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Mark Twain once defined a good liar as someone who could tell a fib, believed it to be the truth, and remembered the difference.

With jobless rates nearing 10 percent for the first time since the early 1980s, and the competition for good jobs at heated levels, it is not surprising that a few executives – panicked to pay the bills and take care of their families – would enhance their resumes to boost their employment chances.

They think – no, they hope — that a minor tweak or two with their actual accomplishments, employment dates, or an added credential, will help them win the day and no one will be the wiser. After all, they reason, many companies – and some third-party recruiters — do a poor job in candidate vetting. While there is truth that far too many companies and recruiters still do a less than admirable job in reviewing candidate backgrounds, lying on your resume is one of the dumbest ideas an executive can ever have.

Once you fabricate a resume entry, you have created a paper trail. When you are going to lie, a paper trail is the last thing you want to create. Why? Aside from the fact that it is morally and ethically wrong, most people forget the difference between the embellishment and the truth.

A CFO candidate for a public healthcare company submitted a resume claiming three degrees from the same major university: a bachelor’s in business, a master’s in finance and a master’s in accounting. However, the university was unable to verify the master’s in accounting. Our client only required a master’s degree with a current CPA credential. The candidate had what we were looking for, including excellent primary and secondary references concerning his strategic insight and superb quality of work. He seemed like the perfect fit. There was just that one little problem with the second master’s degree.

He finally sent a high quality photocopy of the diploma in question. Our investigator in Florida visited the university’s registrar. While they could still not verify the degree, they were able to confirm that the diploma was one of the best forgeries they had seen.

Years ago, in pursuit of his “dream job,” our candidate finally confessed, he had gone to great effort and expense to create that second master’s degree because the employer specifically required a master’s in accounting. He faked the diploma and got the job. But, it was not such a dream opportunity after all and he left after two years for greener pastures, aided by the same recruiter who promoted him for that once in a lifetime position. He never got around to eliminating the bogus degree due, in part, to his close relationship with the recruiter who never bothered to check the credential the first time. The line between embellishment and truth disappeared.

Over the years, I have encountered dozens of examples of resume embellishment, creative credentials, and flagrant misrepresentation of job titles and accomplishment. The latter is today one of the most common of the resume sins. After several high profile humiliations and forced resignations involving executives, and even a college football coach, for inserting bogus credentials on their resumes, most job seekers seem to have finally gotten the message – don’t lie about your degrees and certifications since that is the easiest part of the resume to verify.

“The trust of the innocent is the liar’s most useful tool,” is another of Twain’s great quotations.

At JohnMarch, we believe in the concept of trusting candidates but we also subscribe to President Reagan’s time-honored rule: Trust but verify. When our investigators dig back 15 years into someone’s life we find some wonderful stories and, occasionally, some great disappointments.

We may afford a certain literary license to preachers and speakers but not resume writers.

John G. Self is Chairman and Senior Client Advisor of JohnMarch Partners. He is a Co-Founder of the Firm.

A former investigative reporter and crime writer with more than 30-years of healthcare leadership experience in public relations, national marketing, business development and as Chief Executive Officer of hospitals and consulting firms, Mr. Self is highly regarded for his keen insight into operations, business culture and for his ability to consistently select the right leaders.

He is a highly regarded speaker and frequent guest lecturer at some of the nation’s top healthcare graduate management programs. For more information on Mr. Self’s availability, contact JohnMarch Partners.

You can contact Mr. Self at 214.220.1234 or JGSelf@johnmarch.com. He is an active member of LinkedIn and a frequent editorial contributor.

Or, you can follow him on Twitter at Self_JohnMarch.

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