What Happens When You Lie on Your Resume

The hours of my work day are filled with resumes. Some of them are good, some are bad, and then there are those that arrive with too much detail or too little effort. No matter the content, each should have at least one thing in common – the truth.

Lately, my peers and I have been running into a common issue – people are lying on their resumes (insert emoji of monkey with hands covering eyes).

There are many things people may choose to ‘fib’ about on their resume, but the primary one my team and I have seen is the degree they claim to be awarded under education.

Example of education on a resume:
University of Northern Iowa
Bachelor of Science, Electrical Engineering – 3.5 GPA

Looking at this, one would (rightfully) think this candidate earned their Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering, but that’s not always the case, unfortunately.

I’ll get back to the appearance of education on a resume, but I’d like to pause here for a moment to tell you a story about an unfortunate incident involving a frustrated client, a regretful candidate and me.

“We’d like to extend an offer!” my client said. 

These words are an absolute joy to hear in my industry.

After weeks of interviewing, I was overjoyed to call my candidate, offer him the position and talk about details. After he happily accepted the position, we had the routine talk about the background check and start dates. 

A few days had passed before I received a surprise as I opened the background check on my candidate. 

“No way. This can’t be happening,” I thought to myself as I stared at the highlighted discrepancy under his education. 

My candidate had not completed his degree in college – and was actually quite a few credits short. He lied to me, my client and himself.

After an awkward conversation with our client, the offer was retracted and I had to call my candidate to have a conversation about why he chose to lie on his resume. I was pretty upset about being in this situation, but after telling my candidate why the client took back their offer, I heard nothing but disappointment and regret in his voice.

“This is awful. I absolutely did lie,” he told me. 

I had to ask why. 

“I wasn’t getting any calls back being honest about not finishing my degree,” he said. “I wanted to see if I’d get positive reactions from completing my degree and I did. I finally got an offer and thought it had worked. I didn’t think an education background check would be done.”

We discussed the situation for a while. I could tell he was sorry regarding his choice, but I could only ask him to update his resume to reflect the partial completion of his degree and to be truthful moving forward.

The irony of the situation was that a degree was not a requirement for the position.

Let that sink in. There was no reason to lie about his qualifications.

This was a learning experience not only for my candidate who lost his offer, but for me as well. I now ask every single candidate that I interview if they’ve fully completed their degree. I promised myself that I would work to make sure I was never in this situation again, as it was pretty embarrassing for all parties involved.

Months later, my team ran across this same situation with a different candidate. We’ve seen it happen with six-figure professionals alongside engineers in their twenties.

Lying on your resume about your education level in order to obtain a position or advance in your career is NOT okay and chances are, it will catch up to you.

I highly recommend full honesty when creating your resume. If you completed three years of college, but didn’t technically earn your degree, don’t make it look like you did. When a hiring manager, recruiter (or anyone for that matter) looks at a resume, it should never be a question if someone legitimately has their degree or not. It should be crystal clear if it’s completed or not completed.

If a degree wasn’t completed, below is an example of how education should look on a resume:
University of Northern Iowa, 2011-2014
Completed three years of engineering courses, degree not obtained

It may not as look as “pretty,” but it’s the truth. If you didn’t earn it, don’t say that you did.

There are many career opportunities with companies for which a degree isn’t required or in which experience trumps a degree. If there is a position where a degree is required, try to look for someone like myself (an industry recruiter) to help explain to the client why you’re qualified for the role, even without the diploma.

So, to anyone who is looking for a new career now or may do so in the future; remember to be honest about your education and experience. An offer won’t be retracted with a truthful resume!