We all know it — the job market can be an intimidatingly competitive place.
And in the face of fierce competition, it can be tempting to boost your appeal to employers by adding a few creative *ahem* embellishments to your CV.
After all, what’s the harm in a little white lie to get your foot in the recruiter’s door?
In this article, we’ll explain why (appealing as it may be) lying on a CV is never a good idea and provide alternative writing tips for improving your CV instead.
- the legality of lying on your CV
- what can happen to you if you’re found out
- whether you can get away with lying on your CV
- how to improve your CV without lying
Is it illegal to lie on your CV?
Though there’s no specific CV law that criminalises lying on your CV, you can become liable for legal action if you falsely represent yourself to an employer.
The Fraud Act 2006 makes it a criminal offence to defraud someone by false representation:
(1) A person is in breach of this section if he—
(a)dishonestly makes a false representation, and
(b)intends, by making the representation—
(i)to make a gain for himself or another, or
(ii)to cause loss to another or to expose another to a risk of loss.
When you lie on your CV, you’re attempting to make a gain for yourself (getting a job) by false representation (e.g., making up or embellishing details about your qualifications and experience).
Most employers offer you a job based on what they’ve seen on your CV. If they can demonstrate that you sent them a CV that purposely misrepresents your qualifications, experience, or skills, then they may have a case for legal action against you.
What happens if you lie on your CV?
There are several possible negative outcomes of being untruthful in a job application, including embarrassment, dismissal, and criminal charges. Here’s what could happen:
1. The employer withdraws the job or interview offer
A likely scenario, if you’re caught lying on your CV, is that the employer withdraws any offers they’ve made so far in the recruitment process.
Lying on your CV tells the employer that you can’t be trusted and makes your other achievements less credible. At best, you won’t be considered for another position at the company. However, word of your deception can spread and hurt your chances of finding a decent job elsewhere.
2. You lose face
The best possible outcome of being caught lying on your CV is that you have to deal with the embarrassment of everyone knowing that you made up a qualification or experience.
Even if you get to keep your job, your reputation will have been tainted, and your managers will likely be less willing to trust you with more responsibilities or consider you for promotions.
3. You’re fired
Firing you for a lie on your CV can be tricky — especially if the lie is discovered after you’ve worked at the company for a couple of years.
Your employers will likely have to find evidence to prove that you’ve been dishonest, as they don’t want to be liable for unfair dismissal.
Depending on how you lied on your CV, this can be straightforward. For example, a bogus qualification, one of the most common CV lies, can be easily disproved by contacting the institution that supposedly issued it.
Similarly, if you claimed that your previous salary was higher than it actually was, the employer will find out when they process the tax details from your former employer.
If there’s hard proof of the CV lie, the deceived employer won’t want to keep you around.
4. Criminal charges are brought against you
Legal action is expensive and time-consuming for employers, but they may still take you to court, depending on the seriousness of the lie.
In 2022, Jon Andrewes was required to pay over £96,000 of his wages back to the NHS after it was discovered that he fabricated university degrees and previous experience to secure high-level positions at multiple hospices and medical trusts in the South West. Andrewes had previously spent two years in jail after pleading guilty to the fraud.
Most cases aren’t so extreme, but if an employer is paying your salary in exchange for skills and experience that you don’t actually have, then they might see fit to take legal action.
Can you get away with lying on your CV?
Even if you manage to escape detection, you might never completely get away with lying on your CV. Consider this case that the Guardian reported on a few years ago:
A British expat in the UK managed to secure a job teaching English in Japan by claiming to have a degree from Oxford University — which he backed up with a false diploma he acquired in Bangkok.
Though the expat’s employers never discovered the deception, he ended up having to live the lie for over eight years. At one point, he was even selected to lead a school trip to Oxford because the school believed that he knew the city well after studying there for three years.
Fabricating a skill or experience may artificially boost your value during the recruitment process. But remember, you’re applying for a job and employers will be expecting you to use your skills and experience with them.
Make up proficiency in a key technical skill and you might get the job you want, but your career and professional reputation will hang on your ability to live the lie indefinitely.
Can you improve your CV without lying?
There are several ways to improve your CV while representing yourself honestly. Here are three ideas to get you started:
1. Use a CV builder
Knowing how to advertise yourself effectively on paper is a skill in its own right, and it’s easy to undermine your skills and experience by making formatting mistakes or writing in the wrong way, especially if you don’t know how to write a CV.
A great CV maker helps you make the right writing choices by suggesting relevant work experience bullet points and personal statement content — and ensuring that your qualifications are presented professionally.
2. Use a better CV format for your experience
You don’t need to fake work experience to show the employer you’re qualified for the job, even if you don’t have formal work experience yet.
A skills-based CV presents your skills as you normally would your work history — with an entry for each core skill followed by bullet points detailing what you’ve achieved with that skill.
Organising your CV skills first draws the employer’s attention to what you know rather than where you’ve worked, which is an effective (and honest!) way to highlight your strengths if you’re just starting out in your industry.
3. Use professional CV templates
An attractive CV template will make your application more memorable and increase your chances of getting called in for an interview.
When deciding what kind of CV template to use for your application, consider the employer and their industry carefully.
For example, if you’re applying for a job in a more formal industry, like medicine or law, then sober professional CV templates will make a better impression on employers. However, a visual CV might be more suitable for a start-up or organisation in a creative field.