Is it ever a good idea to outright lie on your résumé, or even to significantly “fudge” the truth regarding your work history and/or accomplishments and achievements? The short answer to this question is “No!” because it can definitely come back to “burn” you! Nonetheless, this is a moral dilemma many job seekers wrestle with today as illustrated in the following email I received recently:

“Skip, I had a conversation with a friend today over lunch which has me a bit unnerved, and I am hoping you will give me your expert opinion…It has to do with job history.

I have always thought ‘honesty is the best policy’ and I list everywhere I’ve worked as it demonstrates valuable experience I’ve gained. However I was out with a friend this afternoon (who is a bank officer at one of the larger banks here), and she told me NOT to list everything because it makes me look like a ‘job hopper.’

The truth is–and my friend knows this–I have NOT been a job hopper. Like the woman who continues to pick the wrong guy, I somehow keep picking the wrong employer (lol!). I was laid-off three times in a row, once with a “dot-com” that lost its funding, and twice due to re-orgs…These job losses were clearly not my fault! My friend told me that her organization’s policy is that, ‘While we know the economy is tough, and people are losing their jobs through no fault of their own, if you show you have been laid-off, you go immediately into the ‘no’ pile.

What? Really?! Is that true?? My friend went onto tell me to ‘lie,’ she advised me to ‘lose’ the positions I was laid-off from and explain away those periods as being unemployed raising children and working on my education (both are not untrue).

I was unnerved by her advice. So here is my question….Is she right, or is her company’s policy uncommon to the rest of the world?

I have been feeling so high developing a plan through the good advice you and David Perry have given me in your books (“Headhunter” Hiring Secrets and Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters 3.0), thinking I am doing all the “right things”, and now I feel like Chicken Little…please get me back on track.

Many thanks,
D. D.”

Here is how I responded to her:

“Dear DD,

To a degree, both of you are right. As I repeatedly point out in ‘Headhunter’ Hiring Secrets, as well as in a number of other forums, contrary to popular belief, companies today aren’t looking for ways to include applicants in their job candidate ‘pools.’ Rather, they are looking for something—anything!—they can use to exclude applicants from the pool—and do so as quickly and as efficiently as possible!

Until a short list of semi-finalists is developed, the entire hiring process is a game of exclusion, especially when some single positions advertised today can receive as many as 50,000 applications! That means companies must have some type of screening criteria in place just to handle the volume of applications. Your friend’s company is obviously using the filter of ‘laid-off,’ or the ‘appearance’ of being a ‘job-hopper, as reasons to exclude applicants from further consideration.

Fair? Absolutely not! Still true? Unfortunately, yes!

However, no matter what, it is critical that one take the completely honest and transparent approach when addressing their work history, education, accomplishments and achievements. Remember, you are building the brand ‘you’ and what you stand for.

So let’s get back to your friend. They are right in that excluding the positions from your resume may get you in the door…initially. What they may not realize is what their HR department is doing behind the scenes. You see, with the proliferation of “resume factories” and ‘credential creep,’ companies are conducting the most rigorous background checks ever. (‘Resume factories’ are businesses that will create totally false résumé for someone; ‘credential creep’ is the exaggeration of titles, duties and responsibilities, and accomplishments and achievements on one’s resume.) In fact, one company recently told me that they assume that 80% of the résumés they receive have false and misleading information in them. And what is most interesting is that your friend, who works in banking industry, is in an industry where the background checks are now the most in-depth and rigorous of them all.”

Now before we proceed, I want to mention that there are two time periods in regard to your work history:

  • The current 10-15 years of work history
  • All prior work history

Many professionals suggest that you don’t need to put anything past the current 10-15 years on your resume. Here is the reality – whether you choose to put your entire work history on your résumé or only the current 10-15 years, all companies you worked for during the time period you cover must be on your résumé. You can’t pick and choose what you want on your resume.

The moment you fill out the employment application, you will be “found out.” Whereas the résumé is not an official legal document, the employment application is and your signature testifies to the truth of the document. Once completed, your work history on the employment application will be compared to your résumé. If there are discrepancies, you will now be excluded. If there aren’t discrepancies and the background checking reveals unreported work history, you will be branded as having committed fraud by falsifying a legal document and will either not be hired or will be fired if it comes out after the fact—even if it is months later.

So what do you do when, through no fault of your own, you have some “spotty” work history?

  • First, show quantifiable accomplishments and achievements, e.g., dollars earned or saved for the employing company, significant, specific goals attained, etc., while in every role during your career, including those where you may have lost the position through no fault of your own.
  • Today, it is extremely important to get powerful letters of reference from “bosses” and/or others in management roles from all companies, but particularly the ones where you were laid-off that validate your performance. It’s also a good idea to ask them to include comments regarding the financial circumstances that may have necessitated lay-offs and/or reorganizations within the companies.
  • Understand and accept the rather hard fact that you may have to play the “job hunting game” longer and harder than others because of your bad luck.
  • Do not make excuses or play the “blame game.” Too many people spend too much time in interviews trying to explain periods of bad luck. To be honest about it, the longer the story, the more suspicious it tends to become.

Rarely does the end justify the means, and that’s particularly true when it comes to the issue of submitting a falsified or inflated résumé, in an attempt to land a new job. Remember, the brand that is you takes literally years to build and perfect, yet it can take only a very short time to completely destroy your brand. Don’t you fall into the trap of preparing a “liar, liar, pants on fire” résumé in hopes of gaining an edge on other job seekers. It can—and very likely will!—only come back to “burn” you!


Skip Freeman is the author of “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever! and is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The HTW Group (Hire to Win), an Atlanta, GA, Metropolitan Area Executive Search Firm. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.