If you’re going to lie on your resume, why think small?

The CEO of Yahoo, Scott Thompson, has resigned because he overstated his credentials on his résumé. What was the overstatement?  Apparently he claimed he had a degree in accounting and computer science from Stonehill College, when in fact his degree was only in accounting. Of course, when this first became public, he tried to blame someone else for the error, but apparently that claim didn’t stand up to scrutiny either.  Now he is going to have to find a way to restart his career.

Stonehill is a little Catholic college not far from where I live.  A nephew of mine went there, and I’m sure it’s a very fine college.  But if you’re going to lie on your résumé, why just tweak your degree?  Why not claim a degree from Harvard or a Ph.D. from Oxford?  I look at a ton of résumés at my job, and educational experience is important.  If you don’t have a degree from a top-notch university, that’s fine — there are plenty of reasons why someone might not go to Harvard or Michigan or Middlebury.  But a degree from a prestigious school is a good indicator that you have the intellectual ability we’re looking for.  But I’m pretty sure our HR folks don’t verify a candidate’s educational credentials.   I’m not sure why they don’t — too time-consuming?  too expensive?  The thing is, if you lie, you’re likely to get away with it.  So why not think big?

Possibly Thompson thought a minor adjustment was less likely to be uncovered than a big whopper.  On the other hand, the downside of any kind of lying is so huge that a minor adjustment hardly seems worth the risk.

The strangeness of this guy’s behavior pales in comparison to that of Richard Blumenthal, the new senator from Connecticut, who was in the habit of lying about serving in Vietnam. He wasn’t just exaggerating his college major on a form; he was publicly claiming an accomplishment that was completely untrue:

“We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam,” Mr. Blumenthal said to the group gathered in Norwalk in March 2008. “And you exemplify it. Whatever we think about the war, whatever we call it — Afghanistan or Iraq — we owe our military men and women unconditional support.”

Blumenthal is a spectacularly accomplished guy — I presume Thompson is as well.  Why did they need to do this?  I suppose the lies began early, as they started their careers in politics and business, and then they couldn’t find a way to stop.  Maybe they didn’t see the need to stop, since no one ever uncovered the lies.  And in the end, maybe they kinda sorta started believing their lies.  It was all so long ago.

There’s a story here….

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3 thoughts on “If you’re going to lie on your resume, why think small?

  1. There was a guy at my old law firm who had worked as a paralegal for a number of years. He told everyone that he was attending Fordham Law School (the night program). Then a few years later he told everyone that he had graduated. Six months after that he told everyone that he had passed the bar. The firm congratulated him, promoted him to associate and put him to work on some important cases where he did stellar work. He was thought of as a rising young star. Then apparently on a whim someone in a client’s billing department decided to check that all of the lawyers listed on the time sheets were duly licensed and in good standing. (Easy enough to do; New York has an online database with this information.). The rising young star was not in the database. A little further checking revealed he had not graduated from (or even attended) Fordham Law.

    As you might expect this caused the firm considerable embarrassment as the story was in all the local papers. It also cost them money because the amount billed for the fraudsters’ services which was not inconsiderable.

    Why did he do it? Because he gambled that HR would never check which they didn’t.

    What is more difficult to understand is why HR didn’t check. Time? Expense? Hardly. As noted the NY database is online and freely available to the public. Moreover isn’t it HR’s job to check credentials? Or are they too busy running seminars on sexual harassment and the hostile work environment.

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    • Sounds like HR malpractice to me. Where I work, your academic background is only used as a marker for your intelligence; it doesn’t really relate to what you do on the job. Not quite the same as a law firm.

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  2. Pingback: Lying — sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t | richard bowker

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