it highlights the risk of being careless. You should never put yourself in a position where claims you make on your CV could put you in a difficult position further down the line.
For example, if a colleague gave you a couple of quick training sessions on Python once, you might be tempted to add data sorting to your assortment of skills. But what if one day such a tasking comes out of the blue and no-one else is available? With a deadline looming and resources stretched, do you want to be explaining to your boss that actually you just played around with the software for a couple of hours once, and you’re not “a competent and confident user” like you claimed on your CV?
Always be realistic and don’t be black and white in your definitions. You could say that you “have had some minor exposure to Python”, as you’re not making any grandiose claims, and it might earmark you as a candidate for potential training in the future.
You can do this with soft skills too. For example, there is a world of difference between “leadership experience” and “management responsibilities”. Leadership experience could be as vague as showing the new guy what they are supposed to be doing around the office, whereas management responsibilities implies you held a defined, fully trained role. As long as you can justify the use, then you should be OK.
Where Should I Draw the Line?
Never lie about having a criminal record, as it will be the first thing that shows up in a background check. Disclosing it will not necessarily disbar you from consideration, whereas failing to mention it definitely will; they will discover it anyway, and it will go in your favour that you were honest about it.
You should also never lie about something that could result in the health and safety of you or others being compromised; for example, proficiency in a certain type of machinery or in various healthcare roles (although it is admittedly unlikely many companies would put you in a position of such responsibility without validating your claims first).
It is also illegal to claim you held certain jobs. For example, in the US, it is a federal crime to lie about serving in the military, with the UK soon to follow suit. Be careful when using protected titles too; an accountant can be a broad term to define anyone who works at an accountancy firm regardless of their qualifications, but a chartered accountant is a registered and accountable professional. If in doubt, check with the relevant body.
What Should I Do If I’ve Already Lied?
If you’ve submitted your CV but not undertaken any interviews or tests yet, then ideally you should rectify the situation by letting the employer know that you made some mistakes on your application and would like to re-submit it. If you are further down the line though you should consider withdrawing your application altogether, as you will at least be able to maintain your reputation.
Ultimately though, the question of whether it is acceptable to lie on your CV usually becomes a question of if you should. And you shouldn’t. Instead of making things up, focus on the things that you are good at and try to sell them to employers. Of course, you can use a little license here and there but never compromise yourself or make claims that you can’t back up.
And be proactive! If you don’t have much work experience, undertake some volunteer work. Employers are always impressed when candidates show willing and enthusiasm, and it looks great on your CV.
Have you ever lied on a CV? If so, did you get away with it, or did it come back to haunt you? Let us know in the comments below…