When it comes to job hunting, there’s probably no more recognized commandment than, “thou shalt not lie on your resume” (spell-checking is probably No. 2). If your employer finds out at any point, there’s a good chance you’ll be fired, so why do some people still risk it? More importantly, how did it go for them? We asked three men who did it.
Big Lie: Joe, 40
I was working as a bartender and trying to make it in a band on the side. The band thing was frustrating as hell because every time we’d hit a milestone, something would set us back: Someone would quit, or a connection would disappear. It was starting to dawn on me just how exploitative the whole scene was.
I worked with someone who also had a full-time job at a large company (not in any position of power), and they told me about a desktop support position that they thought I should apply, not for any particular reason other than they knew that I could fix the restaurant terminals at work when other people couldn’t. I was coming up on 30 years old with no real career prospects in sight: This was a “real” job — 9 to 5, office, benefits, the works — and I figured it couldn’t hurt to try.
I faked most of my resume — I had no college education, and I had no experience with networked PCs or office applications. I knew how to install video games; I basically knew how to use Windows okay; I was good at Minesweeper; I could click “next” when installing games. But my resume made it look otherwise.
I tried to take what little job history I had and twist it into being IT-related. I worked in restaurants for years, and had become familiar with the dumb terminal systems that were in use at the time — trial and error usually solved most problems — so I tried to make that sound like I actually did things on computers.
I kept my information related and somewhat in the same vein, but different, and not something that could really be confirmed. I said I worked on point-of-sale networks: Same concepts, different operating systems and hardware. I didn’t fake any certifications, because those can be checked. Plus, if I tell you I have a CCNA, you know what to expect as far as my knowledge. I also said I did digital recording and MIDI work — again, kind of IT-related, but not necessarily something these guys would be able to call me out on.
When I found out I had an interview, I went out and bought a copy of Networking for Dummies and some other similar books. I spent a few hours looking at the diagrams and learning the names of things so I had a foggy grasp of the basic concepts.
I was terrified at the interview. In the past, I’d only applied to jobs where you fill out an application, then later come in and talk to somebody. This was me and three professional guys in a conference room, it was a completely different world. They asked me a lot of questions — I BS’d a lot. Since I didn’t really know anything besides reboot, try-this, try-that, I’d just make up answers to questions they had at the interview. I’d explain that I was familiar with things from my related experience but may not have direct experience or knowledge of specific things.
Surprisingly, I came out of the interview thinking I did pretty well. There were a few times I tripped up, but I turned it into a misunderstanding (“Oh, I’m sorry, on POS systems, that term refers to something different.”) I think only one of the guys suspected the level of BS I was throwing out.
When I got the job, I tried reading more, but without the practical background, I didn’t know what to even do with the information I was reading. On the job, when I had questions, I got on the internet (finding answers was more difficult back then). Occasionally I’d have to ask someone for help in the beginning, but I passed it off as different procedures in different environments. The one guy I thought suspected me of lying through the interview was hard on me, especially in the beginning. I made it a point to try and meet his expectations. After my first year or so, he began to rely on me more than he did the other people in my tier.
By now, I’ve been promoted four times. Twelve years later, I’m the director of the networking tier, and the company has doubled in size. The main reason was my willingness to dive in and figure out new things when they arrived — a lot of people want that stuff to be someone else’s problem, as they already have their area of responsibility.
It turned out to be a good opportunity. I don’t have any guilt about it — I feel like I should, but I don’t. I did it because it seemed like my only opportunity to move from the dead-end job world into the professional career world. I know those terms may not mean a lot, but I’d been waiting tables and bartending for years.
Big, Repeated Lies: KP, 27
I’m a high school dropout. I was maybe two credits short because my family bounced around a lot — my stepdad was in the military. So when I tried to graduate my senior year, the credits from that state didn’t match up. I ended up getting a high school diploma but it was kind of a mistake, they only gave me one to walk out with. When I came back to try to get an original, they said I shouldn’t have graduated, so it all started there, to be honest.
I’ve never gotten caught, but I don’t apply be a police officer or anything too ridiculous. I applied to be a security guard. If they said I needed experience, I’d just say that I worked at plenty of these jobs before, then go online, look up any job that qualifies as experience and just say that I worked in all these jobs doing something related to that field, and they’d consider that field to be some experience. Honestly, nobody really calls and checks up — they don’t really look into it, I guess they’re lazy.
Basically, my whole resume is a fabrication, including the diplomas. For the security job, they also asked me for a diploma and I don’t have a college diploma, so they asked me for an associate’s degree. I needed this job, so I told them I had one. They told me I had three days to bring it in, or they wouldn’t consider me no more. I looked on YouTube and saw a video about how many fake diplomas are being made in America every day and I’m like, “Well, damn, I could do it myself.” I’m a big DIY guy so I literally made it.
I went to Office Depot and got some heavier stock paper, the really good, off-white kind, which makes it look like a really legit degree. I got a little stamp and everything, a little sticker seal, and Photoshopped all the stuff in there using a community college in my area.
I Google, man. Even a carpet cleaning job like Stanley Steamer, they called me and I looked up descriptions of a carpet cleaner. I put that in my descriptions of jobs I’ve done. It’s easy, man. In interviews, I only get nervous when they ask specific questions, like, “How’s your second job?” And you’ve got to remember what your second job was. It’s hard to keep up with all that stuff!
I’m just confident in doing it, though. And if you sound convincing enough, maybe they won’t look into it — they’ll just let it go.
Do I feel guilt? No, never. You’ve got to lie, cheat and steal to get a job. I don’t feel bad about getting a job at all, because it’s better than robbing somebody. You’re not hurting anybody. Just go for your dreams, man — do what you want to do. By any means necessary, do what you gotta do.
Just a Little White Lie: Ricky, 49
I’d never lied on my resume before, but I did for my current position as an IT project manager. PMs are kind of a dime a dozen: One of the requirements that I found on a lot of job requisitions was five years or more of experience, so I made my resume say three years versus two. I applied to more than 100 jobs with that on my resume.
I lied about my job title, too: My actual title was account manager, but to be fair, the job was previously titled project manager. So for that, I called my previous boss, who doesn’t work there anymore, and I told him, “Hey, I’m gonna put project manager on my title, so if anybody calls you as a reference, do you have my back?” And he said yeah.
I think those little changes got me my current job. There are certain jobs that look at experience just as much as they look at skill set and project manager is one of them, so the longer you’re in it, the better you look. Three years is still kind of bottom of the barrel, but it’s better than two.
It was a moral conundrum, yeah. Whenever I do anything that’s not honest, it always is, but I did have a good reason for this: I was the sole breadwinner in my family, and I’d been unemployed for five months, so I thought, You know what? I’m gonna have to make this happen however I can. It’s not like I was selling crack to school kids to make money, so I was okay with it.
At the beginning I was nervous about it. Eventually I realized it probably wasn’t gonna get brought up, and by then, it became kind of a fact in my head. I don’t feel bad about it at all. One of the reasons I don’t is because I’m really confident in my abilities: Where I’m at right now, there’s eight project managers and I’m one of the best, but I have the least experience. So given that, and knowing what I’m capable of, I don’t have any qualms. I’d probably lie again — but only if I needed to.
One of the things that sold me on changing my resume was a phone call to my brother, who is a senior VP in another industry, and who used to hire project managers. He was like, “Yeah, everyone fudges their resume.” He said do what you gotta do. He had no hesitation. So I didn’t either.