James DeHoniesto may have considered it a small thing, just a fib really, to claim a degree in computer science from the University of Pittsburgh—he had, after all, taken classes there. But in November 2008, after the school told The Wall Street Journal that DeHoniesto had never earned a degree from Pitt, he resigned as chief information officer of Cabot Microelectronics, in Aurora, Ill.
Inaccuracies on a résumé—mistakes, embellishments, or outright lies—are shockingly common. According to Scott Viebranz of Kroll, a risk consultancy in New York City, more than 22 percent of the résumés the firm verified in 2007 for technology companies contained misrepresentations of academic credentials. And in dire economic times, ”people are more likely to fudge a little bit in an effort to get a job,” says Viebranz, who is chief sales officer in the firm’s background screening division. ”Given how tough the last half of 2008 was, I would expect our 2009 stats to reflect that.”
High-profile cases—such as former RadioShack Corp. CEO David Edmondson, who resigned after the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported he made up two degrees he never earned—may make it seem that résumé fraud is already on the rise. Yet rates of academic fraud on résumés—people misstating their educational background—have hovered between 20 and 30 percent over the past five decades, says Peter LeVine, a background checker in Delray Beach, Fla.
One reason fraud rates haven’t risen might be the very real fear of getting caught. More employers are now doing stricter background checks on their potential employees, particularly for candidates who received their education or work experience abroad and for those applying for IT positions with access to confidential data. Executive and managerial level résumés also face tougher scrutiny.
In-depth investigations of a CEO or other C¿Äëlevel candidate’s background can be expensive. They range from US $5000 to $20 000, according to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, in Austin, Texas. But you can weed out a lot of liars by simply picking up the telephone and checking things out yourself. RadioShack could have asked Edmondson’s school back in 1994, when he was first hired, just as the Star-Telegram did 12 years later.
When executives are caught with inflated résumés, they’ve probably been living with their lies for years. ”You don’t wait until you’re at a senior level of management to inflate your résumé,” LeVine says. Some people even start believing their own made-up résumés and forget they created them, he adds.
As high as an academic fraud rate of 22 percent sounds, people are even more likely to misrepresent their employment history: More than half of the tech-industry résumés in Kroll’s database had such discrepancies. Another study of erroneous résumés, by executive search firm CTPartners, found that 64 percent of candidates overstate their accomplishments, while 71 percent misrepresent the number of years they held a position. Most often, people inflate a title or salary so they can negotiate a higher one. But Kroll’s Viebranz says that many times these are just mistakes, such as not remembering how long a job lasted.
And sometimes, even a lie can become true. In November, The Wall Street Journal reported that Jonathan Lang, the chief technology officer of aircraft-leasing company Aircastle, in Stamford, Conn., had never received his claimed bachelor’s in business administration from George Washington University. Lang had earned the necessary course credit, though, and a day later the school said it would issue the degree.