Scott Thompson, who was hired to be Yahoo’s CEO in January, inaccurately stated his academic credentials on his resume. Apparently, Thompson indicated that he had received a B.A. in accounting and computer science from Stonehill College at a time when the college didn’t grant B.A. degrees in computer science. Yahoo reacted by calling the misstatement "an inadvertent error," but has since begun an investigation.
Thompson is not the first high profile executive to fudge credentials on a resume. Michael Brown, President George W. Bush’s appointee to the head of FEMA, was found to have lied about being a professor and working as a director of a nursing home. But the news highlights a problem that all organizations face when hiring.
Beth A. Livingston, assistant professor of human resource studies at Cornell University, said she suspects thousands of people around the country who hold jobs have presented resumes that were less than truthful. But she added that a little embellishment is very different from making up new information.
"I think the distinction has to be made by what we mean by fudging ... You're always encouraged to make your resume put you in the best light possible. It will always be biased towards the positive," she said. "There is no standard format, so you can present however much or little information that you choose."
According to Livingston, companies receive so many applications they need a quick way to whittle down seemingly never-ending piles of resumes. People feel pressured to add untruthful experiences to their resume to even make the first cut.
"It's one of the things that's most problematic for me. I'm always looking at: 'Does someone have the knowledge, the skill and the ability to do a job.' Unfortunately in today's day an age, you see a lot of companies using proxies, using short cuts to make those decisions, thinking, 'Well if they have this degree, they must have the knowledge, skill and the ability,' assuming those without it do not," she explained.
She said that double checking details like college degrees are low on the list of priorities for hirers, especially for high-profile jobs like CEO.
"What you're probably going to see much more often is people asking you to come in and talk about your visions for a company and your ability to weave the company, and whether or not you have a certain degree is really not high up on the list of priorities to double check," she said.
Livingston's biggest question is why Thompson felt it necessary to lie about his credentials.
"What was the impetus behind putting that on his degree? Because obviously he's proven himself to have skills and abilities that would lead to job performance much more so than earning a degree. We have no research that says that certain majors lead you to better job performance than others," she said.
How do you vet prospective employees and how do you guard against resume padding? Have you ever found out that one of your employees lied on his or her resume? Should someone be fired for failing to provide an accurate resume? Have you ever padded your own resume? Were you found out, or did you sneak under the radar and get the job? There’s a fine line between promoting oneself and padding a resume, but where is it exactly?
Beth A. Livingston, Assistant Professor, Human Resource Studies at the International and Labor Relations School, Cornell University