Even as headlines shout about the booming job market and the millions of open positions across the country, finding a job and advancing in your career in a competitive, capitalistic society remains a cutthroat game. You may spend years of your life—and a bunch of money—on an education that can give you an edge, but still find yourself vying for the same jobs against formidable competition.
Landing a job interview can feel like making it to the playoffs: You’ve gotten so far, but still have so far to go. With so much at stake, you’d be forgiven for wanting to cheat a little. In fact, nearly 80% of job seekers have admitted to lying, or at least considering it, during the job seeking process, according to one 2020 survey. While it’s understandable to want to fib to give yourself an advantage, be careful: In a job interview, some lies are riskier than others.
When should you lie?
It would be sanctimonious to suggest you can never fudge the facts during an interview. Go ahead and be a little evasive about your existing skills, as long as you’re sure you can quickly pick up what you need to know should you manage to land the job.
You can lie (within reason) about your skills. Maybe you aren’t a Photoshop whiz but the hiring manager is asking you about your experience with image editing. If the entire job is graphic design, lying is only going to lead you to embarrass yourself on your first day. But if a few social media graphics or image touch-ups are all you’ll be expected to handle, go for it. Consider whether the skill you’re fibbing about is one you could easily figure out with some online tutorials or even an introductory course.
You can (probably) lie about how much money you make. HRUTech’s Tim Sackett, author of The Talent Fix: A Leader’s Guide to Recruiting Great Talent, told TausiInsider it’s also okay to lie about your existing salary, as “someone might want you to validate [it], but it’s rare.” That said, it might not be worth the risk: As Laurie Ruettimann, an HR consultant and the author of Betting on You: How to Put Yourself First and (Finally) Take Control of Your Career, noted in a recent blog post, it’s illegal in many states for employers to base a salary offer on a candidate’s salary history anyway, so lying might not be worth it on the off chance someone does try to verify your claims.
You can lie about your career plans. Sackett also advised you can be creative when answering that old standby about where you see yourself in five years if you think a lie will help you land the job. “Who the hell knows?” he said. “Make it up.” The same goes for explaining why you want to work at a particular company. Money is clearly going to be a driving factor, but feel free to use poetic license to praise the organization’s culture.
You can be cagey about your employment history. You can also blur the lines a little when asked about past jobs—especially the one you might be leaving for a position at the new company. If your reason for wanting to dip out on your current boss is that you absolutely hate them, don’t say that. It’s bad form to badmouth an employer in an interview, as it sends the signal you could be a headache for your new managers. Instead, say you’re looking to expand your experiences, find new kinds of fulfillment, or challenge yourself in a different role—even if that’s all kind of bullshit.
What you should never lie about in a job interview
As Sackett said, you can fib about a few things in an interview, but there are some things you should never lie about.
Don’t lie about critical job skills. First, don’t lie about skills that are vitally important to the job you’re gunning for. Sackett gave the example of saying you know CPR if you don’t, which is a bit extreme but does get the point across: Don’t ever lie about having a skill if your lack of actually possessing it could ultimately mean you won’t be able to handle the job. That’s only going to lead to a lot of frustration for both you and your new employer, and likely send you back out onto the job market sooner rather than later. Better to wait for a position you’re actually (mostly) qualified for.
Don’t make up a past position. Don’t lie about your job history, and especially don’t say you’ve worked at a company you’ve never worked for, or imply you worked there full time if you were only a freelancer. “It’s a small world,” Sackett said. “If you said you had a job, but didn’t, folks will find out.” That includes inflating your title.
Don’t lie about being fired. Finally, don’t lie if you were fired from an old job—especially if you broke the law. Hackett said, “Again, we will find out and you will look foolish and criminal.” As much as it may suck to admit to a fireable offense, you can at least look honest and forthright, instead of later being revealed to have messed up and been dishonest about it.
Hiring managers lie too
As you’re debating whether or not to hype up your non-existent Excel skills or rehearse a monologue about how much you’ve always yearned to work for [insert company name here], don’t forget: Hiring managers lie too.
“We have low turnover,” “our culture is amazing,” and “we value work-life balance” are all common fibs from HR professionals, Sackett said. “Candidates should always [reach out to] peer-level current workers and past workers to get the real truth.”
Send a few LinkedIn messages or emails to current employees to get the low-down on the gig. It may turn out you don’t even want to work at the place badly enough to lie at your interview in the first place.