When it comes to resume writing, there’s a popular misconception that a little bit of dishonesty is not only acceptable but expected. Many job seekers think it’s standard practice to embellish their qualifications and believe lying on a resume is no big deal. This approach is wrong. It’s never okay to lie on your resume, and even if your “alternative facts” are not uncovered by an employment background check, resume lies are almost always exposed eventually. Indeed, more often than not, these resume mistakes end up causing significant embarrassment for everyone involved.
Here are five cautionary tales that prove resume lies are difficult to keep hidden and alternate facts can ruin a job search (or a career):
George O’Leary, University of Notre Dame:
In 2001, George O’Leary reached the pinnacle of his career, accepting the high-profile position as head football coach with the University of Notre Dame. Five days later, he was out of work. His hiring by the Fighting Irish kicked off a series of events that started with a simple feature article in The Union Leader of Manchester, NH and culminated with O’Leary’s ouster.
Research from reporters at The Union Leader uncovered false claims that O’Leary had perpetuated throughout his coaching career, namely that he had earned a master’s degree in education from NYU-Stony Brook University (those are actually two separate institutions) and lettered in football from 1966 to 1968 at the University of New Hampshire (he never even played a down).
Although he tried to paint them as resume mistakes, O’Leary’s story offers one clear takeaway: resume lies can be easy to disprove.
Marilee Jones, Massachusetts Institute of Technology:
Just like George O’Leary, Marilee Jones inflated her qualifications early on in her career and it came back to bite her many years later. To get her foot in the door at MIT, Jones claimed to have three degrees when in actuality she only had one (although she inexplicably chose not to include that particular education on her resume). At the time, her resume lies proved successful because no thorough background check was performed, and she was offered the entry-level position.
After years of stellar performance, Jones took over as Dean of Admissions for MIT. She was well respected and even beloved for her campaign to reduce the stress associated with the college admissions process, but eventually the truth came out and she was forced to resign her post for lying on her resume.
Jones miscalculated early in her career when she resorted to lying on her resume to get a job. Her story proves that although resume lies may seem small at first, they have a habit of multiplying exponentially in importance over time and can nullify a career’s worth of good work.
Jeffrey Papows, Lotus Corporation:
Jeffrey Papows’ life story was the kind of tale Hollywood movies are made from: a hard-luck orphan who overcame the deaths of his parents to become a Captain and F-18 fighter pilot in the US Marine Corps, earn a Ph.D. from Pepperdine University, and run IBM’s Lotus Development Corp. unit (not to mention his black belt in tae kwan do). Unfortunately, none of his exploits happened. They were all “watercooler legend” according to Papows.
Resume lies aside, Papows helped build Lotus into a $1.4B business unit, so it’s easy to see why IBM didn’t immediately push for his resignation upon hearing of his exaggerations. However, once his lies were paired with allegations of sexual discrimination, he was forced to leave.
He may not be a decorated Marine veteran (he was an air traffic controller for Corps, though) or have a distinguished Ph.D. (his degree is from an unaccredited correspondence college), but he’s certainly no martial arts expert, and his parents were alive and well last time anyone checked.
Albert J. Dunlap, Nitec, Max Phillips & Son, Sunbeam:
In the mid-1970s, Albert Dunlap was a rising executive with the world on a string, but he hit a few bumps in the road when he was fired from Nitec and Max Phillips & Son for a litany of offensives including neglecting his duties, disparaging his boss, allegations of accounting fraud, and bad management. What’s a young go-getter to do? If you’re Dunlap, simply pretend it never happened.
After erasing those positions from his resume, Dunlap went on to make a name for himself throughout the 1980s and 1990s as a coldblooded corporate downsizer willing to make difficult moves to reduce expenses. He even earned a nickname (The Chainsaw) and wrote a best-selling autobiography called Mean Business.
It all came crashing down in 1998 when he was fired from his post as CEO of Sunbeam (after alleged accounting fraud… again), hit with $500,000 in fines from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), forced to pay $15,000,000 to settle shareholder lawsuits, and banned by the SEC from serving as an officer or director with a public company.
Robert Irvine, “Dinner Impossible” on the Food Network:
As far as resume lies go, this one is pretty rich. Robert Irvine, host of Food Network’s Dinner Impossible, took to lying on his resume in a bid to impress his American audience. The British chef came up with some incredible qualifications, bragging that he had prepared food at the White House, earned awards from a prestigious culinary academy, helped bake the wedding cake for Prince Charles and Princess Diana—he even claimed to have been knighted by Queen Elizabeth.
In 2008, Irvine was exposed as a fraud. It turned out he had cooked up his impressive qualifications from scratch, which left a bad taste in the mouth of his bosses, advertisers, and fans. He never contributed to any meals at the White House, was not a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order as he had boasted, and his awards were from an “academy” housed in a Manhattan apartment. Oh, and the royal wedding cake? He helped pick out the fruit that went in it.
Don’t feel too bad for Irvine, though. It was all peaches and cream once he was rehired to host Restaurant Impossible on the Food Network.