College degrees are very valuable credentials. They are tickets to further education and highly-prized commodities in the quest for a job. College degrees have been in the news for the past week, and not in a good way. This article discusses the follow-up part of the college degree - what you are allowed to do with it, after you've got it.

If You Don't Got It, Don't Flaunt It

One of the key uses of a college degree is getting a job. Once you receive your diploma, you can list your degree and the date without any estimation or expectation or anticipation. It's yours, and you may proudly claim it. What you can't do without violating ethical standards and possibly the law, is claim a degree that you were not awarded.

Whatever type of credentials you have a reason to share - whether educational background or work history - you're not supposed to lie about them, but apparently, people do lie, and frequently. Sadly, "How to Ferret Out Instances of Resume Padding and Fraud," in Compensation & Benefits for Law Offices, June 2006, reported that more than 40 percent of resumes tested in a comprehensive study had lies in the work history section.

One person who hasn't been straightforward about his credentials and has been in the news recently is the CEO of Yahoo, Scott Thompson, who is listed as having a bachelor's degree in computer science from Stonehill College that he actually did not earn in both his official company biography and in regulatory filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Thompson explains that he didn't provide Yahoo with a resume, and that a Yahoo employee picked up the information about his "degree" in a resume created by an executive search firm in about 2005 when Thompson was in interviews for a job at eBay, and that's how it got onto the website and into the SEC filings. But he did sign the filings . . .

And this version of the facts does not explain why, according to Kara Swisher of All Things Digital, Thompson did not correct a reference to his "computer science degree" in an 2009 interview conducted by Tech Nation when the interviewer referred to it.

The Truth Will Out

Besides the fact that one shouldn't lie and that claiming credentials you don't have can get you in hot water when you're expected to do the things you would have learned to do if you'd actually gotten the credential, who in this day and age is actually naive enough to believe that with so much information so readily available, nobody will find out? No longer are the records of who did what when in paper files that grow yellow with age and eventually crumble. Today, more and more records are digitized, available, and accessible to anyone who has a computer and knows how to search.

For example, Kara Swisher turned up the fact that, although Thompson did take some computer science courses at Stonehill, Stonehill did not even have a computer science degree when Thompson was there. Oops!

The Results

But even if it was a mistake, something like this can have far-reaching results, results that a CEO owes it to his company not to involve them in. The external results for Yahoo and Thompson so far, include the resignation of the Yahoo director who led the search for a new CEO. But there may be other results that we don't see, as Al Lewis of Market Watch suggests - pointing out that a board that learns of a lie on a resume is bound to start wondering if there are also lies in the company's books. And it's easy to figure that a lot of time has been taken away from doing business, and a lot of time spent worrying about detractors, some of whom are calling for Thompson's resignation, not to mention the SEC, who Yahoo has to answer to.

Thompson is not the first, and likely won't be the last high-level exec resume that turns out to not be on the level. According to Digits, the Wall Street Journal blog, the problem hit CSX and Microsemi in 2009 HerbaLife and MGM Mirage in 2008, Mylan and MIT in 2007, RadioShack and R.H. Donnelley in 2006, Smith & Wesson in 2004, Bausch & Lomb, University of Notre Dame, the U.S. Olympic Committee and Veritas Software in 2002, and Sunbeam in 1998. While their lies did not cause substantial trouble for all of these executives and their companies, it did for some. A number resigned and some were fired.

If Thompson is telling the truth and it was all an inadvertent mistake, then at least we can conclude that people who are interviewed should listen carefully to interviewers, that you should read documents before you sign them, and that you should prepare your own resume, so you can be sure it's accurate.


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