By Jeff Gillis & Mike Simpson

A Little White Lie Couldn’t Hurt … Or Could It?

Preparing for an interview is stressful, and people looking for work will do everything they can in order to secure employment. Seeing how competitive the job market is, many resort to lying or exaggerating during the application and interview process to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.

We’ve surveyed over 800 employees and more than 200 hiring managers to get the inside scoop on lying your way to a job. How wrong is it to slip in a white lie here and there during an interview? What exactly have interviewees lied about and what aspects of a job would entice them to lie in the first place? What are some tells that an interviewee might be lying? These questions, and more, will be answered as we dive deep into the world of white lies. Read on to find out more!

The Morality of It All

To try and gain the employer in question’s favor, over three-quarters of respondents felt pressure to exaggerate their competencies. Almost 65% of them also overstated their qualifications on their resume when applying to a job that was in high demand.

A closer look at how much job seekers exaggerated during the interview process.

When reflecting on the morality of exaggerating during the interview process, the majority of respondents thought it was only moderately or slightly wrong, compared to only a fifth who believed it was very or extremely unprofessional.

Additionally, due to the increased job market competition that occurred due to the pandemic, 61.6% of respondents felt there might be more pressure to boost their chances of securing employment. On a personal level, 54.8% of them had felt it during the application process. Last year, the U.S. economy underwent a devastating recession, and millions of jobs were lost. As companies slowly recover, people are trying to get their old jobs back – or find new ones – but the increased competition has forced many peoples’ hands into lying and trying to secure employment by any means necessary.

Lying Tactics

Even though many had exaggerated their qualifications in the job application process, a quarter that had believed it negatively impacted their careers in one way or another.

The main reasons for job seekers to exaggerate during the interview process, including a break down on the main exaggerations by employment level.

The most common lie told to potential employers was an employee saying that they saw themselves still working at the company in question five years down the road. Entry-level employees were most likely to use this tactic. The second-most used strategy was to exaggerate one’s strengths and weaknesses, and mid-level management used this strategy most often. While the list above is quite comprehensive regarding job-related white lies, 13.5% of respondents claimed not to have used any of them.

Top 5 white lies that people used to land a job.

The two aforementioned lies were within the top five that hopeful employees believe help land a job – the other three were playing up their skills and accomplishments, embellishing their responsibilities in previous jobs, and hitting home the relationship between their own values and the company culture. All this being said, lying about your accomplishments can backfire if you end up getting hired – your employer will expect you to perform based on the expertise you’ve claimed to have. Things could get ugly if you don’t live up to the expectations you set for yourself!

The Motivation

The most common motivation to exaggerate information during the job search process was getting a job offer, followed by receiving a higher salary. 

Hypothetical scenarios asking people about when they would be more likely to use a white lie.

If it meant landing a job in general, almost 83% of respondents would have no problem throwing in a white lie here and there in the application process. Additionally, more than two-thirds of potential employees wouldn’t think twice if lying led to receiving a higher salary. Regarding promotions, more people were hesitant about exaggerating some part of their application, as over a third said they would not consider it. The same goes for the chance at a better relationship with co-workers or employers – 37.3% of respondents didn’t think lying would be worth achieving that.

Although lying during the interview process is not recommended, there are ways to keep the conversation on the right track and to redirect it to highlight your qualities. For example, when an employer asks how you’re doing, you should smile and reply with “I’m doing well, how are you?” – even if you’re having a bad day, the employer doesn’t need to know that. Or, if they ask why you’re looking for a new job, consider saying something nice about your previous employer (even if you had a tumultuous relationship with them) and mentioning how this new opportunity aligns with your long-term goals.

Do’s and Don’ts According to Managers

Next, our research moved away from employees and looked at the perspective of hiring managers when it comes to white lies during the interview process. 

The perspective of hiring managers when it is most and least acceptable to tell white lies during the interview process.

Interestingly, 42.5% of managers were on board with an employee lying when applying for a new job – they were especially OK with recruiters complimenting the organization and saying that they’d still be a part of the company in five years’ time. Many employers were also fine if interviewees lied about their likes and dislikes and personal stories.

That being said, over half of managers thought that lying about your criminal history was out of bounds, as was misleading them about your qualifications and education level. Lying is typically not a good idea in interviews – your employer can always double-check your references to see if your story lines up, and if it doesn’t, it will probably spell trouble for your career aspirations at said company. The same goes for lying about your skills, because sooner or later, someone is going to notice the discrepancy between what you said you can do and what you’ve actually been doing.

Caught Red-Handed

The odds of an employee lying and not getting caught are pretty low, as almost three-quarters of managers said they could tell if someone wasn’t telling the truth during an interview. The biggest tell was when the interviewee clearly lacked knowledge or skill when asked a specific question. Also, half of managers just had a gut feeling when it came to detecting lies. Nervous behavior was also a big identifier, including the interviewee’s changes in voice and fidgeting.

How hiring managers react when noticing that a potential employee is lying during the interview process.

When caught, 57.8% of managers had zero tolerance for lying and decided to reject the candidate. If they detected a lie, many would ask the interviewee on the spot why they thought it would be a good idea to deceive them. Other actions taken included confronting the employee if the hiring manager found out about the lie after the fact, training the employee to make sure they have the necessary skills for the job, or even getting legal counsel. However, over 13% of employers didn’t do anything when catching an interviewee red-handed.

There were also a number of “red-flag” answers and behaviors that could leave a bad taste in an employer’s mouth, like throwing coworkers under the bus, talking poorly about past and current employers, being negative or too overconfident, and answering questions with an unnecessary amount of detail.

Doing Things the Right Way

Generally, throwing in a white lie here and there during the application or interview process is a risky play. While a fair share of respondents think it’s only moderately or slightly wrong, more than half of hiring managers wouldn’t think twice about rejecting a potential employee if they were caught in a lie. That being said, lies that don’t necessarily correlate to performance, like complimenting the company simply to gain the employer’s favor or overstating how much your values align with the organization, might go unpunished.

Hiring managers know a lie when they hear one – it’s literally their job to weed out the bad apples. You may think you’re slick enough to slip through the cracks, but taking the chance is likely not worth it. The Interview Guys can help you eliminate any need to lie your way through the job hunting process. They offer invaluable tips on career advancement, how to prepare high-quality resumes and cover letters, ace job interviews, and much more. Head over now to unlock your full potential and approach new career decisions with confidence.


We collected 817 responses from employees through Amazon Mechanical Turk, and 209 responses from hiring managers through the Prolific platform. 44.2% of our participants identified as women, 54.8% identified as men, and 1% identified as nonbinary or nonconforming. Surveyed employees ranged in age from 21 to 75 with an average age of 36.7. Hiring managers ranged in age from 23 to 70, with an average age of 42.5. Those who failed an attention-check question were disqualified. 16.3% of employees described themselves as entry-level employees, 35.9% as intermediate or experienced workers, 19.2% as working on first-level management, 22% as mid level management, and 6.6% as senior, executive, or top level management employees.


The data we have presented rely on self-report. There are many issues with self-reported data. These include, but are not limited to, the following: selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration.

No statistical testing was performed, so the claims listed above are based on means alone. As such, this content is purely exploratory, and future research should approach this topic in a more rigorous way.

Fair Use Statement

Next time you’re preparing for a big interview, you may want to study up on our findings to make sure you ace it. Also, if you know someone else who might enjoy this article, feel free to send it their way. We just ask that you do so for noncommercial use only and to provide a link back to the original page so contributors can earn credit for their work.