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[HorroR Stories] Don’t BS About Your BS Degree

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Dear Madame HR,

I never finished my degree. I got really close, but due to all sorts of reasons, I never finished the last few classes and never officially graduated. However, when I apply for jobs, I have on my resume that I have my Bachelor’s Degree. This hasn’t caught up to me yet, do you think I can get away with this forever?

Little White Lie

Dear Liar,

I will answer your question with a couple of stories.

Story #1:

At one of the companies I worked for we were hiring an HR Director to oversee all HR and Training for our organization. The candidate we found was perfect for the job and we were excited to have him join. We offered, he accepted, and the onboarding process began. This, for the company I worked for, included a background check. Mr. New HR Guy put on his resume and on his application that he had his BA from (unnamed CA state school). The background checking company could not verify his education. When we asked him about it, he admitted that he hadn’t officially graduated yet; it was a technicality he was fighting with the school over but didn’t think it was a big deal.

We disagreed and rescinded our offer (which we could do because the offer had been contingent on the background check). You might be thinking to yourself, “What’s the big deal? It was just a technicality!” But here was our thought process:

  1. Essentially, by putting on a job application that he has a degree and then signing that job application when he doesn’t have a degree, he is committing fraud. And some companies might not care too much but I argue that most would. Fraud is fraud after all. Ironically I don’t care as much about the resume as the application. This, by the way, is why most companies make you fill out an application even though you gave them a resume. Resumes are just pieces of paper after all, but applications in general have this whole paragraph at the bottom about how everything is true, blah, blah, blah. And if you are signing swearing to that fact, then it should be true, blah, blah, blah.
  2. He’s applying for a job as an HR Director and should know better, goddammit.
  3. This experience with him told us more than any interview question ever could. Did we want someone as un-savvy as this as our HR Director? Shouldn’t your HR Director know how “these things” tend to work and shouldn’t he have approached it in a better way? Yes! Yes, he should have.

Story #2:

At the same company we were hiring an HR Coordinator. Yes, we had a lot of turnover in our HR Department. I would like to go on the record as saying this had nothing to do with me. The unit within HR that I was managing was doing just fine. We found a great candidate, let’s call her Fran, and offered her the job. In the meantime, one of our current employees came to us, she had heard that we had offered Fran a job and she wanted to tell us that she knew Fran at (unnamed CA state school), from where Fran claimed she had her BA, and I quote: “That girl did not graduate. If she told you she did she’s lying. And, she stole a bunch of money from her sorority and we all hate her.”

Now, Mme HR was pretty annoyed by this employee—sticking her nose in our business and stuff. How did she know Fran? How did she know we were hiring Fran? Well, either way we were doing a background check so we’d have our evidence soon enough. I was morally incensed on behalf of poor Fran who unbeknownst to her was already the victim of gossip at the hands of my ungrateful employees.

Our background checking firm came back to us and said the clearinghouse could not verify Fran’s education. Little known fact for you non-HR types, most big universities outsource their verifications to “clearinghouses” to take some of the burden off of their Registrar’s office. They basically send a data dump to these places and let them handle all the verification requests. It’s not perfect. In the past when we couldn’t verify through them, we would ask the employee for a copy of their diploma and be done with it. Fran produced a copy of her (unnamed CA state school) diploma forthwith. We should have been satisfied, right?

Well, now the bug was in my ear, I couldn’t shake it. So, I told my Recruiting Manager to call (unnamed CA state school) and see if we could verify directly with them. The (unnamed CA state school) Registrar’s office asked us to email the copy of the diploma. She called us five minutes later. “It’s a fake,” she said. “Really?” we said. “How can you tell?” “Well, first of all, in that year she claims to have graduated Arnold Schwarzenegger signed every diploma as the governor of CA at the time. (Let’s take a moment to revel in either the total awesomeness or perhaps total douchebaggery of having Arnold Schwarzenegger’s signature on your diploma. Does that count as an autograph?) He didn’t sign this. Second, she claims to have her degree in Media Marketing. We don’t offer a degree in Media Marketing.”

Sorry Fran, and really, screw you Fran. I was ready to stick up for you, ready to take a stand and shut down all the wayward crazy gossip that damages the very fabric of our organization. But no! Now, as I pull the dagger from my back, I know how your sorority sisters felt. Offer rescinded.

Ok, so what is the point of this story, why did I tell you?

You want to implement your liar, liar, pants on fire strategy it seems “forever” so I thought I would give you some tips on ways to mitigate your risks.

  1. If you are going to take this as far as purchasing a fake diploma, than I advise you to contract with someone who knows what the heck they are doing. Important things: who would sign the diploma? What degrees does the school actually offer? After that happened, we double checked with the Registrar’s office directly every time the clearinghouse couldn’t find someone and yet produced a diploma. And guess what? In every case it was a fake. Other faux pas we found: diplomas that should be in Latin but aren’t, Deans that do not or never existed, phony majors, the list goes on and on.
  2. Don’t apply for a job at the FBI, or a bank, or in another highly regulated industry. I would guess that if, at the time, I had been working for a tech start up, or some other loosey-goosey “informal” industry, we wouldn’t have been so bulldoggish about it.
  3. Does the position actually require a degree? If not, then tell the truth. In Fran’s case, the position “preferred” a degree, but honestly we couldn’t really require it. However, because she lied, the issue changes from “do we need someone with a BA degree to be an HR Coordinator?” to “she’s a stupid stinky liar and we hate her and can’t hire her.” <sobbing>.

Ok, do I think you will get away with this forever? Maybe, I supposed it depends on how many jobs you apply for, how long you stay at jobs, and what industry or level these jobs are. Please, don’t apply for a job as a Sonogram Tech and go out and buy a Sonogram Tech diploma from Louie Fishy Pants out in the back alley. In fact, don’t buy anything from him, especially not that Good Guy Doll. But I hope you see my point, right? Right? Please nod your head.

And I could get all morally indignant and lecture you about lying and committing fraud, etc., etc. I could, but if you are already going to the step of faking a diploma then me being all high and mighty probably won’t help. You could finish your degree :-). There’s an unpopular suggestion for you. I don’t know what else you want me to say because I won’t say it’s OK. I am usually not a big fan of committing fraud, just saying. Finish your degree or stop lying about it.

Good luck out there,

Professor Madame HR


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