Resumes and Bios, Embellishments and Lies

An interesting thing happened to me the other day. I was conducting some research on a mid-size private company and I discovered something very disturbing regarding the CEO’s bio. The CEO of the firm, on their “Executive Team” website page, was lying about his educational credentials.

As I was reading the bio on the company’s website, what caught my eye was that this CEO indicated he attended the same college I attended and the same major, electrical engineering. This naturally caught my eye. However, his bio went on to say that he transferred out of that college and graduated from another college and it stated that he graduated with top honors and “first in his class.” What I found odd was that the school he mentioned he graduated from sounded “familiar” but I did not really know it – and being in executive recruiting for more than 20 years, I would say that I am reasonably familiar with most U.S. colleges.

He goes further by assigning a 3-letter acronym/abbreviation to represent the school name and to make it appear “official.” He uses that 3-letter acronym twice in his bio – so I know there is no mistake – this is intentional. I couldn’t help myself – I had to run this school name and the abbreviation he used through Google. Google generated only 3 results of the school name – all were his bio! This school does not even exist and, as far as I can tell, never existed. I googled a variety of combinations of the school name to make sure I was not mistaken. This President and CEO fabricated his degree along with the school name.

Some time ago, the CEO of Yahoo, Scott Thompson, was caught “padding” his bio and resume which stated he had a degree in computer science and accounting – when in fact he did not have a degree in computer science at all. Well bye-bye Scotty!

So why would people, who are already successful, allow such lies to continue? Because once these fabrications hit the public cyberspace domain, they are digitally seared into society and almost impossible to unwind. So people cross their fingers and roll with it, hoping they don’t get caught.

The fact is that resume embellishment and outright fabrication is at an all-time high. This is no surprise and you would expect this in an economy where unemployment and under employment are very high. But when it impacts you and your business directly – well that can be a serious problem. Validating a candidate’s claims can be difficult. Companies are concerned about being sued for slander as a result of giving negative references regarding a former (or current) employee’s performance. Many companies no longer allow their employees to give references and the policy in HR is to simply acknowledge the employment dates of the former employee being referenced. In addition, validating a degree and a diploma date can, in most cases, only be done in writing and with the written permission of the former student. It has become extremely difficult to quickly validate whether someone is telling the truth regarding his/her education or specific experience. It has become a game of “Catch Me If You Can”. Yes, there is a risk of getting caught – and many people are willing to take that risk for the reward of an opportunity they feel would be unreachable to them without the embellishment or lies.

This is why the interview process has become that much more important. There are many strategies the interviewer can use in order to obtain the truth. While the details of these strategies are beyond the scope of this post, they include “how” the interview is conducted and some of the specific questions that are asked. In addition, the reference checking strategy and process is critical. I know I just mentioned to you that it is difficult to check references because of HR policies. But that just makes the case for a more aggressive and sophisticated way of checking references. Our vetting success relies heavily on our interview technique and our reference checking process.

As you can imagine, I have many stories to share of embellishment and fabrication. Unfortunately we are now in a world where what you see written in front of you may not be true – and this is a fact at all levels. Suffice it to say that we are in a time where anyone can write just about anything they want in a LinkedIn profile or on a resume. Your company needs a robust validation process, both post-hire and pre-hire to avoid these costly and embarrassing hiring mistakes.

About the Author

Joe Ziccardi

Joe Ziccardi is currently the Chief Talent Officer and Director of Human Resources Services for Alternative Recruiting, a consulting firm and service provider in talent acquisition solutions, executive search, and performance optimization. With more than two decades of experience in providing talent and HR related services, Mr. Ziccardi brings extensive knowledge and insight to the talent issues that face small to mid-size enterprises.

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