Mitigating the Sting of a Fake Degree

Fake Degree?

An employee or prospective employee’s education claims are something every employer would rather just trust at face value. If they say they have a degree from ABC University, why would you question it? Why would they lie?

Education verification is a bedrock part of an employment background check. It is so obviously important you’d think it would always be carefully performed to ensure accuracy. It’s part of an employer’s shield against poor and possibly negligent performance, and a protector of the organization’s reputation.

However, there is a substantial challenge in getting education verification because falsified information is on so many resumes, in so many formats, and in such detail. As Monster.com reports, education is the number one thing people lie about on a resume, presumably trying to make themselves look better against the competition. Therefore, hiring managers should take it seriously.

Private employment is not the only sector that is threatened by puffed up degrees. Recently, a candidate for public office was forced out of her primary election race because she had lied about having a college degree. She was exposed by a newspaper background check that discovered the facts and reported them publicly. The disappointed candidate was running for an office that had no formal requirement of a degree, but her lying about it in itself made her undesirable. She was disqualified by a character flaw, which may have been a lucky break for her electorate.

It can be important to apply the education check standard to everyone in the organization. Resume lying is not relegated to the first-time job hunter or the applicant in a desperately crowded occupation. It appears in resumes at all levels of organizations, top to bottom.

Many people remember the case of Scott Thompson, the once-upon-a-time CEO of Yahoo. Thompson claimed he had a degree in computer science, when in fact he did not (the college he cited didn’t even have such a degree). Yahoo apparently failed in its attempts to vet his background and the apparent deception became a weapon in a corporate fight over board seats. Even though Thompson had been successful in previous tech jobs at high-profile companies, and was again after Yahoo, his deceit led to his and Yahoo’s very public humiliation in 2012.

MarketWatch supplies a summary of six high profile people who lied on their resumes and were caught, causing substantial damage to their organizations. These are interesting to read, but especially to note that in every case, the lying was about their educational attainments.

How can lying about education hurt? Let’s count a few of the ways:

Incompetence and/or poor productivity: Many occupations require a degree, license, or other credential for a good reason. People need to demonstrate that they can do certain things in order to be an accepted member in an occupation, and employers rely on that training to get a job done.

Negligence: An untrained or poorly trained employee is a walking risk. For some job duties an improperly performed task can be a safety threat.

Workforce satisfaction: For every poorly trained employee, there’s at least one other employee who has to pick up the slack and/or become a part-time teacher. Those are uncompensated duties that cannot be good for morale.

Brand reputation: At the end of the day, every employee is a representative of the organization and its brand. The brand is that hard won goodwill that exists in an emotional bond between the employee, the customer, the supplier, and the world at large.

(Take a look at one of our infographics for more resume lying.)

If a hiring manager/employer does not manage to verify an employee’s educational attainment, what else is missing? Think about that political candidate whose lies led to her withdrawal from the race. Her personal brand wasn’t the only thing at stake. At a bigger scale, her political party and allies did not want her to sully their brand, and so they pushed her to get out.

The education portion of your background check needs to verify educational claims with objective information obtained directly from the institutions or providers. This can be done, and it cannot rely just on the claims of any applicant, even an apparently successful CEO.

About Michael Gaul

Michael is a results-oriented marketing executive with over two decades of experience in employment screening, physical security, and business process management. Michael has deep experience in human capital risk management and a passion for educating business leaders and HR professionals on strategies that tangibly protect their interests. Michael serves on the Board of the Secure Cash and Transport Association (SCTA) and is a member of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), and the American Society of Industrial Security (ASIS).
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