scorecardNever lie about these 3 things in your job application. A recruiting manager explains how they'll catch you.
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Never lie about these 3 things in your job application. A recruiting manager explains how they'll catch you.

Bonnie Dilber   

Never lie about these 3 things in your job application. A recruiting manager explains how they'll catch you.
Careers5 min read
Bonnie Dilber shares three things people should never lie about in their job applications.    Westend61/Getty Images.
  • Bonnie Dilber is the business-recruiting team lead at Zapier and has nearly 12 years of experience.
  • Dilber shares three things people should never lie about on their job applications.

In 2024, I think most hiring teams understand that there will be some level of "lying" in the application process.

We know you probably embellish some of your achievements and downplay some of the tougher situations. We know your top priority is great compensation and that if you win the lottery that evening, you probably won't show up at work the next day.

We all play the game, and sometimes that means exaggerating a bit. But there are three things that you should absolutely never lie about.

1. Never lie about where you've worked and your dates of employment

A background check will list the employers you've had, along with dates of employment. Padding your résumé to hide an employment gap or citing examples from places you've never worked is not a good idea. It will likely raise major questions about your integrity and could lead to a rescinded offer.

A few years back, I interviewed someone whose résumé showed two years of experience in a role with an organization that I was pretty familiar with. But when I asked about their experiences, they shared several things that seemed inconsistent with what I knew about the organization. The employer didn't appear on their LinkedIn profile, either.

It turned out they had worked in that role for only a few months but claimed to have held the position for a few years to show more relevant experience. The result was that we weren't interested in the candidate.

Instead: List every employer and note the years, instead of months, worked

List every employer you've worked for, with accurate dates. It's OK to note the years, instead of months, to minimize the perception of job-hopping if needed.

If you've done periods of freelance work, you can group these under one job and list dates within that period and the projects you worked on. Doing so will make it look more cohesive than listing out a series of short-term projects. You can name the companies you've worked with, but don't imply employment if it was simply a one-off, short-term project.

2. Never lie about your references

While it may be tempting to use fake references when you're not confident about what previous employers will share, it's not a good idea.

Companies will generally check references to understand the projects and initiatives you've worked on and how you've influenced the business. A reference that fails to clearly articulate this with specificity may cause more harm than good.

I once met someone at a social event and commiserated with them about their bad relationship with their manager. Then, they asked me whether I'd be willing to be a fake reference for them and give them my number and a fake email to pretend to be their manager.

My answer? No! This could have ramifications for me, and even if the employer never caught on, I knew I wouldn't be able to speak to this person's work convincingly.

Some red flags to a hiring manager could be if the reference's LinkedIn doesn't show that they worked at the same company as you, or if all your references have personal email addresses instead of professional ones. These could cast doubt on you as a candidate and lead to questions.

If you reach the reference stage with a prospective employer, they want you and are excited about you. The references are simply there to validate that you are, in fact, a great match. The last thing you want to do is cast doubt on that through the people you list on a reference check.

Instead: Consider mentors or colleagues with a more senior title

First, go through your previous managers and department leaders and identify those you know were your fans. If you don't have a past manager who can vouch for you, consider another mentor or person with a more senior title. Select a few peers as well.

Let each of them know that you'd like to use them as a reference, and check whether they are comfortable with that. Provide them with your résumé and highlight a few recent achievements.

Employers will generally want to hear from at least one manager and other stakeholders who know your work so that they can get a more well-rounded view of your impact.

3. Never lie about your hard skills

We know that everyone exaggerates a bit to paint their experiences in a more positive light. But you should never invent skills or claim expertise in an area with which you have no experience.

Even if you land the job, the truth will come out as the company assesses your skills. Not having the necessary skills could lead to failing to perform well and damaging your reputation.

You might even find yourself out of a job after just a few short weeks — and that could leave you in an even worse situation as you start from square one with a new job search. Meanwhile, if you had been honest, perhaps you could've been considered for other roles that would've actually been a good fit.

Instead: Build on skills in the job description

Ahead of the interview, read the job description carefully to identify the hard skills that are most important to do the job and take some time to build skills in the required area. Watch videos or practice where you can.

In the interview, note that this is a newer area of knowledge for you, but highlight the work you've done to learn the skills.

If you have no experience with a certain skill, make sure to list the adjacent skills that you do have. Maybe you haven't used Power BI, but you're a pro at Tableau. Or you've never coded in Python, but you know Java and Ruby on Rails.

Highlight what you bring to the table. Perhaps you don't speak fluent Spanish but you're good at using a translation app alongside your intermediate Spanish skills to get by in most conversations.

Also, share examples of other times you've quickly gotten up to speed in a new area. This will show that, while you're learning, you're someone with a lot of initiative who won't be held back by a lack of experience in one small area.

Lies can end up being more damaging

In a tough job market, it can be tempting to lie. But in the long run, these lies will often be uncovered at some point in the process and could be more damaging to you than if you were just honest in the first place.

Bonnie Dilber is the business-recruiting team lead at Zapier. Before moving into tech, she spent years in education and nonprofits as a teacher, program manager, and recruitment leader.