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Job Magician Faking Degrees:  
It's Easy, & No One Checks Anyway,
  • Your degree is normally not going to be the determining factor in you getting a job, despite what you may believe.  Your track record is.
  • Some people get away with creating fake degrees.
  •  More people than you think get caught.  And when they do, the experience is miserable.

Creating a degree you don’t have is pretty easy.  All it takes is some word processing for you to take your five semesters at Wisconsin and convert it to a Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration.  Or to completely fabricate a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry at Appalachian State University or some other school you once drove by.

However, degrees are just as simple to confirm.  All it takes is a call or letter to the college, and you find out within a week or less (there are online services that produce results in minutes).  And most employers believe, correctly in my opinion, that if someone will lie about his or her degree, there are other lies on the candidate’s resume, and that the lying won’t stop if they hire the person.  It’s an easy integrity check.

Yes, some employers check degrees, and some don’t (almost any reputable retained search firm will, by the way).  But don’t think that just because you’re 25 years past college age and have had unstoppable career progression for the last 15 years that a new employer won’t check.

I find a candidate in about every five searches I conduct has falsified his or her degree. Often, these are people at very large companies, and very successful.

Recently, a pretty good candidate claimed a bachelor’s in engineering degree from a small Catholic school from which I had never seen anyone else with an engineering degree.  A quick internet check and follow-up call to the school confirmed that they had never granted an engineering degree, and that the candidate had never gone there.

The interesting part of this story is that my client wouldn’t have cared. The candidate was about 50 years old, had had many years of on-the-job experience that he started by bruising his fingers in the machine shop at General Motors, and he had earned an associate’s degree along the way.  My client wanted a people-oriented operations manager who could really understand the way a factory floor should run, and this guy had all we needed, including a solid track record in operations management at mid-sized manufacturers.

One neighbor of mine told me that he had put down on his resume that he had earned a B.S. in Information Technology, because he now knew everything and more that someone with a degree did. Which was true.  It did, however, raise questions about his honesty, which as I got to know him better, was something he didn’t have.  He kept forgetting to show up for the jobs he did get, and at one point, he even lowered himself to taking a job as a dishwasher (at which, of course, he was a no-show).

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The part of your resume that is read first on your resume is your latest job. If you’re reading Job Magician and a $100K+ exec, you’re at least ten years beyond your education, and probably more like 25 years. To stand out from the pile, you need to clearly show that you have a demonstrated record of success at management positions

After interviewing one very attractive candidate to run the trust department of a mid-sized bank, I noticed that his resume had said University of Virginia, 1980 to 1983.  I asked if he had graduated, and he said that no, he had attended for three years, had gotten married and had a baby, and had never gone back. By the time I interviewed him, he was teaching courses on trust regulations to trust officers at banks throughout the region.  I called the client, who said that the lack of a degree meant nothing to him, and he was hired.

Some companies absolutely will not consider people who haven’t earned a degree, or have the right degree.  If so, you can certainly fabricate one.  If they check, you won’t get hired, of course.  And if they do hire you, you will spend every day worrying that someone is going to check and find out. The tales of someone with a fake degree getting tossed out when the company (or even worse, a university) learns that one of their key officers is an imaginary MIT graduate have become legendary of late. You’ll go through a very public firing, get a permanent black mark on your eye, and probably lose any severance package, stock options or other goodies you’ve accumulated because of this.

… but you will have enjoyed a few years of working at a place with the fear of the grim reaper creeping up on you.  Not sure if that’s worth the price – it ain’t to me.

And, like I’ve said a few times above, a lot of companies and organizations don’t care if you have a degree, or what field it’s in.

At one of our searches, a major retailer hired a guy whose formal training was in accounting  - he was a CPA, who had been overseeing information systems at his last job. The client hired him as their Director of Information Technology, and he later was promoted to the position of CEO of the $3-billion chain.

Tell the truth about your college degrees.  If you are 13 credits short of a BS at Columbia, say so, and include your dates of attendance.  Or, simply put down Columbia University, 1987-1991.  Didn’t finish your MBA?  Two semesters completed at Fuqua School MBA program, 1991-1992.

High school education, and that’s all?  Diploma, Linton High School, Schenevus, New York, 1977.  ‘nuff said. 

Don’t follow it up with three-quarters of a page of Dale Carnegie Courses and other training you’ve undergone since.  Elsewhere in your resume, list some intellectual hobbies or other achievements (published articles, patents, etc.) that suggest you’re as smart as the people who have degrees, make sure your resume is written impeccably, and remember that your education is located at the bottom of your resume, so it’s the last thing people will read.

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