Sunday, April 08, 2007


In a routine check of resumes at your business, you discover that one of your employees has listed on his resume a degree that he has not really earned. He attended the college in question, but left while still a few credits short of receiving the degree. He is a star employee who regularly outperforms his colleagues, and the degree itself is not needed for the job he's doing at the company.

Do you give him a chance to correct the mistake on his resume? Do you insist that he complete the credits he needs to complete the degree? Do you fire him immediately for falsifying information on the resume he used to get the job at your company? Or do you take some other action?

Send your thoughts to or post them here by clicking on "post a comment" or "comments" below. Please include your name, your hometown and where you read this column. Readers' comments may appear in an upcoming "The Right Thing" newspaper column.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business" (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to or to "The Right Thing," New York Times Syndicate, 609 Greenwich St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10014-3610.


Anonymous said...

If an applicant will lie about their credentials, it is likely they would lie about a critical project. Liars can't be trusted in business, you should get rid of the offender.

Wendy Hagmaier
Long Beach, CA

Anonymous said...


Assuming that you are talking about a small business where the employer personally interviewed the man for the job, it seems likely that the employer said (or at least thought) something at the interview like “I see you graduated from State U. While a college degree isn’t required for this job, it does show a lot of hard work and commitment, which are qualities we are looking for here.” If the applicant didn’t say then that he “didn’t quite make it” - for whatever legitimate reasons - it would have been a knowing confirmation on his part that the “mistake” on his resume was indeed a lie. The applicant surely knew that showing a degree on a resume would normally give him a competitive advantage for a job that didn’t require one.

But to answer your question on the basis of the information provided, I think the employer should call the employee into his office, express appreciation for his excellent work, and then gently ask him to explain the resume discrepancy. A lot would depend on his reaction. If he gets mad at the employer’s “snooping” and doesn’t satisfactorily explain himself, that would likely result in a different course of action than if he apologetically explained that he was desperately needed at home because of a parent’s terminal illness that prevented him from completing his last semester. That would still leave the employer with a trust question (some people are excellent liars), so the employer should probably check the employee’s work more closely - for a while, anyway, depending on the nature of it.

This seems like another example of an unlikely hypothetical ethics question. Since a degree wasn’t required (maybe the guy was a manual laborer, clerk, or salesman) and he was a star performer, why would the employer go to the trouble of checking on his degree? As I said in my January 17 comment on your blog re the train engineer’s dilemma, “Anyway, there are so many "real life" ethics questions, I would recommend sticking with them.” There are just too many shades of grey in ethical situations where we lack sufficient information to make a sound judgment. It’s tough enough when decent people have “all” the information available to them and, because of their individual life experiences, intelligence, and prejudices, they still disagree.

Phil Clutts
Harrisburg, N.C.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jeffrey,

You have two questions: The first is if the boss discovers a star employee listed a non-existent qualification on the resume. Assuming the qualification is a major falsehood and amounts to listing a degree that was not earned, I think the boss has no other option but to terminate the employee. Other lesser "fudging" can be overlooked. Examples of major falsehoods on resumes recently have been coaches at name institutions lying on the resume at major universities such as Notre Dame, in which case the person withdrew the application to coach and later became an assistant in the NFL. Anything major on a resume shows a poor character trait that no college or company should want to be a part of and indicates that the potential employee would be the type of employee who might play other such games if hired.

The second example was the person involved in a "live-in" arrangement, who monetarily supported her boyfriend, who later "jilted" his partner. As I take the traditional view of "live-in's" as immoral, as far as I am concerned, whatever results when the couple "breaks up", in this case because the cad found another paramour, both members of the original arrangement deserve whatever unhappiness happens. The larger concern in society is that now couples of all ages want to "live together" (playing at marriage), rather than committing to marriage, thereby contributing to the overall lowering of moral standards, in what should be the most important committment in any person's life. I may be exhibiting an old-fashioned moral outlook, but one must stand for the right thing, as your column title implies. I have no sympathy for couples who are unwilling to commit their arrangement to marriage and whatever financial, moral or mental results, well, that is their tough luck. In their heart, they knew they were playing an unfair game, so when things go "bust", that is their tough luck.

I clearly belong to the old fashioned viewpoint who sees things in life as making decisions according to following the biblical moral path of "rights and wrongs". Although common usage of situation ethics has blurred the lines here, most people are well aware of "right and wrong" and any departure in whatever life experience does not allow making decisions based on your own moral code.

Charlie Seng
Lancaster, SC

Anonymous said...

Honesty is a two-way street, and both the employer and employee should be truthful in their dealsings with one another. I agree with the earlier post that mentioned giving credit for good work and asking for clarification from the employee.

If that had occurred with my husband, years of frustration and suffering would have been averted. For many years he would start off well in a new job, then several weeks later, for no apparent reason, almost overnight things would go sour and he would leave the job. This went on for almost his entire working life. Twenty-five years later, he left a job after 3 months of deteriorating relations with his employer who mentioned that he had "misrepresented himself." That clue helped him realize, finally, what had been happening all those years with employer after employer. As a young man he had changed his name, but hadn't thought to notify the military or his university. So neither had any record of him when queried. (He has since corrected the files). If any of his employers had been honest in their actions, he would have realized the problem much sooner and not had such a damaged career.

Leslie Ray
Portland, OR

Anonymous said...

If the job posted requested a resume, then it is assumed the honesty of the resume is important. Therefore, the applicant is held responsible for the information he/she shares. If the resume holds no importance, then why ask for it? Lying is unacceptable and because the person is doing a stellar job is not an excuse. The next person could be an excellent and honest.

Unknown said...

Here's a different scenario...what would you do if you found out that your Masters degree obtained in 2002 was never sent from the university to The National Student Clearing House? You have had it on your resume for 5 YEARS!

Anonymous said...

Here's a different scenario...what would you do if you found out that your Masters degree obtained in 2002 was never sent from the university to The National Student Clearing House? You have had it on your resume for 5 YEARS!

Anonymous said...

Charles Mitchell has worked as an artist, designer, illustrator and writer in publishing and television. He won the first ever UK Business Sponsorship of the Arts award for his work for Crown Wallcoverings. As an academic, he has been an artist in residence at Sussex University, has undertaken overseas arts consultancies for the British Council and has been a Visiting Professor at Delhi College of Art in India. He has worked in UK art colleges for more than 30 years, most recently at Cumbria Institute of the Arts where he is Vice-Principal, Academic. During 2006 he has curated a new exhibition Daffodils, featuring the responses of contemporary artists to Wordsworth’s famous poem. That exhibition is touring in the UK until the Spring of 2006 before it goes to the Irma Stern Museum in Cape Town. During 2004/ 2005 he has been a member of HEFCE’s working party looking at intellectual property rights and e-learning and is a frequent speaker at conferences on issues relating to e-learning in art and design.

What exactly and when did Charles Mitchell design, illustrate, write, publish and do for television?

What year did he with then Business Sponsorship of the Arts award?

Beyond Cumbria Institute of the Arts, which UK art colleges has he worked for?

What was his contribution to HEFCE’s working party looking at intellectual property rights?

As a frequent speaker at conferences on issues relating to e-learning in art and design, what papers has he published and when?

When was he an artist in residence at Sussex University?