Lying on your resume is a disaster waiting to happen. On Sunday, May 12, 2012 it was all over the news: Yahoo CEO, Scott Thompson, was fired for lying on his resume, claiming he had a degree in computer science. He has a degree in accounting and that should have been good enough, but he embellished his resume when he applied to Yahoo and claimed to have slightly better credentials than he actually has.
This is a very public shaming for a very public person. He shamed himself and he shamed Yahoo. He should have told the truth and Yahoo should have looked him up on Google and they should have carefully verified all of his professional and academic claims. He was applying for CEO for heavens sake!
Thompson spent just four months as CEO of Yahoo and will probably never have a job that good again. He may be able to parlay this fiasco into a book and a trip to the Oprah Show... Oh, but wait, the Oprah Show is gone and no one can find her on her new network... maybe Steven Colbert will cover it.
If Thompson is smart, he may figure out how to reinvent himself. If not, he will spiral down into oblivion. He may get to spend some time at a federal prison too. He lied on his resume and he lied on a bio for an SEC filing. That is unforgivable.
American corporations are in no mood to tolerate lying or indiscretions of any kind. They are under the microscopes of the SEC, their shareholders, and the press. The SEC is now looking into Thompson and the Yahoo share price dropped on the news. HP CEO, Mark Hurd was fired last year for sexually harassing an underling. Best Buy CEO, Brian Dunn was fired last month for an inappropriate relationship with a female employee. JP Morgan’s CIO, Ina Drew was fired last week for engaging in highly risky investing - the likes of which drove the recession that has lasted for four long years. Where do these people come from?
According to a former Yahoo manager (who did not wish to be named): "Trust is one of the most important assets an individual has. Trust is earned. It is essential to professional success. When people lie, it destroys trust. Trust goes to the core values of honesty and integrity. Once the trust is betrayed, your career will be on a downward spiral. No one will ally with someone who is not trustworthy."
Lying always has its consequences. In the age of Google lying will catch up with you.
Harvard student Adam Wheeler was arrested and charged with larceny and identity fraud after he lied on his Harvard application and on his resume, claiming that he authored several books among other things. He plead guilty to all 20 counts against him and was required to make restitution to Harvard for the grants he was awarded.
MIT Dean of Admission, Marilee Jones, was fired after 28 years for lying on her resume. She didn’t earn the degrees that she claimed on her resume. Someone finally checked.
People frequently get caught because they make enemies in the workplace. It is usually about politics, money, or competition. That’s what happened to the Yahoo CEO. A large stockholder had an issue, and there was a struggle for power and control. People with issues tend to do research.
Other times people get caught because their skills and talents don’t match the demands of the job. One of the famous "Peter Principles" is that managers tend to "rise to their own level of incompetence." With a phony resume, sometimes they rise well beyond their "incompetence."
FEMA Director Michael "heck of a job Brownie" Brown contributed to the national disgrace of Hurricane Katrina. Brown lied on his resume, claiming that he managed emergency services for a city in Oklahoma and that he was a professor at a university that had never heard of him (Time Magazine). If he had been honest when he applied for the job, the FEMA Director chosen would probably have been someone who knew what to do when the City of New Orleans was drowning.
How can people get away with this for so many years? It is not hard to understand. If you are moving up or across organizations, people assume that you were vetted properly before your last move. Some information is hard to verify, and if there is no reason to suspect something is wrong, who is going to go digging? Yahoo assumed that PayPal had vetted Scott Thompson when they hired him to be president of the company... Oops.
People who are willing to lie to get ahead are going to have good "impression management" skills. They are good talkers, like the Leonardo Decaprio character in the movie "Catch Me If You Can". He was an imposter who knew how to talk his way out of a tight spot.
We like to think that successful candidates are vetted and tested before they are hired. What we learned from the Yahoo debacle is that the best person doesn’t always win. When the liar is hired, they are denying all of the other more qualified candidates their rightful opportunity.
If you lie because you are ambitious and want to get ahead, your ambition will put you in competition with others sooner or later, and someone will figure it out, especially if you are nasty to people on the way up.
If you lie to cover up some problem in the past, it will come up the first time you make an enemy or some big mistake. If you screw up somehow, it is a lot easier to get rid of you if there is some lie you told just waiting to be uncovered.
People make mistakes in life or have career setbacks all of the time. We actually learn more from our failures than we learn from our successes. The only way to successfully move forward is to emphasize your strengths and to be honest about your past. You do not have to advertise your flaws or failings, but you do not want to engage in a cover-up.
Build your resume on the solid ground of your accomplishments. Just tell the truth and you’ll do fine.