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Resume Tips

Is It Illegal to Lie on a Resume? Your Data-Backed Answer

lying on a resume

Let’s start with the simple, straightforward answer: For the most part, lying on your resume isn’t illegal. But, there are some exceptions. Certain federal or healthcare jobs require you to be completely honest about your background and experience. There are potential legal consequences if you lie on your resume. 

Still, for almost every job you apply for, lying is an ethical issue. Not a legal one. But, that doesn’t mean lying is okay. Let’s talk about why this is an awful idea.

Can You Lie on a Resume?

The truth is that nobody is going to stop you from lying on your resume. A lot of job applicants like to “exaggerate”, “embellish”, or “conceal” some parts of their career history. A 2020 survey by Ladder found that 30% of people lied or “bent the truth” in their job applicants.  Millennials and Gen-Z tend to overstate their experience the most to secure those coveted entry-level jobs. Older generations claim to lie the least of all. Notably, 80% of people who do lie on a resume are never caught.

But the bigger question is: Should you lie on your resume? 

Absolutely not. Even a small lie can taint your professional reputation for good. And since news travels fast among recruiters, you’ll then have a hard time getting hired for prestigious roles. 

Is It Illegal to Lie On a Resume?

In the US, no. You will most likely not get in trouble with the law for lying on your resume.  However, if you choose to falsify documents such as educational degrees and licenses, those could be grounds for legal repercussions.

Still, not getting caught lying during a job application doesn’t mean you are fully safe from facing any other repercussions if you subsequently get hired for a job. 

Here are several possible consequences of lying on a resume to keep in mind. 

Termination or Loss of Job

Lying on your resume will most likely result in you being fired. And this can cast a long shadow on your chartered career path. You won’t be able to get a good reference from this employer or candidly talk about reasons for leaving your last job during the next job interviews. You also risk being outed as someone who lies on their resume in the future if an HR person decides to connect with your past employer. 

man sitting on a bench after losing his job

Losing Your Professional Licenses

Any licensing body can also catch your lies, believe it or not. If you had chosen to lie on your resume, then you may have likely chosen to lie about the formal training you have received as well. Or at least, that’s what may be assumed about you. Even if you hadn’t lied about your formal training when it comes to your license, your professional licensing could still be at risk. Especially in industries where personal integrity is highly valued such as law, medicine, or education. 

Civil Liability

People usually lie on their resumes about small things, like spending a year at a fictional employer. Or passing off free work for a cousin as a “freelance gig”. The claims of qualifications, however, can also sometimes have a much more damaging effect than one might imagine. 

For example, if you had stated you had been trained on how to drive a forklift in order to get a job in a warehouse, and then had an accident in the said warehouse that caused another employee to be injured on the job. If your lie were to be found out by your employer, you would most likely face the repercussions and gain the liability of that accident. 

OK, But What Happens If You Lie About Your Employment History?

This all depends on if and when you actually get caught in your lie. For example, if you lie about your employment history and get caught during the interview process, you simply won’t be hired for that job. If your lies come up during employment, you can expect to be terminated or demoted from your position. Most of those who do get away with lying about their employment history are entry-level applicants, pressed with unreasonable job requirements. Still, it is best to be honest about your employment history, as it will damage your professional reputation.

Do Employers Verify Your Resume?

It depends. Some smaller companies may use simple background verification tools to do a “light” check. Larger companies, especially in regulated industries, may conduct more thorough candidate assessments via third-party service providers. Employee background checks are a common practice at companies like Apple, JP Morgan, or Walmart.  The latter is actually open to hiring employees with criminal records and doesn’t discriminate against them. 

To Sum Up: Here’s What Happens If You Lie On a Resume

Depending on when you get caught lying on your resume, what happens may vary. If you get caught during the hiring and interview process, you simply won’t be hired. However, if you are caught after being hired, you may: 

  • Get fired from your job
  • Get a bad reference 
  • Lose your professional licenses
  • Have your professional reputation tainted
  • Face potential legal repercussions if you had falsified certain documents

In short, while it may be tempting, it is in your best interest to stay honest about your employment history. If you are struggling to communicate your professional value, check several resume examples for your industry. Analyze how others communicate their strengths and which skills they spotlight. Then apply the same rationale to your copy

Author

  • Elena runs content operations at Freesumes since 2017. She works closely with copywriters, designers, and invited career experts to ensure that all content meets our highest editorial standards. Up to date, she wrote over 200 career-related pieces around resume writing, career advice... more

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