Monday, February 20, 2006


Lying about your credentials on your resume is wrong, there's little question about that. It's also not very smart.

George C. Deutsch, a 24-year-old NASA public-affairs officer, resigned in early February after Texas A&M University confirmed that he had not graduated from the university with a journalism degree, as he had claimed in his resume -- only the latest evidence of the way such fabrications can backfire. If knowing that lying is wrong weren't enough to convince people not to inflate their credentials, you'd think that the consequences of being caught would be.

But what about when an employee deflates his resume? Is there anything wrong with understating one's credentials?

Several years ago Leesa Dupree of Brea, Calif., hired a financial analyst for a position that required a great deal of repetitive work on weekly and monthly reports. It was a position for which he seemed capable and well-suited.

Shortly after he started, the analyst had an idea about a new line of business for the company. Dupree was not enthusiastic about his idea, but they agreed that he would work up a proposal on his own time and submit it to top management for consideration.

Soon the analyst started missing deadlines, however, and the quality of the reports he turned in was so poor that Dupree had to rewrite several of them. After looking at his time sheets, she realized that he was spending 25 hours a week researching the new-business proposal, which he was supposed to be doing only on his own time.

"It was about this time that I found out that my analyst held a Ph.D in economics," Dupree says. "This had been omitted from his resume because he considered it irrelevant."

When he pitched his new-business idea to top management, she reports, he got a cool reception, and thereafter his performance suffered.

"He wasn't happy," she says, "and I wasn't happy with his work."

Eventually she encouraged him to resign, which he did.

"I probably wouldn't have hired him had I known about his Ph.D," Dupree says, "at least not without some discussion of whether he would be happy with the nature of his job."

Was he justified in leaving the Ph.D off his resume?

The analyst likely guessed -- correctly, as it turns out -- that, if his resume had included his degree, he would have been pegged as overqualified for the position. But withholding that information prevented his prospective employer from accurately gauging what kind of fit he might bein the organization. It wasn't an outright lie, but he certainly wasn't as forthcoming as any employer would want a job candidate to be.

If he left that credential off his resume in hope of gaining a foothold in the company, even in a job he didn't really want, he was misleading hisemployer. Sure, advancing in a company is a good goal, but most of us accept that advancement requires excelling at the job we're hired to do.

The right thing would have been for him to include the Ph.D on his resume. If during his job interview Dupree had questioned whether the job could hold his interest, he could have made the case that it would. If he couldn't convince her, or himself, then it was likely not the right job for him.


Anonymous said...

The real issue here is NOT that the analyst left his PhD off his resume, it is that he accepted a job that he really wasn't interested in AND more importantly, he used company time to explore his new-business idea. When the Technology Bubble burst a few years ago and hundreds of firms closed, many Harvard MBA's found themselves out of work. Now they find that illustrious degree is actually working against them, intimidating prospective managers who would otherwise consider them for a lower-level position than they'd held in the past. So now some of them are leaving the degree off their resumes and getting more returned phone calls.

yawningdog said...

When I was trying to leave one job in computer support and get a better one, I had the world's shortest career move. I left an architecture office and took a job at a law firm. I had that job for a whopping 11 days. (I stepped is a huge pile of office politics and got out - fast) I went back to my head hunter and he got me an interview and I took the job. The head hunter didn't tell the new employer about the law firm gig/mistake and I was stuck with his lie of ommission. I was never happy or comfortable about it, but coming clean at the interview probably would have cost me the job. Atfer working there and making a good friend of my boss, I told him the whole story. He agreed that would have made him cautious but willing to give me a chance, but it would have made his boss and HR's to veto me.

Anonymous said...

This case study is about lying about one's credentials. However, regardless of the circumstances, lying is lying and difficult to rationalize in all but unusual circumstances.

The OED defines a "lie" as:
1. Make an intentionally false statement.
2. Present a false statement; convey a false impression; be deceptive.
3. Utter a falsehood; say or allege something falsely.

Clearly, lying is more than saying or writing something false (def'n 1). One would assume something as important as a PhD would be on a resume'. Therefore, omitting this important fact was clearly conveying a false impression, being deceptive, and alleging something falsely (by omission).

Are there cases where lying may be ethical? Perhaps when the truth may do more harm than good. For example, telling a person in hospital how bad he may really be when in fact telling a lie may improve his condition. That's a tough judgement call and treads on thin ice.

In the case of job searching involving resume's, interviews, references, etc. one is unethical when withholding any pertainent information that that the employer is legally entitled to know that may be reasonably expected to substantially impact the employer.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree that if the job seeker is interested in the lower level job then leaving the advanced degree off the resume will increase the amount of interviews. I have had a similar experience with my law degree. Despite what I have been told about the law degree being a versatile degree for use in business and other areas, it made my non-legal job search virtually impossible. When it was on the application, I would rarely get any interviews. Even when I did get one, the interviewer always seemed concerned that I would leave them to practice law even though I have been licensed for 12 years and have never practiced. I am not sure why I went to law school and am thankful that I did not take out any student loans to do it either. The bottom line is that some things are impossible to explain away, and if the degree is not relevant, I would definitely leave it off.