Don't lie on your resume, for pete's sake.

I really, really hate that this is a thing I have to write.

But after talking to a friend who recently left a job that they felt overwhelmed by, and finding that part of the problem was that they did some fudging around the edges with what their skills and experience really were, I guess it’s time to talk about lying on your resume.

I can throw a bunch of dumb numbers at you that I don’t really believe (Inc, for instance, seems to believe that 85% of candidates lie on their resume), but ultimately, point taken: some people like on their resumes, and that sucks.

I’m here to tell you to knock it off. Here’s why:

  1. People will find out. You have no idea what kind of background check, reference check, skills exercise or interview any given employer might do, and all of those tasks exist for the sole purpose of sussing out what your real deal is. If you lie on your resume and don’t get caught, it’s because you were lucky. Don’t count on it.

  2. You’re setting yourself up to fail. If you put a skill on your resume that you don’t have, but figure you can learn, you’re making your first few months at a new job unnecessarily difficult. You’re gonna have the standard learning curve of figuring out your new organization, your role within it, the company culture, and all their regular internal processes. But you’re also going to have to spend time on the side figuring out how to do something they think you already know. Even if you only exaggerated your skill level and you know the basics, you’re setting yourself up to feel embarrassed to ask questions that you should know the answers to already. All this crap is hard enough, why do you want to do that to yourself?

  3. Seriously, have you ever watched a sitcom? Who wants to keep track of a web of lies? This stuff always blows up in your face.

  4. You perpetuate a bad system where people compete ruthlessly for jobs they’ll be bad at, instead of one where everyone is trying to find jobs they like and can do well. A lot of the harms of the way we go about getting jobs as a society are employer’s faults, but this one lies squarely at the feet of job candidates. The more you lie, the more others have to lie to compete.

I get that job searching kind of sucks. And an unfortunate commentary on capitalism is that you tend to get a competitive advantage if you lie, which forces everyone else to lie just to stay even. Desperate people are more likely to lie, so now we find ourselves in a job search environment where more and more candidates have to take desperate measures just to get, like, food money.

It’s terrible.

There are so, so, so many things you should do before you try lying on your resume. Most people’s application materials simply aren’t that strong, but are improved by some basic advice. Focus more on accomplishments than on job duties in your resume. Make sure your cover letter is giving specific examples of how you operate on the job, rather than a list of keywords and platitudes strung into paragraphs. Prep for interviews by thinking through common questions and knowing how you’ll answer them. And, of course, you can always get a professional resume or cover letter review from me.

That all might seem harder than lying, but I assure you, it’s much easier to maintain and much more defensible, morals-wise.