Sunday, June 10, 2018

Should fabricated credentials result in dismissal?

In its 2017 survey of 4,000 human resources, recruiting, security, and management professionals, HireRight, an employee screening service reported that it found that 85 percent of respondents had found a lie or misrepresentation on an employee's resume or job application. Five years earlier, 66 percent of respondents reported making such discoveries.

Back in 2002, I wrote about how the then president of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) had resigned because she had fabricated the earning of a Ph.D. Neither the degree nor the reported subject of study was a requirement for her to have done her job. Sixteen years ago, I cited Automatic Data Processing's (ADP) study of employee background verifications, which found that 41 percent "of education records showed a difference between the information provided by an applicant and that reported by the educational institution."

Granted, both HireRight and ADP sell services to assist employers in ferreting out falsehoods in prospective employees' applications and resumes. It's in their best interest to raise concerns among hiring managers who might look to either company to help them separate truth from fiction among job application details.

But there's nothing to suggest anything is hinky about these findings. People go far beyond "embellishing" and outright lie -- sometimes in small ways, sometimes with whoppers -- about their accomplishments. And the percentage of people who are discovered to have done so is approaching staggering.

What's an employer to do when such lies are discovered? The USOC president lost her position as have other high-profile employees. But loss of employment is not always the response.

A recent case in Boston, reported in The BostonGlobe, featured the story of a state government employee who had been suspended and demoted after it was discovered that she apparently incorrectly listed having earned a master's degree. An advanced degree was not required for the job from which she was demoted nor the one she had held previously. Nevertheless, the same alleged misrepresentation was made when she had initially been hired more than a decade ago. As I write, she continues to hold her job. The university from which the employee claims to have a master's degree reports it has no record of such a degree being earned.

If a state agency or any prospective employer wants to get a sense of the integrity of its applicants, a simple way to do so would be to verify a prospective employee's stated credentials. It's not a given that an employee who would lie on a resume will lie on the job, but not hiring people who lie to get a job seems a fairly low ethical bar.

If the state employee lied about having earned an academic degree when she was originally hired, she was wrong. If the state agency believed the fabrication of a graduate degree was enough to rescind a promotion, the right thing also would be to evaluate whether a lie had been committed on the original job application and decide if it's appropriate to keep an employee on who appears to have misrepresented herself from the get-go. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


1 comment:

Azalea Annie said...

Since collected data from HR, security, recruiting, and management employees shows that 85% of applications and/or resumes contains lies or misrepresentation (close cousin to lies), why don't these people do the simple thing: Verify!

How long does it take for a valid school school to verify a degree?

Ho long does it take to identify a diploma mill? We all know (or should know) that there are "schools" that sell really good-looking diplomas for a few hundred dollars and the "student" has to only pay the fee to get the "diploma" by mail.

Verification by those involved in the hiring process would cut the number of liars down - way down if the verifiers give due diligence and do their job.

How can we feel sure diligent verification would reduce the number? Because the lack of diligent verification has increased the lies/ misrepresentations from 66% five years ago to 85% in 2017!

Since firing someone who has fabricated credentials can lead to lawsuits, the solution to finding out that the employee's credentials are invalid is simple: verify before making the job offer.

In simple language: the people in HR/security/recruiting should do their jobs. Credentials should be verified BEFORE the candidate gets to the final stage(s) in the employment process.