Lying on your Resume

It's happened again. Another smart, talented, obviously successful person has fudged her resume and lost a job.

Fudged is a generous word. It's actually lying.

Why do people lie on a résumé in the age of the Internet? How could they not imagine that it will sooner or later catch up with them? How many people out there are living in fear that they may be busted for saying they got a master's degree when they didn't or claiming incorrectly that they graduated summa cum laude?

For newspaper woman Marti Buscaglia, such a lie just cost her two jobs. Buscaglia, 54, misrepresented her educational background and has for much of her career in the news business.

After five years, June 29 was to be Buscaglia's last day as publisher of the Duluth News Tribune in Minnesota. That would have given her a week before starting a new job as publisher of the Orange County Register in southern California. Buscaglia was slated to be responsible for business operations, oversee the editorial and opinion pages and watch over the Spanish-language paper, Excelsior -- positions that require trust and impeccable credibility.

But then a lie was discovered. Register publisher N. Christian Anderson issued this memo before Buscaglia had left Duluth: "I regret that information came to light after we had announced Marti's appointment that precluded our being able to move forward with this decision. She has come forward to inform us that she misrepresented her educational qualifications on her résumé, and agrees that it could harm her credibility with the readers of the Register."

According to the paper, Buscaglia said she had graduated from Lima University in Peru. Maddeningly, especially from two newspaper people who demand others be forthright, neither Anderson nor Buscaglia will say exactly how she misrepresented herself or how she got caught. "I called them and I came forward with it," Buscaglia told Editor & Publisher. "I thought it was the right thing to do. I prefer not to talk about it."

Imagine throughout a 30-year career, Buscaglia has handed out her résumé with a lie on it. Each time, did she worry she might get caught?

The same thing happened to Marilee Jones, the former dean of admissions at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She resigned suddenly in April after it was discovered that the popular, widely respected dean had fabricated her academic credentials. On her résumé, Jones claimed to have degrees from Albany Medical College, Union College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. But that was a lie.

"I misrepresented my academic degrees when I first applied to MIT 28 years ago and did not have the courage to correct my résumé when I applied for my current job or any time since," wrote Jones in a statement posted on MIT's Web site at the time.

She didn't misrepresent information. She flat out lied -- and not about one college, but about having degrees from three. When she first applied for an entry level job in MIT's admission's office, a college degree wasn't even required.

Lying about college credentials is not limited to women. David J. Edmondson lost his job as president and chief executive of RadioShack Corp. in February 2006 after 11 years at the helm. Same deal, although he walked away with a $1.5 million severance package. Edmondson, then 46, couldn't document that he had received two degrees in theology and psychology from an unaccredited school called Pacific Coast Baptist Bible College. The school's registrar told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he'd only completed two semesters.

Edmondson apologized for making "misstatements" on his résumé. Again, most of us call those lies. (The woman who replaced him, ironically, had no undergraduate degree although she did get a master's in business at the University of North Carolina.)

Buscaglia's case is particularly egregious because she worked in the news business, a field where no matter how smart, well-educated or even talented you are, credibility is the one trait that counts most. If a reporter, editor or headline writer lies, it throws everything else they do in their profession into question.

Decades ago, but not forgotten, is the case of Janet Cooke, an exquisite writer who showed tons of promise as a young reporter for The Washington Post. Why wouldn't the Post hire her in 1980 after receiving her stellar résumé: magna cum laude graduate from Vassar, a masters degree from the University of Toledo. She even spoke French and Spanish.

Cooke, now 53, wrote a story for the Post in 1980 about an eight-year-old heroin addict that won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. Some colleagues inside the newsroom were suspicious about the veracity of the story, but Bob Woodward, then metro editor, stood by her.

It wasn't until she won the Pulitzer and some reporters outside the Post did standard résumé checking that discrepancies were discovered. Cooke had not graduated magna cum laude from Vassar in 1976. In fact, she only attended the school for one year. Nor did she have a master's degree. It quickly came to light that she lied also about the child addict. He didn't exist.

Naturally, Cooke was fired, and the Post suffered the humiliation of being the only paper to ever have returned a Pulitzer Prize. After that, hiring practices were changed and much closer attention was paid to résumés.

Cooke left journalism and sunk into obscurity. It remains to be seen what will happen to Buscaglia. "I take full responsibility for it," she told the Register reporter who wrote the story saying Buscaglia wasn't coming to the paper after all. "It's one of those things you put on a résumé when you are young and stupid and you can never take it back."

Bob Steele, an ethicist at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., isn't so sure about that. It might be better to come clean. "That kind of lie is a sandbag on someone's shoulders," said Steele. "If someone felt the person hiring would understand, then they might take the chance that person hiring would forgive them. Then at least they get that sandbag off their shoulders."

But then, this might be a lesson to all those newly minted college graduates: It's simple. Don't lie on you résumé.