Main image of article The Truth About Lying on a Job Application or in an Interview

We’ve all been there before: Whether it’s in drafting your résumé, filling out a job application, or interviewing with a new company, tweaking the truth is ever so tempting.

You consider that, in order to be a competitive candidate, it would help to spin your work history to better fit the job. Maybe you accentuate certain work experiences that are relevant to the position. Or maybe you tack a few months onto your level of experience.

Generally, depending on your own ethical comfort, there’s nothing wrong with this. It’s only natural to want to position yourself as best you can to land the job. And it’s a smart move to present information in a way that’s favorable to your cause (more on this later).

But what happens when you take it too far? Although a gray area, most of us know the difference between a blatant lie and a harmless stretching of the truth. Yet it’s not unusual that we see candidates in the predicament of having lied at some point throughout the process.

It’s important to be as honest as possible and never to lie. In this post, we’ll elaborate on why lying is a dangerous game when applying for jobs. And for those already guilty of lying on a job application, briefly slap yourself on the wrist, then skip to the end where we explain how you might still have some ways to get yourself out of the pickle you’ve created.

The Most Common Lie When Applying for a Job

So, what exactly are we talking about when it comes to “lying” on your job application? At 10x Ascend, we’ve worked closely with senior developers and engineers looking to negotiate more favorable compensation. And as far as “blatant” lies, salary exaggeration is far and away the most common.

At some point in the application or interviewing process, the topic of salary is guaranteed to arise. First and foremost, as a candidate, you should know your rights and protections by law.

In 18 states, it’s actually illegal for an employer to ask about your salary history. So for residents of those states (we recommend finding out if this applies to you), there should be no stress over what to say if (or when) you’re asked about your previous salary. If you’re interviewing with a law-abiding company, it will be a non-issue.

Companies can ask about your salary expectations (always be sure to provide a range instead of a specific number). The beauty here is that, by simply saying what you expect or hope to make, you’re not lying. Cheers to a clear conscience!

There is one important caveat, however. If you decide to volunteer information about salary history, it becomes fair game. This can get dicey if you’re running a hard bargain and claiming that you deserve what you made in a previous role.

We recently worked with a client whose soon-to-be employer asked her to provide a recent pay stub to prove the previous salary she claimed to make. She volunteered what she previously made and was asking for the company to match or beat it. For an employer to go to this extent is rare, but as we saw with this client, it does happen. Fortunately, in this situation, the client was not lying and easily procured the requested proof.

Mastering the Art of Discretion

In any well-executed negotiation, the concept of discretion is equally as important as honesty. In a lot of ways, the two must complement each other. A prime example to illustrate the importance of this point can be found in someone who is juggling multiple job offers at the same time.

Someone with multiple offers on the table has the advantage of “mixing and matching” various aspects of each offer to gain leverage in a negotiation. When engaging with an employer, they can make requests based off of what they’ve already been offered. Here’s a rough look at how this might look in a negotiation:

“Well, I already have a handful of other offers I’m considering. Among those offers include more equity than what you’re currently offering, more vacation time, and most importantly, a base salary that is $50,000 higher. It will be difficult for us to move forward with your current offer knowing what else I have on the table, so I am hoping you can beat these other offers.”

Of course, among those other offers might be less favorable aspects too. For example, the offer being negotiated might actually have a better policy on flex time than any of your other offers. But shhh. You don’t have to talk about it. That’s the beauty of discretion.

Final Thoughts on Lying

It shouldn’t feel like the end of the world if you’ve bent the truth when applying for a job. Relax! You’re certainly not the only one who has done it, and there’s always the opportunity to redeem yourself next time.

If you got caught in a lie that wound up costing you a job, you learned the hard way. The good news is that there are millions of other companies out there looking for honest, self-improving job candidates. Now more than ever, you’ll fit the bill.

Michael Solomon is co-founder and managing partner of 10x Ascend, a company that helps developers and other technologists negotiate the best compensation package possible. Michael’s practice focuses exclusively on representing high-value tech talent in employment negotiations. He has represented heads of cybersecurity, VPs of engineering, CTO, UX designers and heads of DevOps who ended up working for companies ranging from Google, Salesforce and Facebook to HSBC to AmEx to MetLife.