An Employee Lied about Their Credentials on Their Resume: What Should You Do?

As an HR professional, one of the most difficult challenges you may face is discovering that an employee has lied on their resume. Not only is this a violation of the trust and integrity that’s essential to a positive employer-employee relationship, but it can also have serious consequences for the employee and company. The ethics of how to handle this situation is a complex issue that requires careful consideration and thoughtful decision-making.

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Lying on Resumes: Statistics and Common Resume Lies

Let’s first consider some statistics to get a sense of the scale of the problem, and how common lying on a resume is. 

In a survey of over 1,700 American employees, conducted by StandOut CV, they found that the majority of Americans (55%) admit to having lied on their resume. 

The most common lies involved the following eight resume areas:

  • Previous work experience (55% of those surveyed)
  • Skills (43%)
  • College degree (41%)
  • Personal details (e.g. age, location, name) (40%)
  • High school details (39%)
  • Salary information (34%)
  • Software or equipment skills (34%)
  • Employer references (21%)

The Employee Lied on Their Resume: What Should You Do Next?

If you have confirmed that an employee lied on their resume, you will certainly want to sit down with them for a face-to-face conversation. They deserve a chance to explain the lie and give you the truth, and you’ll no doubt need to ask questions to help you decide the next steps to take. Below we will note the two most important questions to ask in these situations.

What was the motivation behind the lie? 

When it comes to interpreting the motives behind others’ actions, it’s best to follow a guiding principle that ethicists call Hanlon’s Razor. This is a rule of thumb that says we should (1) always interpret others as acting out of the very best motives that we can reasonably assume, and (2) whenever a person seems to have acted immorally, we should assume, within reason, that they simply made a mistake or lacked information, rather than assuming they acted with immoral intentions. 

For example, sometimes employees falsely claim to have attended a prestigious university in hopes of gaining a job or salary they don’t deserve. However, an employee might misrepresent their educational background for a very different reason. 

Someone aware of the widespread unconscious bias against hiring minorities might decide to obscure the fact that they went to a college that reveals their ethnicity or religious affiliations. 

If this is the case, you might need to take a different course of action. If the employee’s self-misrepresentation did help them get their job or another benefit, it would show that the company is practicing exactly the sort of discrimination the employee was trying to protect themselves from. This should be a wakeup call to management that their hiring process needs to be modified to protect applicants from unconscious biases. 

Was the lie regarding something the employer has a legitimate right to know about?

Consider a common job application question: Why did you leave your last job? It’s obvious why an employer wants to know the answer, but there are many reasons for leaving a job that future employers simply have no right to know about. For instance, situations where a person leaves a job because they were sexually harassed or assaulted, or because the company was engaged in criminal behavior. 

Because the honest answers to this question can be so fraught, it’s best to leave such questions off applications or make them optional, and instead rely on background checks and references to supply the relevant information.

Courses of Action

There’s always room for improvement on both sides of the application process. Reviewing KnowledgeCity’s blog about unfinished job applications can be a great step toward streamlining the process to attract top talent.

While there are some non-corrupt reasons people misrepresent themselves, some lies are not only unjustifiable, but dangerous. If an employee lies about having qualifications that ensure workplace safety, firing them is only the first step. You must also figure out whether it’s a serious legal matter. 

Even in cases where deceit didn’t endanger anyone, a lie can do damage to an organization’s culture. If it’s known within the organization that a person told a serious lie on their application, this can damage employees’ perception of whether the company is fair and ethical. It may also put the company in legal jeopardy down the line by setting a precedent of tolerating dishonest employees. Termination is likely the only option in such a case.

In addition to questions about how to handle the employee, it’s also helpful to ask how the situation can be turned into a learning experience for the company. The discovery of such a lie could highlight room for improvement in a company’s hiring and background-checking process. There is an opportunity to make process changes to help catch similar deceptions in the future.

So far we have considered two options for how to handle the employee: to terminate their employment, or to merely document the discovery and reprimand the employee. In an interview with The Chicago Tribune, career expert Vicki Salemi outlined a third option: to place the employee on a performance-improvement program of learning and performance goals, with check-ins every 30 days to ensure that the employee has developed or improved the relevant skills.


The right course of action when an employee lies on a resume will be nuanced, and is rarely obvious from the outset. But asking thoughtful questions and considering every detail is likely to make one course of action stand out as the most responsible. 

To avoid unintentionally misleading employers, by crafting the most compelling picture of themselves, professionals at all levels can benefit from KnowledgeCity’s course on building their resume.

KnowledgeCity can also help employers prevent various kinds of workplace deception with our extensive online compliance training for employees, managers, and HR. Schedule a free demo today to get started!

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