Why Lying is a Career Killer

Last Updated May 16, 2011 6:40 AM EDT

My BNET Colleague, Penelope Trunk recently wrote a column titled Why Women Should Lie Even More Than They Do, in which she advised women to lie about everything from their height to their salary. She argues that lying just makes everything "fair."

It may have been a little too long since Ms. Trunk worked in a normal office job, where you need coworkers to trust you, where HR departments run background checks and where people actually interview you in person. (Ummm, hello, there is nowhere on your resume or cover letter where height is an appropriate thing to list. Wear high heel shoes if you feel short, but pretending you're two inches taller than you are is not going to fly in the real world. Other than online dating, where does chance to lie about height even come up?)

Here is the reality: Lying will get you busted. Oh sure, some people can get away with it, but not you. Even those people who can get away with it for a very long time can get found out at an inopportune moment.

It's tempting to lie about your salary. Many companies approach compensation questions by referencing your former salary. This is a ridiculous method that opens them up for potential law suits when two people of different races/genders come from two different companies. Each company should be basing their salary offers on the job they are hiring you to do, not what your previous company paid you. Nevertheless, if they ask and you answer (which you don't have to do, but stay silent at your own risk), you better tell the truth.

Why? Because they are going to call up your former employer and they will ask to verify your dates of service, your job title and your salary. If you write down you made $95,000 a year because your salary was $75,000 and your other benefits were worth at least $20,000 a year, you will be promptly dumped into the "do not hire" bin when your former company says, "I cannot confirm a salary of $95,000 per year." Or when they ask for your old W2s (also happens), you'll be sputtering to explain why it doesn't match up.

Okay, so what if you only lie about your salary to other people, not job applications? People talk. And eventually, your fantastic salary will get back to a coworker. This coworker will be angry that you're making so much "more" than she is. She will complain to the boss. The boss will think that you are the idiot. Not exactly what you want.

If your title was something stupid and inexplicable, so you change it to a commonly held term (i.e. from Company Rockstar to Public Affairs Specialist), that nice HR lackey that answers the phone will say, "No, I'm sorry, her title wasn't Public Affairs Specialist," and again, you're in the do not hire, ever list. To further complicate matters, the company won't tell you that the reason they aren't hiring you is because of a failed background check. They just won't make an offer. So, you'll keep lying and keep getting rejected.

As for lying about your age, your potential manager does not know how old you are, nor does she ask in an interview. Applications should not have dates for when you graduated from high school (what is known as a proxy for age), but they will have college dates. You cannot lie about that date. (You can omit it on your resume, if you'd like, but not on the application because they are going to need it to run that background check). (True, your actual birth date may be required for the background check, but the hiring manager rarely sees that and HR isn't stupid enough to bring it up.)

Ms. Trunk thinks everyone has a baby at 30, so it's okay to hire someone at 27, but not if they are 30. Therefore, lie. Reality check: Average age for first baby in the US? 25.2. Most likely age range to have a baby among women? 25-29. So, not only is your lying unnecessary, and uncalled for, trying to convince a hiring manager that you're 27 only serves to make the company more nervous that you're going to be going out on maternity leave soon.

If you lie about little "irrelevant" things, how am I going to trust you with big things? Even if the company you are applying to is sloppy with their background checks (not everyone runs them, even if they say they are going to), if you start causing problems, they just might run a check. Then, you'll be fired, for lying.

Lying is much more difficult than telling the truth. It doesn't require that you keep things straight and remember what you said in the past. Just tell the truth and everything is a lot easier. And, for heaven's sake, if someone says, "How are you?" and you're not fine, don't say "fine." Answer the darn question, politely. "Better than yesterday," "Super," "I've seen better days," and "Just counting down the minutes until the weekend," are all acceptable answers. Feel free to quote me.

If you feel like you need to tell lies to get ahead, perhaps you need to evaluate why you're behind in the first place. Gather some real skills and experience (even if you have to work for free to get it). Then, you'll be able to succeed in the real world, not in a fantasy land.

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    Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate Human Resources. She's hired, fired, and analyzed the numbers for several major companies. She founded the Carnival of HR, a bi-weekly gathering of HR blogs, and her writings have been used in HR certification and management training courses across the country.

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