I lied to my interviewer about being employed — Ask a Manager


A reader writes:

I got a job offer last week that I’m really excited about, especially because I was let go in mid-January and it’s been stressful to job hunt. I was recruited to apply for a few different positions, and one ended up with an offer. I told the recruiter I wasn’t currently employed, and he said I shouldn’t tell the company I was interviewing with. Everything online said the mostly same thing — don’t tell anyone you’re unemployed when interviewing.

I’ll admit I didn’t have my resume updated with an end date of my employment with my previous employer, because I was always told it looks better to be currently employed, and I figured the difference between January and February wasn’t that big of a deal. I also work in an industry where it’s standard to be locked out the second you give notice, so telling potential employers that I’m available to start immediately isn’t a red flag for anyone.

However, I was trying to avoid actually lying and saying I was currently employed when I wasn’t. In the interview that lead to my job offer, they directly asked if I was currently working at my last company, and I said panicked and said yes. (My after-the-fact justification is that I am working a bunch of side gigs to make ends meet while I look for something permanent and full time. But, still. I lied. And I feel terrible about it.)

I’ve never been laid off before, and my savings are dwindling rapidly. I’ve never lied to an employer before either. My previous company doesn’t provide references, only confirms dates of employment when asked, which is also industry standard. I don’t think this new company will check with my previous employer, since they believe I’m currently employed.

Should I come clean to my possible new employer? I have an offer letter, but the job offer is contingent on references and background check, so it’s not set in stone. Should I tell them after I start? Take this to the grave? Is this something everyone does (which is what my friends have told me) or is it actually a big deal to lie about this?

It can be a big deal. If they find out about it, it’s the sort of thing that’s very likely to be a deal-breaker, because if you lied about something as concrete as whether or not you’re still employed somewhere, they have to wonder what else you might have lied about in the interview or what you might lie about on the job.

And even if they don’t call your old employer for a reference, there are other ways they can find out — like they’re talking to one of your other references who says, “I was so surprised when Jane was laid off in January” or otherwise mentions it.

It sounds like people really steered you wrong with their advice to consider your layoff a dirty secret that needed to be hid at all costs! It’s really, really not.

It’s true that employers sometimes are biased toward people who are employed … but that’s usually a case of more extremes, like they’d prefer to hire the employed person over the candidate who hasn’t worked for the last three years. Someone who’s been unemployed for a month? That’s barely likely to register.

The advice not to say you’re unemployed when interviewing generally means: don’t go out of your way to mention it, but don’t outright lie. In other words, you don’t need to proactively announce it, but if you’re directly asked, “Are you still at your last job?” you need to tell the truth. I don’t know if people were telling you to outright lie (if they were, don’t take advice from them anymore) or if they just were saying you didn’t need to advertise it and you took that to mean “lie.”

As for what to do, what’s done is done. Coming clean about it now is likely to make it into a bigger deal, when it otherwise could fly under the radar. Hope it doesn’t come back to bite you this time, and just don’t do it next time.



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