Why You Shouldn't Lie on Your Resume (and what happens to those who do)

Published: May 07, 2012

 Career Readiness       Interviewing       Job Search       Resumes & Cover Letters       

"I'll just put it down. Who's going to find out anyway, right?"

If you ever needed a reminder that embellishing or fudging an item on your résumé is a bad idea, you might want to read up on the furor that has overtaken Yahoo! CEO Scott Thompson.

Hired as CEO in January this year, Thompson is at the center of a storm over a misstatement regarding his education: his résumé states that he has a degree in accounting and computer science from Stonehill College.  The reality: it's only a degree in accounting.

Given that Mr. Thompson—now 56—appears to have attended college in the late 1970s, one can be forgiven for wondering whether it makes a difference, especially given how much the field of computer science has developed since then. That's certainly the position the board at Yahoo! are trying to get away with taking; a recent statement says that the discrepancy "in no way alters that fact that Mr. Thompson is a highly qualified executive with a successful track record leading large consumer technology companies."

However true the point about Mr. Thompson's competence may be, the issue is still being used against him by an activist group of investors who want to see him removed as CEO—and may yet be successful. The issue—aside from the fact that they believe Thompson is the wrong man to lead Yahoo!—is that it doesn't appear that this is the first time Thompson has made the mistake: CNN Money points out that Thompson's executive bios in a number of roles have all contained the misstatement—a fact that points to a pattern of behavior rather than a one-time error. 

And therein lies the chief danger of fudging any item on your résumé: no matter that "everyone else does it"—getting caught can ruin your reputation and leave you at the mercy of any colleague who decides to do a little digging into your background.

In that spirit, then, we’ve done some digging of our own, and come up with a few other examples of characters who have embellished their accomplishments and lived to regret it.

1. Joe Biden

Sure, the man has risen to become Vice President of the nation, but back in 1988 he had a chance to go one better. Just one problem: a misstatement about graduating in the "top half" of his law school class, plus a couple of allegations of plagiarism, put paid to his bid to seal the Democratic Presidential candidacy.

2. Marilee Jones

It's one thing to bluff an academic background in the corporate world. It's another thing entirely to do it in academia. And yet Marilee Jones somehow managed to rise to the position of Dean of Admissions at MIT before it was discovered that she had no undergraduate degree. As soon as it was discovered, however, Jones had another unwelcome addition to make to her résumé—an early resignation date.

3. Jeffrey Archer

What's better than a hint of scandal? A hint of scandal that attaches itself to someone whose full title is "The Right Honourable Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare." Jeffrey Archer has long been one of the most colorful figures on the political scene in the U.K.—not least for his ability to churn out best-selling political thrillers as a lucrative sideline. And yet allegations that he has trumped up his achievements have followed him for much of his career. According to a 2001 profile in the Daily Telegraph, as a young man, Archer "appears to have attended a short course in physical education in America. This would appear on subsequent job and college application forms as a full degree." Not content with that, he applied—and gained acceptance to—Oxford University citing an "FIFPC" among his accomplishments. Some 30 years later, long after his rise to prominence, it was discovered that FIFPC was "a body-building club, advertised through newspapers and which you paid to join to help develop muscles through home exercise."

While the effects on Archer's career may have been positive—he remains a peer of the British realm—it should be noted that he did spend a period of time in jail for (you guessed it) committing perjury during a libel case.

4. Adam Wheeler

Wheeler is a particularly brazen example of an academic faker. Having been accused of plagiarism while at Bowdoin College, he did what any right-thinking person would do: applied to Harvard, faking his résumé to gain admittance. And he might have gotten away with it, had it not been for a suspicious professor looking more deeply into Wheeler's application for a Rhodes scholarship. The result: Wheeler was sentenced to a suspended prison sentence of two and a half years in 2010. But some people just can't seem to quit when they're ahead: Wheeler violated the terms of his probation by representing himself as a Harvard grad on his résumé in 2011, a breach for which he was jailed.

The Bottom Line: Really? I don't need to spell it out at this point…right? But do feel free to throw in your own examples in the comments field below.


Phil Stott, Vault.com


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