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Why Public Relations Departments Need to be Vigilant About “Resume Liars”

From CEOs to bartenders, resumes containing lies cost employees their jobs, and embarrass employers. Delving into the psychology of a resume liar is difficult. Just because someone has lied on their resume does not mean that they lie in other aspects in their life. A resume lie could be born out of desperation, such as an executive knowing that years of experience may mean nothing without an MBA, something that’s hard to earn when working 80 hours-per-week. The desperation could hit a recent college grad, who inflates a resume with fictitious internships while struggling to find work. And they’re especially dangerous in an industry like public relations, which is predicated on transparency and honesty.

Outside of desperation, resume lies can be driven by greed, insecurity, or simple laziness. Some lies don’t appear on a printed resume but are included in a verbal C.V. For example, there have been a number of cases in recent years where executives or coaches have lied about military service, trying to use their “experience” to motivate employees or athletes. Resume lies generally occur for one of two reasons: Someone has chosen to falsify their resume, or someone has made an honest mistake. When I was caught up in a resume lie, it thankfully fell into the second category.

About five years ago, a trade magazine ran a glowing profile of a company that I had recently joined. The article noted my hire and the writer included a brief rundown of my credentials. The article was fantastic with one exception — it listed a job that I had never actually held.

The mistake was actually made by my boss, who decided to make our company look a little better by inflating my resume a bit. He told the trade mag journalist about my “position” at a major media company; the truth was that I had worked at the company for about three months as a temporary employee. Oddly, I barely mentioned this particular job on my actual resume, and my boss knew very well that I had been nothing more than a temp.

You would think no one would care about this lie but little old me. You would be wrong. A day after the article hit, my boss took me aside and told me that someone had called him to accuse me of lying on my resume. The writer who wrote so glowingly about us also called, saying that someone had called her to say that I had lied on my resume.

Luckily, my boss took full responsibility, telling the would-be whistleblower and the writer that he had made a mistake. Nothing more came of the incident. Nowadays, my resume doesn’t even include the temp job. My resume also does not include an “education” section because I only briefly attended college, leaving school to embark on my career. I note this in a section marked “personal” and make no bones about the fact that my college eduction is limited to nine credits.

Premeditated resume lies are, of course, bad for everyone involved. The resume liar generally loses all credibility at his current job, and finding future employment may be difficult. The employer looks stupid for getting duped. Questions arise about the competency of the company. How can it operate when it can’t even ferret out lying executives?

Companies can protect themselves against resume liars by employing verification services, or an astute human resources department. Public relations consultants should also play a part, ensuring that employees verify any personal information contained in press releases, on corporate websites, or in marketing material. If a public relations consultant has reason to question a resume, they shouldn’t hesitate. The PR consultant has nothing to lose, and the employee should be able to verify all of their employment and education experience.

Resumes are important to the public, so this issue can’t be ignored by public relations departments. In the investment world, analysts look closely at new executive hires and board directors. An executive who sits on a board of directors, after having served on the board of a company riddled with scandals, raises a red flag for analysts. Why would you have someone on your board who already failed in his or her duties once?

One example of resume lying I came across recently had the CEO of the company playing basketball at a major university. I verified the age of the CEO through SEC filings and figured out that if he indeed played basketball at the school in question than he would have played during a time when the school was consistently one of the best teams in the country. A quick phone call to the school’s athletic department confirmed that the CEO never played basketball.

“Maybe he played intramural basketball?” the school representative suggested.

“Would you put that on your resume if you were the CEO of a public company?” I countered.

“No, I wouldn’t,” the school rep said.

A little lie can mean a lot, and in this case, this resume liar was the final piece of evidence I needed to back up my theory that something was very wrong at the company. And all it took was one phone call for me to blow up a decade-old lie. See how quickly a “fib” can snowball into a public relations disaster?

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

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