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."