Some people will never learn…

how stupid it is to lie on their resume. People who otherwise must seem smart to some people somewhere to achieve a certain level of success find it necessary to fudge their credentials. Now it’s the CEO of RadioShack (or should I say former CEO?), David Edmondson.

Personal ethics are subjective, however, I suspect that the question on the minds of those that do is whether they are going to get away with it. Unfortunately, once the lying starts, it’s hard to make it stop. Ask George O’Leary. I imagine the public mea culpas are tough.

Here’s the thing, when you achieve a level of public notoriety through success, your resume will be scrutinized as a public document. It’s the one document that people use to understand who you are, where you came from and what you have done. People may decide to check it out because they want to take you down, or they may simply be checking references for a future opportunity. They might notice that something you have done or said doesn’t match with what your resume details. They may be media looking for a story. If they find a lie, it really won’t matter why they were looking, just that the information is false. And years of hard work can be disregarded. I’m no expert on personal ethics (my degree is in business administration) but I just think that if people want to explore the boundaries of what they can get away with (based on their own personal code), they definitely should not be doing that on their resume. The risk outweighs the potential reward. The more you get rewarded, the higher the risk.

It seems that for the public people that have been affected by inaccurate resume scandals, many (if not all) have explained that once they lied early in their careers, they couldn’t go back and correct it. The “I thought I had that degree” defense has a hollow ring. We should all know what degrees we have. And in your starting-out years, when great success seems far-off, and you feel like you need a jump start, try hard work. I wonder how many people that have lied on their resumes (70% by some reports though that sounds really high to me) found that it actually benefited them. Did David Edmondson feel that his faux Theology degree *got* him his jobs, that he wouldn’t have been considered without it?

We do background checks here. That policy post-dates my experience as a line recruiter here but I think that reviewing your resume for clarity and accuracy is something people should do regardless of where they are applying. Facts like dates of employment, titles and college degrees are very easy to check. I’d also recommend ensuring that the descriptions of your work are accurate in someone’s opinion besides your own (word choice is a tricky thing). My last few companies, I’ve asked my manager to review my resume for accuracy (“is this what you believe I actually did?”) so my job descriptions weren’t tinted by my own perception (sometimes you have that relationship with your manager, sometimes you don’t, but I’d recommend checking it with someone and/or the description of the position you were hired into and/or your performance reviews). The person checking your references might actually read your resume back to the listed reference, so it’s great to get buy-in if you can.

I think that most of all, these scandals make me sad. Sad that people felt they needed something extra to compete and made bad decisions (probably at a young age…still so much to learn) about what that something extra is. I don’t doubt that these folks have done some hard work in their careers and all of that is discounted because of a decision made years ago.

I can’t tell people what is personally ethical or unethical (for the same reason that the word “evil” irks me…who decides?). But seeing a few of these resume scandals should, at the very least, be a warning that it’s just not worth it.

Comments (13)

  1. Devin says:

    It blows me away that people would lie like that… as an employer I’d hate having the burden of checking people’s facts. If only there were a way to reverse the control of information. With technology and a wealth of information available online do you see things like resumes becoming less and less important? In other words, is it silly to think that at some point employers will have all the information they need?

    I don’t know if you’ve read FastCompany but I think you may find the article ‘Creating a Gem of a Career’ to be interesting. If you’d like the access code to view it online feel free to shoot me an email…

  2. HeatherLeigh says:

    Devin, interesting question. I think the data privacy will be the big issue. Companies will only have access to the nfo that the candidates want to give them (they sign a waiver for the background check). I don’t thikn we’ll get to the point where the companies automatically  have access.

    I know that people keep talking about whether resumes will go away someday. I have not found anything yet that I think will replace them. One issue is that applicant tracking systems, including search functionality, are set up around the resume concept. Plus, at the stage of the recruiting process where the recruiter is assessing whether they want to talk to the candidate, a resume provides the info they want to determine whether a phone interview should take place. I don’t know how other people feel, but some of these applications that provide detailed background, portfolio, assessment info is all TMI for me when all I really want to see is a simple resume. There may be use for that stuff at other stages of the process, but for a company that gets thousands of resumes daily, the time commitment to access to review more than a resume is too much (at least initially).

    I’ll take a look at that FastCompany article. Thanks Devin!

  3. Ian says:

    "I thought I had that degree."

    It scares me to consider how I would react if I found out someone had lied and that was the explanation I got!

    I completely agree. It’s one thing to use words to make something sound better, it’s a totally different thing to flat out lie.

    Having a previous employer review your resume is a very good idea. I’ve only had a couple check it over, but for advice not for accuracy. I’ll have to do that now…

    I hope all is well. I really like the new layout! 🙂

  4. Jeff Parker says:

    Heather I have a question, here maybe you can mention in another blog post. The Background check, not that I am worried in my own background I am more owrried about Background Checks being wrong. Here is what I have seen, My sister moved to Texas recently, went to get a job and made it through all the interviews and so on then they ran a background check, turns out on the check that she was a convicted drug dealer in Texas in the 90’s. Well this was the first time she had ever been to Texas. She had to go to the police and court and this all took some time to clear up but it wasn’t her by the time she got everything cleared up the Job had been filled. Well I could understand that most employers do not care they see something like that come up what do they care they think you are immediately lying anyway.

    Ok so that might be a one time freak thing I though. However in the local news paper here about a week or two there was an article that made me really wonder. A new law in Michigan was passed that all new teachers had to pass a background check before they could be hired for a teaching possition. Well the local school district decided to go ahead and do background checks on all existing teachers with thier consent. 34% of the teachers in place failed the background checks. There were teachers with fellony conviction on thier background check before they were even born. Obviously it was messed up. Well this made me really wonder. So my question is how many wrong or claimed to be wrong background checks do you see? Is there a way just the average joe can request thier own background check. I mean I know how to get my credit report and check it out every year and have found a discrepancy on there once, but how do you do a background check on yourself? What exactly is a background check? Then if there is a discrepancy on there, how the heck do you fix it?

  5. Just for curiosity, I bought day passes on a couple of those "public records" websites and punched in my name and some of my friends.  I just Googled for "background check" and clicked through the adwords.  Reading the fine print, these databases were built essentially from junk mail records, merged with whatever public records are available.  Records from different sources are apparently associated on first and last names.  There were records associated with me for other Richard Dudleys with different middle initials, with addresses I’ve never lived at coming up when I searched by my social security number.  Fortunately, we Richard Dudleys seem to be a law-abiding bunch.  For my friends, if I didn’t know them so well, I’d be surprised at some of where they had lived, how old they were (this was a real problem if there’s a Jr-Sr relationship), and how many relatives they had.  Did not look like a lot of human oversight on the way this information is collected and coalesced.  And these are supposedly the sources business and people are turning to?  Scary.

    My question is how are the resumes being made public?  Are the actual resumes from the HR file made public as some sort of regulatory rule?  Or did this guy fib in an annual report, too?

  6. HeatherLeigh says:

    Ian-good to hear from you. There weren’t enough cool guys here in your absence. You are and will always be the onetruecoolguy ; )

    Jeff-that is scary. I think it’s done based on social security number. There are a bunch of different companies that do background checks. I think it depends on who you use and what they are checking (they offer different services). I believe some of it is just the background check company calling the person’s previous employers to confirm title, dates on behalf of the hiring company and doing the same for education. Also, I think that some of it might be in the public domain and they are offering the administrative service of accessing it (not 100% sure though). I think you really need someone’s consent to do a real background check and then you are just confirming the info they gave you.

    Richard-I don’t think those are the resources business are going to (I hope not!). I don’t know of any reputable company that would use an online service or any service that doesn’t get the candidate’s consent. Sounds kind of shady to me. There are big established companies that do this kind of thing.

    I thikn it’s a regulatory rule that makes some of the resume stuff public. I know they have to disclose compensation to shareholders so I suspect that the resume goes along with that. However, all someone would have to know is that someone is claiming to have a degree to refute it. If he just told someone off-hand about his theology degree and they knew that degree didn’t exist at that college, they could notify the HR department and I think it would be incumbent upon that HR department to check it out (on behalf of the shareholders) and do something about it if it was proven to be false info that corresponded with what he claimed on his resume. Of course, I don’t know what happened in this case, but it’s easy to imagine a couple scenarios that could have played out.

  7. HeatherLeigh says:

    Also, something else to ponder. Their stock closed down a half a percent. Since the CEO resigned, you could almost argue that it should have gone up (isn’t the stock worth more without him at the helm?). I mean, I know technically that the market corrects itself when it gets new information (or tries to anyway). But there’s some stock price love to be had from "doing the right thing", which I suspect kept the stock from dropping more. Anyway, just an interesting thought; the balance between stockprice correction based on new information and the benefit of doing the right thing as reflected in your stock price. Evidently, transparency trumps action?

  8. Jonathan says:

    The whole issue of ethics is itself an ethical discussion.  On one hand we want people to be honest and forthcoming, whereas on the other hand…"all that matters is making the stockholders happy".  I don’t at all defend those who fabricate on their resumes, since a lie-is-a-lie-is-a-lie.

    What is interesting is that the vast majority of jobs state that a "Bachelor’s degree required" and "MBA preferred" or "MBA required" and "PHd preferred".  While this might be a way to separate the supposed "wheat" from the "chaff", the reality is that in the no so disant pass, people put that they had a _____ degree, even if they haven’t quite attained it yet.   They might also put down other honors, etc, simply because if they didn’t then they might be passed over.  None of these reasons justified lying, but companies might also evaluate what is really important to them.

    I’ve been passed over on some jobs, since I didn’t have the "Bachelors required’ checkbox filled, despite exemplary performance reviews in jobs with ever-increasing responsiblity and management.  I was encouraged in some cases to put down that my bachelors was completed.  I declined to do so, since I knew it was wrong and it was important for me to be forthcoming.  The reasoning that the person gave was "you’re the best qualified and the bachelors issue is the only thing getting in the way".  My point is that the person doing the hiring should have been flexible and not made that a hard-and-fast requirement.  I wonder how many of these situations occur in this same way?

    Another consideration is that if you lie on your resume, unless you can keep a secret, then it will eventually be found out.  You have to lie to retain the lie and ultimately it’s not worth the pain.

    What is sad is that there are former recruiters who are encouraging the "resume padding and lying".  Check out the following article for one such example where the article’s opening line is "New web site, helps job seekers successfully lie on their resumes to get the job they deserve."

  9. HeatherLeigh says:

    You are right that the person should have been flexible. I can’t think of anyone here that would decline to hire someone without the "required" education if they felt that person was the right person for the job. Problem is that sometimes, in writing the job description, they create an idealized vision of who their "perfect" candidate is. That perfect candidate has a degree in their (the hiring manager’s) mind and when an otherwise fantastic candidate that doesn’t have a degree is presented, that degree requirement is likely forgotten. In my mind, there really shouldn’t be an education "requirement", just a "preference’.

    And that fake resume site, bad grammar and all, is a deplorable scam. No way that person is a "real" recruiter. Just a dishonest person trying to make money off of other dishonest people. Notice that the person won’t reveal their name. Man, there’s some junk on the internet.

  10. Salina says:

    Just one of those things that make you say hmmm: a national morning show had a spot about the number of people who lie on there resumes.  The percentage was astounding.  It said that you can actually get fined for lying on your resume in WA.

    My last round of interviewing was over four years ago and I had a hiring manager tell me that she wished that I had the "paper" to prove what I said I could do, so I empathize with Jonathon’s situation.

    I have also read a resume writing guide that walked the job seeker through embellishing a resume.  

  11. HeatherLeigh says:

    Salina, I hope that doens’t mean that it’s becoming more socially acceptable to lie on resumes. I can tell you that during the recruiting process, if I found out that someone lied on their resume, they would not be moving forward in the process.

    I haven’t seen our application in the last couple of years but i recall that when we had paper applications, the candidate had to sign that the information that they provided was true. And I certainly compared what was on the appplication with the resume.

    And of course, in an at-will state, an employer can let you go for any reason other than discrimination (age, religion, etc), so finding out that an employee lied on a resume would make an easy case for letting someone go. I’m no legal expert, but I suspect that even in other states that aren’t "at will", someone could be fired for cause if they lied on their resume. I can’t imagine a situation where an employer would want to keep someone who lied on their resume. I’d always be thinking "what else have you lied about?"

  12. Roger says:

    Hi interesting that you should work for Microsoft and also preach on the value of having good truthful people with 100% integrity throughout the process …I think Microsoft should walk the walk if they are going to talk the talk …recently (a month ago) a good friend of mine..a contract worker for MS was offered a job working for the mother ship. He did all of the paperwork was given a great pay plan and a bunch of stock w/ tiered vesting and was told that based upon his already having proven himself he would fly thru the rest of the process. …not so… his start date was moved twice causing him financial pressures and then when he was told to go to orientation about 1/2 way through it his name was called out loud and told to go see so and so at the side of the room where he was told that he couldn’t be there was publicly stripped of his badge etc. and told he had failed the Bck ground check …after this public humiliation in front of 100+ of his peers he immed went to the security people involved and was asked for more information about his "crime" …ahhh you say …a criminal …not really 5 years before he had been arrested for assault and the charges were then dropped plea bargain trial …no nothing …just a bad arrest that someone fixed before it cost him a whole bunch of money to fight …so he says …"there was no crime to tell you about " they then told him that” Microsoft would like to give you the opportunity to explain your crime in your own words and tell us what happened” once again he explained that there was no crime and nothing therefore to explain.  He said he didn’t have to tell there story to a judge or jury and there just wasn’t anything to tell at all and that’s what charges were dropped they then asked him for his tax returns for the last five years which included income from his wife and other private information.  Long  story short the information they had received from their background check people was not accurate and when he tried to clear it up  so that it would be accurate he was treated like a criminal stripped of his dream job and booted out the door tell me how that works with what you’re saying about honesty and integrity?

  13. HeatherLeigh says:

    All offers are contingent upon the successful completion of a background check. Since I don’t know your friend, it wouldn’t make sense to discuss it here. But it sounds like he was given the opportunity to clarify htings. I hope he has successfully done so.