Sometimes Lying Just Isn’t Worth It

The craziness of the last couple of years has created a situation where potential retail and restaurant employees will sometimes present glowing resumes, then don’t come close to living up to what they claimed they knew – assuming they showed up for work at all. The next thing you know they’re applying for unemployment. I got to thinking about this when a website visitor told me that his odds of finding a job seem to decrease as time passes. He goes on to say that a friend offered to compose a fake resume and provide a fake reference for him, but that he’s uncomfortable with lying to get a job he wouldn’t otherwise get. He wonders if there are any circumstance under which he could justify accepting the offer of the bogus credentials.

I first suggested that he mentally walk through what could happen if he took the offer of the made-up resume. I told him, “Assume you’re hired. You have an immediate double burden. First, as with any new job, you have to prove yourself. Second, you have to maintain the lie. You have to remember two realities: the truth, and the ‘truth’ as you presented it. You can never slip up and forget. In addition to doing your job well, you have to do a good job preserving the fraud.

“You’ll have to go out of your way to avoid situations in which you might be exposed. For example, if you said you had a college degree when in fact you don’t, you’d have to avoid discussions about college – or be prepared to make things up. And once you did, you’d have to remember them. The same goes with a phony reference. All these fictions must be remembered.

“Of course, what does all this do to your pride and self-respect? It may be true that you’re good at what you do, but if your work is the only factor that matters, then why lie? Also, when you lie to someone, you’re not showing them respect. The fact that you got away with it will lead you to respect your employer even less.”

The simple fact is this: Desperate situations sometimes call for desperate measures – assuming that the desperate measure is effective. Lying undermines your relationship with your employer and it imposes burdens on you. Yes, you might claim, “I now have a paycheck whereas last week I didn’t. It worked.” But all you did was trade one high-risk situation (unemployment), for another (getting found out and fired). The old adage, “What a tangled web we weave…” is true.

Sophisticated liars can often get away with it, but if you were a good liar, you wouldn’t have emailed me. You’re particularly at risk for getting caught for the simple reason that you’re divided on the subject. Commitment to a difficult course of action requires unwavering resolve. Without that, you’re going to create new problems rather than alleviate old ones.

Before setting yourself up for exposure, you could say, “I don’t have that credential. But here’s what I do have to offer. Will you hear me out?” If nothing else, you’ll be respected for being honest – qualities in short supply nowadays. It doesn’t guarantee you the job, but it does give you an opportunity to show a virtuous trait on which people place great value. It also shows confidence and security; qualities that matter to employers.

Most of us are taught, “Don’t lie. It’s wrong. Do the right thing.” And then life gives us a simultaneous “wink-wink” implying, “Do what you have to do.” What passes for morality is often nothing more than a mishmash of dogmatic commands, hypocrisy and contradiction. Some people fall for it, and some don’t, but there’s certainly enough of it to go around – starting with politics and ending with your resume.

I suspect you’re already convinced that you shouldn’t lie. But you’ve got to have reasons other than the fact that lying is hard work. Otherwise, you’ll never feel good about your course of action. You don’t pour gasoline on a fire or use poison to cure a disease. Explore other options.


Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D. can be reached by phone or text at 301-343-4171 and by email at [email protected].


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