Last week, I had a meeting with a candidate for a sales position that I was trying to fill for a client. This guy’s resume was very impressive and because I had some extra time in the day, I figured that I’d get a coffee with him to see if he was as good as he seemed. Usually, I would have called around to my contacts at some of his previous employers to get some off the record background on him, but because I had the time and his resume said was actively employed (or so I thought) it seemed like there was no harm in getting to know him a bit better before doing my due diligence. The meeting was good; he looked good and was smart, let’s face it, clients like that most. I thought that I had found an excellent option, until I asked him if his current employer knew he was looking for a new job, he became fidgety and uncomfortable. He said they did not know. I asked again because on his resume it said current job “to present”, meaning he was still employed. Using some of my recruiter magic it took me ten minutes to learn that he had been let go from his previous job--the job that was still on his resume as his current job--two months ago. Immediately, this guy went from a great option to someone who lied on his resume, yes an idiot for putting the lie in writing and someone that I would never recommend a client hire.
I appreciate that candidates often believe they have a better chance to negotiate with a company looking to hire them if they are employed, and I can’t disagree with that; it is probably true. But if there is one thing that will definitely disqualify you from a job it is lying to the people who are looking to hire you. On resumes and in interviews, honesty is always the best policy. That means if you are not working, you are not working. And if you are not working and you tell people you are working, then you are lying. The interview process today can take 60-90 days for most jobs worth taking. You simply cannot pretend to be employed all that time if you are not. It took me ten minutes of calls to figure out that the person that I had interviewed was lying; any HR department would figure it out just as easily. And even if you manage to get through the interviews without giving yourself up, then when the company does a background check, which they often only do after extending an offer, and often even after you start the new job, they will find out when you left your previous job and know you lied on your resume. You can bet that if you get caught having lied about your employment status, any offer you might have gotten will be rescinded in the amount of time it takes the HR manager to pick up their phone; and you won’t even have a chance to explain yourself. I’ve heard of candidates who flat out deny that they are unemployed even when confronted. One HR manager told me that she showed a candidate an email from his former employer giving the exact date that he was let go, but he maintained that he had been in the office earlier that day. This maniac was more committed to his lie than a dog is to smelling its own piss. Eventually, the truth will come out.
I doubt any of you need me to spell out why it is bad for your prospective future employer to think you’re a liar, but just so we are all crystal clear, you should understand that human resources departments, and hiring managers in general, will naturally assume that people who lie on their resume are the same people who will lie on their expense account and lie to their bosses. They will assume you will lie about the status of a project you are working on and that you’re lying about what you are really doing on a sick day. And here’s the kicker: of course they should assume that! They are probably right. This is not like lying about your weight or age, which even I have been known to do. This is different: If you are willing to lie on your resume and it got you a job, why would you stop there?
I know it is hard getting fired from your job. It can feel like the world is crashing in on you, and desperation makes bad choices look rosy. I won’t deny that it is tougher to get a job if you are unemployed. Having a job does make you more marketable and attractive for a hiring company. Would I have called this candidate for an interview if there had been a two month gap on his resume? I can’t say for certain. But if you lie about having a job when and if you do get an interview or even an offer, you still won’t get the job! That interview could have been the best interview I ever conducted and there is no way that I would have put him in touch with my client. This is the trick of bad choices, they look good from far away, but when you get close enough, you realize they are farm animals in dresses. Lying about employment on your resume will never get you a job. Companies are too smart for that nowadays. The question then is who is still stupid enough to do it? Don’t let it be you.
Stephen Viscusi is the CEO of The Viscusi Group, a global executive search practice located in New York City. Viscusi is the author of the HarperCollins Best-seller “Bulletproof Your Job”. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit his website at www.viscusigroup.com or follow him on twitter at @StephenViscusi as well as Facebook and LinkedIn under Stephen Viscusi