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Am I Completely Screwed if My Company Finds Out I Lied on My Resume?

Most of us work more than we live, which is to say we spend considerably more time at the office and with our coworkers than we do with the human beings we actually want in our lives. It also means that the stressors and anxieties of work become a significant part of who we are — and can be a real drag even when we’re not at the office. We here at MEL, however, don’t want all that stress to get to you — or worse, kill you. That’s why we’ve enlisted Terry Petracca, the hippest HR expert we know, to help solve all your work-related woes.

I lied on my resume. Nothing too major: I didn’t claim to be, like, a top-flight surgeon for a hospital job. No lives will be endangered by my deception. But I did claim to have a few more years of experience in the job I applied for than I do — I figured, What the hell? I can learn on the job. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who’s ever done this, but am I completely screwed if I’m found out, now I have the job? —Naveen R., Cambridge, MA
Are you the only person who has ever lied on their resume? No. CareerBuilder’s 2017 survey revealed that 75 percent of HR managers caught a lie on a resume, so we can assume you’re in good company. And I definitely understand why people do it. Whether they’re little lies (fabricating titles), big lies (certified mechanic for school buses) or outrageous lies (covering for missing gaps as “primary caregiver to terminally ill parent”), good jobs are hard to come by and people will often do whatever it takes to get them.

But the real question you’re asking is, what are the consequences if you’re caught?

The answer: It depends.

You state that you lied on your resume, but you don’t say whether you lied on the job application. There’s a difference. Your resume is your touchstone as a job seeker, but the application is your legal contract to tell no lies. All applications have an attestation stating “this information is true and correct,” so when you knowingly lie on an application, you’ve falsified your employment contract. Either way, you obviously didn’t get caught in a background check—or your lie fell between the cracks and can’t be verified. To that end, background checks are far from perfect. They can pick up employment dates of previous employers, but may not always be able to verify titles or all the responsibilities of a job.

Which brings us to the next question: What if you get caught in a month, a year or five years from now?

Most employment is “at will,” with limited exceptions. This means you can be terminated for any reason at any time. And you can bet your ass you’re going to be fired if you mess up and the root cause is you didn’t know your shit because you lied on your resume. This is especially true if your company has to make good on your screw-up. Let’s say, for example, your employer fires you for allegedly poor performance and you want to sue them for discrimination. If your employer finds out you lied on your application, they could argue After-Acquired Evidence and get your case tossed. You might also be denied unemployment insurance if you’re terminated for lying on your application.

In the end, it all comes down to how well you can sleep at night. If it’s something that doesn’t bother you—or hinder your job performance—it may not be a big deal. But if you’re worried about the effects of your knowledge gap—or they’re vast enough that your lie is certainly going to be detected—ask for remedial help from a colleague, check out online training options and/or get out before you’re caught. Otherwise, you’re going to have to figure out how to explain away your involuntary termination on your resume.

Don’t just complain to your coworkers about everyone else you work with — let Terry help. Email her all your office-related anxieties at terry@melindustries.com. Or, if total anonymity isn’t required, leave a question in the comments below.