Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

When executives lie on resumes, we all lose

The big controversy burning up the news wires of late is that the CEO of Yahoo had what is euphemistically called a “mistake” on his resume.

Actually, he claimed a degree he didn’t have, giving him a leg up on all those misinformed sots who tried to get jobs by the strength of their qualifications alone. What is not surprising is that it doesn’t happen more often in top jobs at companies. It’s always happened at the bottom of the pile.

Fudging the facts on resumes has been a time honored practice since forever. With so much at stake when you’re trying to get your foot in the door, it’s hardly a surprise that people for decades have exaggerated or overstated their work experience to make them more marketable.

The famed TV journalist Egbert R. Murrow redid his first name to something more pleasing to the ear, rechristening himself Edward R. Murrow. He also fudged his resume, claiming to head some organizations in which he was just a low-level person. People were more trusting then, and it doesn’t take away from his accomplishments.

I read a few years ago that when men lie on a resume, they either lie in the academic, athletic or military realm. Putting in unearned degrees or degrees worked toward as if they were legitimate is one way to get ahead. Claiming that you were a star athlete (and as time goes on, anyone who put on a sports uniform turns into a star) in college or even high school is another way to show that you have the competitive spirit to make it in today’s fast-paced business world, even if you r job as third-string cooling fan director somehow became first-string quarterback-Heisman Trophy candidate when you remembered what you did for the football team.

Sports coaches trying for – and even landing – major jobs have been tripped up over questions about their playing days – if they played at all.

But it’s in the military realm where top executives seem to be most adept and changing past realities.

The trouble for many executives is that in the military it can take decades to achieve high enlisted rank (above E-5, let’s say), but if you go around saying that you were an officer you have to prove that you weren’t some administrative type with rows of “I was there” ribbons.

(I’m leaving out service academy graduates, though there are plenty of people who claim to have graduated from them. Most academy grads get ahead on the strength of their service without exaggeration.)

Some executive applicants get around this by claiming to have been in elite units as an enlisted man, such as the Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets or Marine Force Recon, or as an officer in some kind of exciting capacity, such as being a pilot, though not many executives soar by telling tales of flying C-17s (transport jets) or C-130s (turboprop transports).

Unless you claim to have been in the hot iron, the F-15, F-16, F-18 or F-22, no one will even listen to your aviation exploits.

In fact, there was a bit of tiff when Texas Gov. Rick Perry was running, because he released photos of himself in front of a “fighter” plane (actually, it was a trainer) while he flew during the Vietnam era. He flew transports.

The biggest resume exaggerator of them all probably was former Lotus CEO Jeffrey Papows, who claimed for years that he was a Marine fighter pilot with hundreds of hours in the F/A-18. During the first Gulf War, he claimed he had been reactivated, throwing the company he was heading into a tizzy, but at the last minute claimed an injury had resulted in him having to stay home.

After years of “watercooler” tales and even films about leadership, including one in which he taxis up to the camera in a plane with his rank as Major and his name stenciled on the side of the plane, someone finally decided to have it all checked out.

The Wall Street Journal did a story, and its research found that Papows had been a Marine officer, all right, but his highest rank had been first lieutenant. His flight-hour claims were merely claims, the military said. He had supervised an air traffic control tower at a Marine Corps air station, they said.

Papows talked of “legends” and when confronted with the fighter-pilot claims, said he was a back-seater in fighters. Nope, the Corps said. He had no flight time at all.

By the way, Papows also claimed a Ph.D. from an accredited university. Nope, the university said. He did have a master’s degree, but the doctorate is actually from a diploma mill.

The thing is, credentials fraud is a big deal for businesses. And that’s why I’ve always been careful to let people know that my Marine experience was in aviation, and that I was far from the greatest Marine ever.

It could be seen as cheating, but I never mention in my resume that I actually took and passed a couple of master’s degree-level courses at FAU when I was thinking of getting a master’s in communications. I did no more work toward the degree, so it’s not relevant.

Even if the people at the top in our world are liars and fakers, we at the bottom have to meet the higher standard. That’s why, for example, I once had a successful job interview with a former Marine and a few days after starting work, showed him my DD-214 and some photos from my time in the Marines (photos with me in them, by the way. I look the same now, but with less hair and more gut).

The moral is that companies need to subject executives to the same scrutiny as everyone else, and make sure that the guy who claims he was a war hero a.) Served in the military, and b.) Served in combat.

And watch those Ph.D.’s.

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May 10, 2012 - Posted by | Life lessons, The jobless chronicles | , , , , , ,

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