When searching for a job, there are a lot of things that can go wrong. You can stutter during a cold call, get lost on the way to the interview or even forget the name of the hiring manager. These are all honest mistakes and likely can be overcome with hard work and perseverance. Lying, though, can be irredeemable.
“The worst thing you can do in an interview process is to lie,” said Lorne Epstein, author of You’re Hired. “All you have at work is trust, but once you lose it that way, it’s over.”
Scott Thompson, the recently ousted CEO of Yahoo, is learning that lesson the hard way.
Earlier this month, he resigned when it was revealed that he forged an entry on his resume, claiming he had a computer science degree from Stonehill College when, in fact, that degree wasn’t even given out there until two years later. Thompson later said that his cancer diagnosis was part of his reason for leaving Yahoo, but the damage had already been done to his reputation and to the integrity of the company — not to mention all its shareholders.
“I don’t know who would hire this guy again,” Epstein said. “It’s a horrible reason to get fired. … When people do things that are egregious, criminal acts and lying scare people the most.”
Epstein works with college students and speaks to groups about the nuances of interviewing — all with the goal of helping people get the job that’s the right fit for them. Through his experiences, though, he’s seen some alarming behavior from job seekers.
Vicky Phillips operates The Diploma Mill Police, a free service that protects consumers from claims about fake colleges or degree and diplomas. “Our studies of consumer and employer behavior on the issue of falsifying education documents and credentials show that the practice of listing inaccurate or fake educational backgrounds is fairly common,” she said. “One survey we did in 2009 with site users resulted in 80 percent reporting that they would lie about their educational backgrounds if it meant they were being held back from a job that they personally believed they were qualified for.”
The problem isn’t only prevalent at entry levels, either. Phillips said there are plenty of top executives, like Thompson, who turn to fudging — if not outright counterfeiting — their resumes.
“We took a peek at resumes on LinkedIn in 2010 and found a shocking number of high-level career officials publicly listing degrees from fake colleges,” Phillips said. “This is not minor fudging on one’s major as Scott (Thompson) did, but all out deliberate buying of fake educational packets — diplomas and transcripts — and then using them boldly and publicly to secure and advance in employment.” She said the driving force behind this disturbing behavior comes from the simple fact that people don’t think they’ll get caught. Also there’s tremendous potential upside as extra degrees often warrant higher salaries.
Epstein noted how cultural changes and the erosion of loyalty within the American workforce have led us to where we are now — a world where our business leaders and politicians feel that lying is fair game if it means a better chance of getting ahead.
“It’s a deeper cultural problem,” he said. “We don’t live in a society where honor is stressed as much as it should be.” The incident with Thompson could spark a change in thinking among desperate job seekers or at least prompt hiring managers to apply some due diligence, but it probably won’t, Epstein said.
According to reports, Thompson will walk away from this mess with $7 million for his 130-day stint at the helm of Yahoo.