According to a study from reference-checking site Checkster, a shocking 78% of applicants lie on their resumes. These fibs ranged from minor tweaks such as boosting a GPA by a decimal point or two to something major such as claiming to have obtained a degree from a prestigious university they didn’t attend. But one aspect that applicants continually admit to is fudging employment dates on a resume. Whether to cover gaps in employment history or cover a situation where they left on poor terms, changing employment dates on a resume is a rampant offense.
But that doesn’t mean you should follow suit. Find out why you shouldn’t alter the employment dates on a resume, and what you should do instead.
Why Fudging Employment Dates Is a Bad Idea
Despite many applicants lying on their resume and the perceived insignificance of a minor lie such as changing employment dates, you should still avoid it at all costs. In general, this can have a waterfall effect that trickles into other aspects of your life. As such, your reputation and integrity can become tarnished. Consider these points:
- Fudging dates is lying: No employer wants to hire a dishonest employee. Some employers even have a policy of never considering future job applications from someone who lies on any facet of their resume.
- Lying on a job application is grounds for future job termination: Many companies reserve the right to fire employees for lying on their application, even if the employee is a good worker. Even worse, termination for dishonesty is a difficult thing to explain to future employers. Finally, employers can fire you months after employment if they deem that fudging the dates on your resume was an inexcusable offense.
- Your professional reputation may suffer: Word spreads like wildfire in a professional setting, especially if the information is juicy gossip like lying on a resume. If you get caught, you’ll almost certainly never have an opportunity to work at the company again. Moreover, hiring managers may have a network that can preclude you from consideration for other jobs in your industry. With such importance riding on your resume, changing the dates on a resume hardly seems worth the risk.
- You may be ineligible for unemployment benefits: In some states, lying on a job application is considered misconduct. If your employer fires you for misconduct such as an employment application lie, the employer can challenge your right to unemployment benefits. This could leave you with no job and no income in the meantime.
Whether months or years from now, the truth always comes out. Just read a few stories of those who changed the dates on their resume; it never ends well.
The Mentality of Justification When Fudging Dates on a Resume
A major cause of fudging employment dates is the herd mentality. If everyone else is doing it, why shouldn’t I? But this thought process isn’t a subconscious justification of your actions. It’s a conscious decision to be unethical.
Think of the situation conversely. If you were a hiring manager, would you hire a candidate if you found out that they were lying on their resume in any capacity? Probably not.
If you haven’t worked in a while or your employment record contains gaps, entering dates on your resume can be a bit unnerving. Despite the discomfort, being honest with employment dates when composing a resume is essential. As you edge closer to a job offer, your new employer will almost certainly check your resume employment dates. If they uncover rampant deception on employment dates, the likelihood of a job offer can drop dramatically.
Instead of trying to cover up employment gaps, address them by changing your date format, including non-standard work experiences, or by offering an explanation in your cover letter.
What Dates to Include on Your Resume
Omitting dates on your resume is never recommended. It raises a red flag on your resume and can potentially put you on the “no pile” almost immediately. Thankfully, you still have some options to shore up employment gaps or periods where your employment ended by firing or quitting. Try this approach to avoid fudging dates on your resume.
- Use months and years only: Putting exact hiring and leaving dates adds unnecessary clutter to your resume. At the bare minimum, include months and years. To cover employment gaps, you may want to use years only. Keep in mind that the further back the job position is, the more likely it is that using a years-only approach won’t raise any red flags.
- Unintentional vs. intentional fudging of dates on a resume: When you’re putting together your resume, don’t fall into the trap of unintentional fibbing. Unintentional fibbing of the dates on your resume is usually the result of laziness, indifference, or thinking a few months won’t matter. Instead of going back through your career history and finding the actual dates, you ballpark the figures. Don’t do this. Take the time to go back and find the exact month and year of your employment. As mentioned above, intentionally lying about your employment dates to cover a firing or employment gap is always frowned upon.
- Use exact dates whenever possible: Always use the exact month and year whenever possible. This extends not only to employment but also to other aspects of your resume. As a general rule, use only the year when you’re listing inclusion into a society, association, or organization, as well as your graduation year unless you joined or graduated within the past year.
How to Work Around Employment Gaps
Employment gaps are an embarrassing portion of many resumes. Yet the perception that hiring managers will immediately eliminate you from job candidacy for an employment gap isn’t always true, especially for entry-level positions. Rather than work around employment gaps with fake dates on your resume, use these tips and honesty to navigate the situation truthfully. You actually might be surprised how well your resume turns out.
- Focus on the years: If you’re worried about large employment gaps hindering your employment chances, remember that the devil is in the details. Rather than fudge the months or years, indicate only the year of employment. This isn’t lying and it isn’t misleading, as hiring managers will typically ask follow-up questions about your employment. For example, if you began working for a company on December 1, 2016, and lost your job on February 17, 2020, you would list the dates of employment as 2016-2020.
- List other experience: Include temporary, volunteer, freelance, or contract jobs on your resume. If the gap in your employment is significant, add non-standard employment work on your resume. Non-standard work might include stay-at-home parenting or an on-call recruit for a day-to-day staffing agency. This shows a potential employer that you’ve been keeping busy during your job search.
- Explain gaps in your cover letter: You don’t have to go into great detail, but if you’ve been out of the workforce for a while, briefly note the reason in your cover letter. For example, the following sentence is all you need to address employment gaps.
If you’re stressed about an employment gap in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic, don’t be. Hiring manager will understand a year-long length of unemployment due to furlough, layoffs, or the temporary or permanent closure of your former company.
What To Do If You Have an Employment Gap in the Future
Unemployment can wreak havoc on your mental state, leading to feelings of despair, isolation, and depression. Although you may need a few weeks to decompress, you can’t let your current employment state defeat you. Instead, take the steps necessary to remain hopeful and build your skillset as professional. Doing so will only serve as an avenue to increase your stock as a professional, coveted candidate in the future.
If you’re unemployed, try out a few of these ideas:
- Maintain a schedule: You might not have anywhere to be, but maintaining at least some semblance of a schedule will keep you on track and in a better mental state. Waking up at 2 p.m. every day just because you can doesn’t do great things for your psyche.
- Organize your home office: If you’re an aspiring or veteran remote worker that’s currently out of work, use the time to retool your home office. Not only should you clean the physical space of your office, but also clear out the cyber clutter on your laptop, desktop, and smartphone.
- Volunteer: Nothing shores up a gap in your employment like volunteering. By volunteering, you show your desire to work and your willingness to give something back to the community — two aspects that employers find desirable.
- Improve your skillset: If you’ve been waiting or too busy to gain a certification or take a course, now is the time. With the extra knowledge you gain, you can make yourself a more attractive candidate and possibly give you a bargaining chip to increase your pay in the future.
You can also check out the Virtual Vocations Remote Career Center for tips on how to boost your profile, resume, and skills to land a great remote job.
Don’t Start Off on the Wrong Foot
In addition to being dishonest, lying about employment dates is often unnecessary. Employers are aware that many good people and strong workers periodically have trouble finding work. They also know that sometimes people have to leave the workforce to tend to personal or family issues. By addressing employment gaps open and honestly, you will quickly dispel any concerns and make yourself a much stronger candidate.
Have you fudged dates on your resume? If not, what did you do instead? Connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube to share your thoughts and tips. We’d love to hear from you!
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Updates include original material from Lainie Petersen (April 8, 2013)