Is it ever OK to lie on your resume?

by K B , updated on August 11, 2011

This question came up in an interview workshop I ran the other day.

It depends on your definition of a lie.

Below is my questioner’s scenario.

What would you do if you found yourself in this situation?

You arrive in Australia as a skilled migrant. You have skills in project management. You are post-graduate qualified. But you have no idea about how to go about finding a job. So you just apply online, sending off mass applications via Seek. Your English is pretty average as well, so really, nobody will look at you for a professional job even if they thought your experience was terrific.

Giving up on your job search you go and get diploma qualifications at Tafe and find a job managing an internet cafe. You finish your course, your English picks up and you decide to take another shot at applying for a project management role.

But your experience makes your resume look like a dog’s dinner.

If you include all your experience on your resume and you apply for a graduate or entry-level role, you look over-qualified for that role. People will probably ask questions about your time away from more senior roles, and still question your communication skills since your last role was in a cafe, not a corporate environment. If you take your senior roles and qualifications off your resume, you are underselling your skills, you may get the job, but you could end up frustrated and bored.

Here’s what I came up with when I was put on the spot in my workshop….

Option 1. Network with people who work in roles close to the professional position you previously held, and ask their advice on how to break back in, or if they are aware of any short term projects you may take on. Often businesses have tasks/projects rather than fully defined roles. If you think of looking for jobs that need to be done, rather than a job, you can work your way in. That way you build trust. Short term jobs may lead to long term contracts and you are on your way.

Then there’s the path of least resistance.

And that’s where the lie comes in.

Option 2. Delete the overseas experience all together. Apply for entry-level or graduate roles. Your resume will guide the discussion in interview, so if something is not there, the interviewer will not question it. In interview give answers based on the experience you have on paper, although you’ll probably sound more impressive as you can draw on insights from your previous professional role overseas.

I don’t have too much of an issue with the ethics of a lie by omission in this case. I do not give people a full life history when I meet them. My first degree was a ridiculous choice for me. If I am marketing myself I just pick the bits of my experience relevant to the discussion at hand. If you think about it, that’s really what you’re doing in the job hunt.

However…

My questioner may run into a few problems with approach number two. One is that we all have digital trails nowadays. Employers love Google. So he would want to have his online pathway looking pretty pristine. No references to past work and so on.

Secondly, as I mentioned before, there is research out that a bad job is worse than no job. Have a read of the summary here. If you take a job that does not give you the accountability you need, or there are excessive job demands or insecurity, you run the risk of depression. Plus you’ve taken a step backwards, so there’s a potential double whammy – you’re depressed and have to take a long pathway back to where you really should be. Sound familiar anyone?

Option 3. Audit your skills and preferences and bring your past experience in as support. Apply for a more junior role, but in a company that is growing and does not have a hierarchical system of promotion. You may well move more quickly. You can talk about your time settling into Australia, working casually and studying as part of what defines you. It’s never easy coming into a completely different culture, even if you do know the language. Along the way you will have developed resilience and a thicker skin, at the very least.

Option three is harder than option two. It involves risky conversations and the more of the dreaded “n” word – networking. You’re more likely to get the chance to talk about your past in a positive way, face to face if you network – if people see you as a whole person, rather than just a static and confused piece of paper.

There’s probably plenty more that my questioner could do.

But to lie or not to lie. I’d love to hear your experience or your take – truthful takes of course!

K B

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Karalyn Brown (@InterviewIQ) (@InterviewIQ) August 11, 2011 at 2:48 am

#resume Is it ever Ok to lie on your resume? http://t.co/okddyJK

Stuart Harvey August 11, 2011 at 3:30 am

Great question Karalyn.

It is probably one of the hardest things to do, come to a completely different country and try and establish yourself. Almost the same situation can arise if you try a change of career but not to the same degree.

As you will know I am not a fan of lying on a resume or in an interview but selecting the most relevant information as per point 2 is a useful approach. As you mentioned almost everyone has a digital trail and this can also be used to your advantage. Employers today are starting to look for employees who are active outside of the work place and show a real passion for what they do. So if you are looking to break into a Project Management role start writing a blog about Project Management, get onto twitter and start talking to other PM’s the same goes with LinkedIn and local PM community groups use that digital trail to help your search and networking efforts.

Of course there is no silver bullet to the situation but there are things you can do that will help or enhance your efforts and past experience.

Nice post.

Stuart Harvey (@Stuart__Harvey) August 11, 2011 at 3:33 am

Is it ever OK to lie on your resume? From @InterviewIQ http://ow.ly/60xeB

karalyn August 11, 2011 at 3:38 am

Thanks Stuart, Great suggestions as well. I think one of the reasons people get depressed when they can’t find a job immdiately is they place too much pressure on themselves. They think that it will happen overnight.

Stuart Harvey August 11, 2011 at 4:46 am

Absolutely, the best advice I could give to someone in this situation is have a plan including what type of job you want, what type of company you want to work for and how you are going to achieve that and then stick to it.

Like you say, it may not happen straight away but if you can stick to the plan and focus on your goals you will find yourself closer than you think.

Bevan Bird (@birdify) (@birdify) August 11, 2011 at 4:54 am

Is it ever OK to lie on your resume? http://t.co/xBYGU43 via @InterviewIQ

Phylicia Duran (@quillandinkwell) August 11, 2011 at 5:21 am

Interesting article – Is it ever OK to lie on your resume? http://t.co/5vUaYYC

Phylicia August 11, 2011 at 5:23 am

Karalyn, thanks for the informative article. I really appreciate the three options you presented. I work with high school and college students on job hunting/interviewing/resumes and this article will be helpful to them. Often they don’t have the experience and qualifications to be very impressive on paper, so they will approach me with the ‘is it okay to lie?’ question. Great insight!

Alan Firmin (@afirmin) (@afirmin) August 11, 2011 at 6:24 am

Is it ever OK to lie on your resume? http://t.co/K2JJQn1 via @InterviewIQ

Mohd Hafizuddin (@apih) August 11, 2011 at 7:47 am

When is a lie not a lie on your resume? http://bit.ly/oADSeF

Justin Flitter (@JustinFlitter) August 11, 2011 at 9:53 am

Is it ever OK to lie on your resume? http://t.co/zqvEGun via @InterviewIQ

CompanyFounder (@CompanyFounder) August 11, 2011 at 10:11 am

Is it ever OK to lie on your resume? http://t.co/jcsL7Vl via @InterviewIQ

Karalyn August 11, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Thanks Phylicia, I appreciate the support. Glad you found it useful.

Gaurang Vyas August 11, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Hi Karalyn,

Really great article… One question I have is when we say now we are in global era and world is too small then why recruiters still asking for local experience only?

If they are happy to accept overseas experience then job seeker would not need to lie and he will get the job what he deserve…

Regards,

Gaurang

karalyn August 12, 2011 at 1:43 am

Good point. Have a look at the section on my blog, how to get a job in Australia – it covers the local experience issue.

WIN Trading Signals (@WINTradingSigs) August 13, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Is it ever OK to lie on your resume? – http://t.co/p0bBAMF via @InterviewIQ

@myjobapps September 3, 2011 at 10:06 am

When is a lie not a lie on your resume? http://t.co/xaYIImU via @interviewiq Good stuff!

@rossclennett September 8, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Is it ever okay to lie on your resume? http://t.co/ecgC58b excellent article from @InterviewIQ

whatsaysyou February 4, 2012 at 5:43 pm

That is an interesting question that everyone, job seekers and graduates alike, do need to know. Great insight by the way

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