Lying and Job Hiring: A Contrarian View

Did you see the latest headline?  A MIT Dean who was recipient of MIT’s highest award for administrators has admitted to lying about her academic background years ago. She’s toast. What a pity.

This had a very personal resonance for me, since I’ve been through this very thing myself, twice – but from the other perspective – as an employer. I’m going to take a contrarian view here. There’s no question that she’s history, but I think the situation was created by pervasive, narrow-minded hiring practices and philosophy in our country.

Let’s start with the basics. I don’t condone lying on a resume or job interview. But people do it all the time, hiding small indiscretions that would otherwise have a disproportionately large negative effect on their prospects. Why?  We’re all looking for the PERFECT candidate – free of any blemishes or transgressions. So, occasionally, competent people resort to lying to create the most positive impression.

Earlier in my career, I hired two people who I later found out never finished college. I can’t recall if I asked them in the job interview. One of them put down her college information on the resume in a way that suggested she graduated. She didn’t lie, but it was obscure. Shame on me for not asking. I learned my lesson.

However, in both of these cases, I found out more than 6 months after they were working for me. And by then they were both great workers and colleagues. So, did I fire them? NO! Sure I was mad, and felt duped. However, the bottom line was that they overcame some societal hurdle and actually did their jobs well.

What I’m arguing for here is not that people should get away with lying. Rather I’m arguing that employers should allow for imperfection when hiring. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Nobody is perfect, not the least of whom might be the interviewers themselves. Hire people who have not finished college. Hire people who have a cancelled credit card. Go ahead, take a measured risk.

The irony here is that MIT is going to lose this fine administrator and the school will be worse off for the loss.

What would have happened if she admitted it, and the school responded by saying, "Years ago we *both* made a mistake, but your performance has been terrific. Please stay on."

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4 responses to “Lying and Job Hiring: A Contrarian View

  1. Unrelated to most of your post, but I had to weigh in: When I heard about this incident I couldn’t help but wonder how the information came out. Knowing how crazy and cut-throat the college application process has become, the cynic in me jumped to the conclusion that some disgruntled parent dug up this info to get back at her for not accepting their kid. Eeks.

  2. Your position in this article pleasantly surprised me. As a person who has spent 3 years looking for my next “good” job, two of those years unemployed, I have stories about interviewing and job searching that would make an entertaining book. I don’t condone lying to get a job or anything else, but I am one of those people who has lied on my resume. I vehemently refrained from doing so for years even though peers and managers strongly encouraged me to do so. I finally decided to take the “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach. I have been lied to by so many employers and potential employers that I’ve lost count. I am in IT sales, so revenue and profit dollars are the foundation of my comp plan. In my experience, easily 90% of employers will lie about their revenue numbers and say you will make great money right from the start. Once you get inside the company and see the actual sales history reports you find out you’ve been lied to and now have an extremely difficult goal to attain. This is the most common, blatant lie in my business but there are many more examples. If employers want perfect employees, they need to live up to their own expectations. The situation seems to have become one where it’s only a lie if you get caught, for both sides of the hiring process. Unfortunately the employers have a great upper hand in that they can run background checks etc. but the candidate has little they can do to find out the real information that could impact their paycheck. Once on-board, the new employee has little recourse other than quitting and potentially being unemployed again. However, employers can and will fire you for lying. It’s a dichotomy that candidates struggle to deal with. In my case, when I look back over my career, the companies I’ve been most successful at are also the companies that were the most honest with me. Interesting.

  3. You know–on the two that lied about college qualifications–I think an appropriate way of handling it that might be mutually beneficial is to simply tell them that they have six months to resume completing the degree they stated they had or you will terminate their employment. After six months unless and until they recieve their degree, they must maintain continuous enrollment and progress toward an appropriate degree as long as they are employed by you.
    If one of their job perks is tuition reimbursement, so much the better.
    This might be an oppurtunity to keep good employees that felt compelled to be deceptive to get hired while at the same time increasing the level of trust and providing appropriate consequences for lying about academic credentials…

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