Does your résumé match up?

Do you have a computer science degree? Me neither. Up until a few weeks ago, however, everyone thought the now former Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson did.

Yes, I said former. Thompson was forced to step down as the head of the internet and search giant after it was found out he did not, as his résumé said, have a computer science degree. Only a few phone calls were needed to confirm the college listed on Thompson’s résumé hadn’t actually started offering such a computer science degree until a few years after he was supposed to have donned his robes and graduated.

Similar to how LinkedIn liars embellish their experience or skills on their online profiles, Thompson appears to have been a résumé rorter, and is now a high-profile warning of what can happen when one lies or seriously misrepresents themselves on their résumé.

The media love such beat ups, and so do we, the public. Whether it’s the case of a former Australian Federal Court judge fabricating his PhD, or the somewhat ironic case in 2007 where a chap used fake qualifications to obtain employment with the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, there’s always going to be those who will compromise their integrity for the sake of getting a foothold on that next rung in the career ladder. Telling the story of how these individuals get sprung makes for good reading, viewing or listening, so it’s no wonder the media (and tabloid media in particular) jump on these stories.

The case of Scott Thompson is obviously a high-profile one, but there are of course degrees of misrepresentation. After all, we all want to maximise the impact of our résumé, and sometimes it’s a fine line to tread. There are whole businesses out there dedicated to sprucing up résumés to make them punchier and more likely to get through the gatekeeper. Very few of these businesses, however, would deliberately deceive by adding phony qualifications.

No, such businesses and individuals maximise the impact of résumés by using strong, active language, and by conveying skills and value in a concise and powerful style. The right way is by being honest, both about your strengths and, just as importantly, about your areas for development. The better companies out there know this, and reward honesty and frankness. As one old employer once told me, we hire for attitude; we train to retain.

A résumé is a sales document; your sales document. It’s meant to get you in the door to the interview where, it’s then hoped, your intellect, approachability and enthusiasm will do the rest.

The saying ‘fake it until you make it’ is a popular one, but it ignores the fact that faking skills, attributes and competencies in a professional environment is in fact very, very hard. In the case of Scott Thompson, it remains unclear why this phantom computer science degree was added. Maybe it was a vanity degree; maybe it was meant to reinforce his tech credentials as head of Yahoo. Heck, maybe it’s true and some headhunting firm did put it on his résumé to bolster his standing when he was climbing the corporate ladder over a decade ago. If this is indeed the case, however, Thompson should have had noticed it, and had it removed. But he didn’t.

Whatever reason it was doesn’t really matter now though; the result for Thompson is the same as what it would be for you or I — shame, humiliation, the loss of a job, and credibility. Just because Thompson presided over a billion dollar company doesn’t mean he isn’t hurting just as much as Joe Clockpuncher would were he to be booted from his design agency job for fudging his résumé. A fall from grace hits all of us hard.

Ultimately, your résumé only gets you so far. Once you’re on the job, you’re on the job, and smart employers (who are only getting smarter in this online age) quickly find out those who don’t live up to the résumé hype; that’s why so many people are ‘managed out’ of organisations.

What do you think about résumé rorting? How fine a line is it to tread between using strong language and misrepresenting your skills? How do you maximise the impact of your sales document?

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(23) Readers Comments

  1. Interesting read!

  2. Scott Thompson graduated from the college he listed in his resume, Stonehill College – only it was in Accounting and not Computer Science.
    While I am not making excuses for Scott Thompson, your article suggests that he did not even attend the college he claimed to have graduated from, “the college listed on Thompson’s résumé hadn’t actually started offering such a computer science degree until a few years after he was supposed to have donned his robes and graduated”.
    Stonehill has confirmed that he graduated from the college. Your article sensationalises the events leading to Scott Thompson’s resignation with innuendo and ‘clever’ omissions. An irony considering that your article is about misrepresentation, albeit about one’s qualifications, skills and experience. Furthermore, your tone is so gleeful of someone’s professional downfall that it’s distasteful.

    • Hi Libby, we really appreciate your feedback about our post. I will talk to Tim about revising it a little to be more accurate. Subjective opinion is one thing, but accuracy is essential.

  3. Does not matter. Had a regional GM came into the organization with inflated credentials. But when on the job, didn’t know squat about Finance or SG&A even though he claimed to have an MBA and P&L experience. Management that brought him didn’t want to admit they made a mistake hiring him, then he survived a top management change. Took 3 years before they finally booted him out but tremendous damage done along the way and he already took home the higher pay packet for so many years.

    Sometimes, people still get away with it, that’s why so many still fudge their resumes. Not all management teams are that sharp.

  4. It all raises the aspect of ethics in business again. If you get the job by lying, you’re bound to introduce questionable moral fibre into the business. I suppose if your policy is to get by with BS then hire those that are exemplary in purveying nonsense.

    There is nothing wrong with portraying oneself in the best possible light. The fundamental is that it is a portrait has to be of oneself, rather than an interpretation of what one imagines oneself to be.

    My advice is to always apply the test of what ought one to do? Would my loved one be impressed with what I’ve done? Would what I’ve done make for a sensationalist news story? Would I want someone else to do the same to me? And if held accountable, would I be proud of my action?

    Now, while on the subject of this personal sales document, any advice on structure, content and context? Should it be the same as the LinkedIn profile? Should it be a taster for what’s on LinkedIn? Is the resume merely an appendix to the cover letter? Or is the traditional resume going the same way as the fax number?

  5. I just don’t get it. In todays times when people have to go through rigorous scrutiny to even be considered for some support jobs ( call centers, home support tech, bank tellers etc) how could someone rise all the way to the top of the ladder of a company like Yahoo! no less, without someone saying “Hey Scott, we found an anomaly in your resume”. This seems so true…

  6. My only question is: was he doing a good job at the top of the ladder for yahoo?

    • So you saying he only got to the top because of some words on his resume? Some people are seriously deluded! I don’t know the bloke or how well he performed however its safe to assume he made it to the top by achieving and producing results. Ok he lied, degree or no degree he made it on merit one would assume, or nepotism who knows…
      I know plenty of university graduates as useless as ice cubes in the desert…yet still get high positions despite themselves. His sacking should be critiqued solely on his dishonesty.

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  9. Hi Andrew, thanks for your comment; I’m not saying Thompson got to the top because of ‘some words on his resume’. Another read will show the primary point of the blog is that dishonesty on one’s resume, no matter how small or insignificant it might seem, can have major, and sometimes unforeseen, effects on one’s employment and, by extension, personal brand. That Thompson was in such a high-profile position no doubt added to initial, and subsequent, media interest, which culminated in his sacking.

    Thanks again for your comment.


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  19. Past the gatekeeper, not through.

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