The Financial Confessions: “How I Lied On My Resume To Get The Job I Wanted”

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Before the panic: I have been in my current job for nearly 10 years now, so although one can never predict the future, I don’t feel terribly worried that my resume-fudging is going to come back and bite me any time soon. In the time since that initial untruth, I have added many layers to my qualifications and skills, and could confidently get another job if I needed to without lying whatsoever, because I have been diligent about building out my CV in other ways since. Something I think everyone will find as they move along in their career is that, at first, a resume is a very fragile thing, but as you go, it gets easier and easier to prove yourself and to build on what you already have. Based on the projects I have led and the promotions I’ve secured at my current job, I could almost certainly get a new job at a competing company without even showing someone a formal resume. Being good at your job, especially as the years go by, is a powerful thing.

But the truth is that, yes, I did lie to get this job. I work in an industry that is fairly heavy on requirements and formalities, and one of those was that anyone applying for the job I was applying for needed to be a college graduate. Unfortunately for me, I had been struck with a series of unfortunate financial events in my undergraduate years that left me unable to finish college without a) taking on a serious amount of debt that would impact my ability to help contribute to my household (which I needed to do), or b) transferring to a much-less-desirable school that felt, at the time, like it would have wasted the three years I put in at my very prestigious university.

Essentially, between family medical concerns and our overall poverty, I had to drop out of college in my third year, take on several part-time and odd jobs, and help everyone take care of things at home. By the time I was supposed to graduate, I had been out of the game for a year and, though I was less urgently needed financially by my family, unsure as to how I was going to land the kind of job I had been working towards at school. I started sending applications to several places, but each time I was rejected (or outright prevented from completing the online application) because I had no degree. It became clear to me immediately that there was no way I was going to get the job I wanted if I didn’t have that piece of paper, but I also knew that, financially, it was going to be a pretty devastating choice to go back. (I had already lost the scholarships and grants that were helping make an absolutely atrocious tuition somewhat affordable for lower-middle-class me).

So, I did what you can probably assume here, and I lied on my resume to say that I graduated from my alma mater instead of just attended it. In doing this, I also strategically applied to positions not in the city of my school, to lower my chances of running into anyone who might have reason to know me (and therefore know my personal story). I also made sure to come up with a story for anyone who may have attended at the same time as me, to say that my degree ended up being completed part-time on nights and weekends, and during the winter semester.

At first, I was absolutely terrified that someone would find out, particularly because my industry tends to be filled with a privileged elite, and I was already odd enough, coming from a working-class, small-town background and not having anywhere near the social education that most of my colleagues did. I felt this enormous stigma around myself, and told myself that I had to work twice as hard as everyone to sort of “balance out” this initial lie, which obviously ended up being a good thing for independent reasons. But even with working as hard as I did, I still felt the spectre of that “original sin,” so to speak, hanging over my head.

But as time went on, I began to realize that the option I chose was one of the circumstances that befell me, and not some overall indictment of my character. Yes, I exaggerated something, but I was also someone whose ability to secure their prestigious degree was derailed not by lack of work ethic or commitment, but by financial misfortune and family issues. When I looked around my office at the vast majority who came from wealth, earned powerful degrees without even taking on debt (of which I already had a substantial amount), and never considered that their initial position of privilege allowed so much of their career success, I started to feel less guilty about my decision.

I also decided that, regardless of how I got in, my company got a dedicated and intelligent employee who excelled at her job. And while, no, I don’t think that I am some kind of Robin Hood, out to balance out the universe by cheating a little to get out from under my disadvantages, I also think that in a system like America’s, there are worse things. We live in a system that almost guarantees poorer students will need to burden themselves horribly in order to get the prestigious academic qualifications that they are otherwise capable of earning. Or it might mean that they are shut out altogether, because even taking on debt is out of their reach. (How many people wouldn’t even have a viable co-signer in their entire family?) These are real imbalances that we all live with, and so, on an ethical level, I don’t regret my choice. We are in a system that I find unethical, and part of that system is a job not accepting someone who is perfect for the position, because they were unable to afford a specific piece of paper.

I don’t encourage everyone out there to start lying wantonly on their qualifications, if only because of the paranoia and guilt that you live with for a long time. But I would say, in all honesty, that if you find yourself one day in a situation like I was in, you cannot hate yourself by doing your best to play within the confines of the system you came into. It took me a long time to learn that, but I’m glad I did.

-Anonymous

Image via Unsplash

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  • When I started reading this I figured the writer had some outstanding charge or hold on her account that stopped the diploma being issued… not that she skipped a whole quarter of the requirements! Depending on your school or program, that last year has the most in depth classes in your field, and sometimes a big final project to prove you’re ready for the workforce. I agree education costs in the US are pretty ridiculous, but anything you have to cover up with a complex lie is hardly “resume-fudging.”

    • Colleen

      Unless the author is in an industry where missing degree requirements could potentially affect others (healthcare, engineering, etc.), there’s no real issue with missing some classes and a final project. She’s succeeded in the workforce for 10 years… Doesn’t sound like she missed anything too important.

      • Ok, but what if she missed two years? There are absolutely some programs where your last year is breadth requirements that you could probably skip, but where do you draw the line? If she’d missed like, a health/sports requirement and couldn’t get her degree I think I’d side with her, but she lied about a whole year. Even if she only missed classes she didn’t feel were particularly useful, she still hasn’t met the requirements for the degree.

        • Agreed, I have a big issue with this too. That is quite the lie.

          From someone who had trouble finding a job out of university (and I completed my entire program), it upsets me that someone could have been hired instead of me without having completed the degree.

        • Colleen

          It’s immoral only because we relate “immoral” to “unfair to those who finished their degrees.” But I think society’s belief that a degree is some kind of necessary holy grail of knowledge that is required for someone to be prepared to join an industry is crazy. You get the foundations of knowledge of non-technical industries in college – the real knowledge comes from experiencing and working in that industry. I think if the article was “I lied about my degree on my resume to get a job as a doctor and now I’ve killed 10 people because of my lack of medical knowledge” – yes, immoral. “I lied about my degree on my resume and now I’m a successful marketing director/interior designer/accountant/etc” … No, I don’t think that’s immoral. I think that’s just smart.

          • I think we’ll have to disagree, I think lying to get ahead at the determinant of others is immoral.

          • Colleen

            It’s college, not a sainthood. The morality bar was pretty low to begin with.

          • becominganisland

            I believe this is immoral because I relate “immoral” to dishonesty. And the fact that some people think that being dishonest is the smart choice as long as people don’t die makes me really sad.

          • Colleen

            Yeah? I think we’re all just jealous.

          • becominganisland

            I can’t tell if you’re trolling or if you’re being sincere. But on the off chance that you are being sincere: I’m genuinely sorry to hear that. Best wishes.

    • Ramsay Leimenstoll

      Well, she said she went to a prestigious institution; to me that means private liberal arts college. I am confident she wasn’t actually studying specific technical skills that she *needed* for this job. So she didn’t finish her Art major or write her history thesis and skipped the 7th & 8th semesters of Spanish… that’s not going to make her literally less qualified for, say, a job in publishing. I completely think liberal arts degrees are valid and valuable (I have one) but using “completed all 8 semesters” is just an easy shorthand for companies to feel *fairly* confident that you won’t be a screw-up when you get on the job. It doesn’t actually mean you’re more qualified, it just makes you less risky of a hire. She didn’t fail out because she couldn’t handle college demands (which would mean she’s maybe not smart/hard-working enough for this job); she had to stop early for reasons completely unrelated to her competence. If she’d shown up and not been able to work well enough to do her job, they would’ve fired her.

    • meep

      okay but saying “ITS THE SYSTEM” when she basically admits she just couldn’t affford her really expensive private college (which, that’s not the system, a private college can do what they want) and just didn’t want to go to a CC or something to finish up…like that’s not a system that’s unfair, it’s just deciding you’re too good for a lesser ranked school and lying about it instead.

      • Raven

        You can’t finish your degree at a community college unless you only need lower division courses.

  • Purely out of curiosity, I wonder if this would be possible in the current job market (as you said this happened 10 years ago)? In my experiences getting hired, before officially accepting the offer I had to go through background checks in which a background checking firm was in contact with my universities and confirmed my degree and date of completion with each. If I hadn’t, in fact, graduated, I would have been caught immediately.

    • MCC

      Agreed. I graduated in 2013 and am on my second job. For the first job they did not ask for anything when I got the offer letter however I had to bring my diploma on the first day of work. For my second and current job, I had to bring my original diploma and copy of my transcript to the preliminary interview. The anxiety of such a big lie would be too much for me. Perhaps the checks are different for different fields? I suppose its much more tragic if you fudge your credentials as an engineer…

      • My graduate degree is from a British university and I actually got flagged in my background check for my most recent job because their verification process was different than the American process. If that caused me trouble, I can’t imagine trying to slide by with a fake diploma!

      • Erin Williams

        It’s definitely different depending on your field. I’ve never been asked to prove my degrees.

  • Rachael H

    I’m honestly upset and pissed off after reading this. I took on debt & spent the time working for a degree. Why does this writer think they are above everyone else.

    • If she thought at all that she could have learned anything from that last year of uni, she would have gone to that less prestigious school. She’s basically said that since she already knew everything, she knew better than the university and could bestow that degree on herself.

  • Winterlight

    I have seen this come back to bite people bigtime, including someone who’d been working in their field longer than you have (he was fired for lying on his application. Good luck trying to get a job after that.)

  • meep

    yeeah i’m just gonna say don’t think bc you’ve been working for a decade that you’re exempt from something like a background check for time immortal. i have absolutely seen people in my company get fired despite working many years for faking something on their application.

  • becominganisland

    Hmm. You resent your wealthy colleagues’ entitlement so much it spurred you to eventually feel no guilt about lying, and yet you think that because you had financial hardships, you deserve to have a job that you had to lie to get. I believe that is also called entitlement.

  • Lane Pickett

    I worked my ass off to earn my degree. If I found out that I was passed over for a job opportunity that was given to someone who lied about their degree, I’d be so pissed.

    • caitlin smith

      Amen to that! I can understand omitting certain things (I was the victim of a violent crime and stalked during my undergrad and my grades tanked at my previous school). But, Im working hard on my undergrad and put my university I’m attending now since it’s the most recent. But, lying about getting a degree?!?! Hell no!

  • Kaci

    As someone who works in recruitment & hiring, I’ve seen countless job offers rescinded because of falsification of any section of the application (not just criminal history). You lie about something, and HR finds out, someone who’s particularly strict will rescind your offer right then and there. You don’t know if you’re going to be fortunate enough to get someone who might give it a second thought and give you some leeway. At my company, regardless of the type of position you are being hired for, we are going to check your education, and if it doesn’t match what the posting is required, your offer will be rescinded. Doesn’t matter what the level of the job is. I’m really shocked that your company didn’t do a simple check on your education.

  • GBee

    I don’t think you’re a bad person for doing this, but as someone who has struggled with finding employment these past few years, this is difficult to read without becoming a little angry.

    I once worked in HR for an agency that employed student interns. Several of these “Student” interns would refuse to return calls or emails when it came time to verify their grades and enrollment (this was done months after their employment began). It was clear that NUMEROUS “student” employees were not currently enrolled in school and were working these positions without having the proper requirements. And the worst part? Managers allowed this to go on because they “felt bad.”

    • I’m honestly surprised this hasn’t come up yet for her. It’s super easy for an employer to check if you got a degree and many require a transcript (in higher paying sectors esp). I know this because I used to run checks for hedge funds including for their admin temps and this issue came up. Also if you ever apply for a govt job or a license/certification where they run your background it is the easiest lie to uncover and, when it catches up with you, the consequences are pretty disastrous. The thing with big lies like this is that they are a losing situation for everyone, the people who lie ate bring dishonest and get a leg up but there is a huge possibility of getting found out and, the bigger the lie and longer you tell it, the worse the consequences and the higher the chance of discovery

  • Jen

    The system is stupid in many ways, and I’m sure the financial/family troubles were not the writer’s fault and it’s unfair… on a lot of people, as is in this case. Lying about it like that is like saying two wrongs make a right, and justifying when you had options… it just sounds like those options were too hard or were inferior for the hard work you have put in.

    This confession reads like someone who finds all the problems of the system when it suits them, but changes the narrative when it comes to their own ‘hard work’ and what they deserve and how they are ‘perfect’ for that position (regardless of the company’s wishes or opinions). It is unreflective of the fact that in the end, the reality is, the opportunities that became available to the writer (and the subsequent qualification, skills and experience) they got because they lied. Then they had to work even harder – perhaps out of a sense of desire to earn their place, but of course it also has the additional benefit of securing their future. The writer may have worked hard, but they got opportunities by means other than hard work here.

    It’s the same kind of reflection that we ask of people born with privilege – who very likely worked hard but were also advantaged (which may simply mean their parents worked hard). If we’re talking about working hard, the same can’t be said for the writer because they omitted an entire year through dishonesty.

    • becominganisland

      Exactly. “My successes are thanks to me, and my failures are the system’s fault.” It doesn’t work that way.

      Growing up poor or wealthy, going through financial hardships or not having to worry about money, etc. are not inherently good or bad and doesn’t entitle anyone to anything. This writer seems to think that having money is morally “bad” and not having money is morally “good.” Why else would this idea of “Robin Hood righting the universe” be in an article that has nothing to do with fighting for social justice?

    • meep

      this is the perfect response.

  • Irisgeist

    Well, since in my field I get to use most of the concepts that I learned in college, if I had missed even just the last semester of my degree (biotech engineering) I would not have been qualified to do my job. I don’t know how is it for another majors, but for me precisely the last two years is when you get to learn “the good stuff”, rather than the general concepts that you share in common with related majors. And yes, to land my job I not only had to submit copies of my post-graduate and B.Sc. degrees, but also my grades.

    So, sorry, but this piece really pissed me off. As much as I feel empathy for the circumstances that made the author dropping of from college, if the author really wanted to continue a career in that field, why not enrolling to a less prestigious school, or to a community college?

  • AN

    I am very pro-lying when it comes to resumes. Lying about necessary skills is something that just wastes time, the employer’s and the employee’s, but something like this is excusable in my book. I question the author’s excuses for not completing their degree at the less-prestigious university, but otherwise good for them for rigging the game.

  • Michelle

    My father came here as a refugee, lived in government housing, wore the same shirt for WEEKS because he had no money, and still got a medical degree. He actually quit because his father passed away in the middle of it to take time off, but he went back and finished. And yes, his loan bill was in the hundreds of thousands (how about them apples). I also took the option to go to community college first and got as many credits there as possible because it is ALWAYS cheaper and trust me, those core courses don’t matter as much as those upper-levels. I still had student loan debt but I am earning money from my job I was qualified for to pay them. Circumstances are never in your favor, and you chose to lie. If anything, you’re cheating everybody else who put in the extra work to finish their degree. You should try it, it’s a character building experience.

  • Zairy Matos

    I know someone that did this and instead of humbling themselves they began to act like they were better than everyone. You have the nerve to think your better than others when you, yourself didnt even finish school.

  • max

    I hate to say it, but lying is almost a necessity these days. I am shocked at how many positions require insane amounts of professional experience for common, easy-to-master skills. It puts job seekers in a very tough position – are you honest about your qualifications, knowing you’ll almost certainly be passed over for the interview? Or do you lie, bettering your chances of getting the interview, but having to live with the guilt and paranoia? All I know is, I don’t get interviews when I’m honest. It’s a tough world out there and bills needs to be paid.