Lying on your resume is never a good idea. Just ask the ex-CEO of Yahoo!

People are amazing. Truly amazing. And sometimes they even suggest they’re more amazing than they really are. All this talk of the CEO of Yahoo with an “inadvertent” error on his resume. Give me a break. He included an extra degree that he never got. And it got there on accident? Really? And now that he’s so high profile, it’s turned a little white lie into a big, and very visible, dismissal. Whoops.

This is why you should never, never, never lie on your resume (oh, and perhaps the concept of being an honest person might be a good reason as well). The Wall Street Journal published a story about this – and then went on to mention other key execs who put things on their resume that weren’t exactly the truth. One of them was an executive for a search firm. What are these people thinking?

I remember when I was knee-deep and about a year into my job search for a VP of Marketing role at a technology company.  Many of the positions were stipulating that you had to have a BS in Engineering and an MBA. My business school class had been full of Engineering grads getting their MBA, and no offense to them, but they didn’t have a clue about marketing. The one marketing class we had was the equivalent of about one month of my Marketing undergrad. In short, they knew nothing about marketing. Yet, it was people like them who were getting the roles over me.

Would it have been easy for me to “inadvertently” alter my resume to show I had an engineering degree just to get in the game?  Sure.  Had that thought ever occurred to me? Not at all. In fact, the idea only came to me a few weeks ago when all this talk about Scott Thompson at Yahoo surfaced. I’m not certain what possesses one to embellish on their resume. Is it desperation? Is it insecurity? Maybe a little bit of both.

At the end of the day, was Scott a bad CEO? Was he incapable of leading teams? Was he incapable of running businesses? Based on his track record, it doesn’t appear so.

But, at some point in his life, he probably thought that a degree in computer science would be more respected by technologists than one in accounting. Did it get him in the game? Probably. Without it, would he be where he’d been? Probably not.

I know plenty of accountants who are great leaders. And I know plenty of technologists who are not. And vice versa. Does the degree you selected when you were of voting age, and therefore, mature enough to make a decision that could possibly affect the rest of your career, matter?

Where does the blame lie? Is it in the person who changed his or her background to fit the role, or in the hiring team who decided that you could only be successful if you had a particular background? Perhaps the blame lies in both.

Maybe what we need is a little more acceptance. A little more acceptance that, when hiring, you should set some criteria, yet be open to the possibility that the best candidate might be the one that doesn’t have what you thought you needed.  But what they do have is a persona that will fit the culture of the company.

And for those in the job search, if you feel like your resume isn’t getting you in the game, then perhaps you should quit flaunting it. Quit sending it to everyone you know. Quit using it as a crutch to get in the game only to be disgruntled when it takes you out of the game before you ever get to bat.

Do I feel bad for Scott? Actually I do. I feel bad for anyone who feels like their background needs to be altered for them to be “interesting” to another party. Maybe it was insecurity. Desperation. Stupidity. Maybe all of the above. More than any of these though, it was wrong. And hopefully this will be a very visible lesson to remind others to be who they are. And if you don’t think who you are is good enough, then make the changes you need to make in yourself – not just on your resume.

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2 Responses

  1. Great post. Two words…A-MEN!

    Even in a business environment that tends to define a candidate based match vs. a written position spec (rather than who they are, what they have accomplished and how much value they could add to the enterprise), there is NO substitute for integrity and honesty on matters of this nature.

    The bigger shame is not so much how Scott Thompson got called on his transgression, it’s how so much of corporate America fails to act with integrity either as a hiring manager or as a candidate.

  2. great blog and information, i was just out doing some research. I heard about that story, I would never lie on a resume =(

    have a good one, Will

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