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The Big Lie : Puffed-Up Resumes: Politicos Have Plenty of Company

October 15, 1987|GARRY ABRAMS | Times Staff Writer

Presidential candidate Pat Robertson and former White House hopeful Joseph R. Biden Jr. may have a lot of previously unsuspected followers.

But it's probably not the kind of constituency any presidential candidate would proudly claim on 1988's straight and narrow campaign trail.

Like Robertson--who backdated his wedding date and stretched his academic record--and Biden--who advanced both his law school and college rankings and committed plagiarism both as a student and as an orator--many job seekers award themselves phony degrees, fudge dates of employment, hide defects, claim skills they don't have, or exaggerate previous accomplishments in the pursuit of their ambitions, employment experts say.

And the phenomenon apparently extends through all levels of employment, from country club managers to electricians to top corporate executives.

While they disagree about the scope, executive recruiters, industrial and management psychologists and others familiar with today's job market say that dishonesty--often coupled with self-delusion--frequently is the keystone in the facade erected by overeager job hunters.

'When in Doubt . . . "

A few of the experts believe that such cheating is on the increase. All agree that blatant work-search fraud is committed only by a minority of prospective employees. Estimates range from 5% to 20%, although there are indications that the numbers could be much higher, at least in some circumstances. But nobody knows for sure because, the experts add, many phonies probably are never caught or are only apprehended after years or decades.

Lying by job applicants "happens often enough that we absolutely verify everything" claimed by an applicant, said Jan Zivic, a San Francisco executive recruiter and president of the California Executive Recruiters Assn. Echoing other recruiters and psychologists, Zivic said that she drops job candidates for any kind of lie or inaccuracy, written or spoken. "Our motto is: when in doubt, do without," she said.

Educational background, Zivic said, is the most frequently lied-about area.

John G. Blanche, a Los Angeles management psychologist, said that outright lies throw "a question, really, of integrity" over all of a person's record, no matter how exemplary it may be in many respects.

Employers "want integrity, that's very high on the list. . . . If they don't feel they can trust somebody, there's no deal," said Michael Schoettle of the Los Angeles executive recruiting firm Heidrick and Struggles.

In politics, U.S. Rep. Patricia Schroeder, a Colorado Democrat who recently decided not to run for her party's nomination, said the feeling among voters--the President's employment selection committee--currently seems to be much the same.

Attending a convention of retired persons last week, Schroeder said, "What I really found people saying is: Just tell them what the truth is, they can handle it. The only time they get nervous is when they find that you didn't tell the truth and then they start asking questions . . . .If you're not putting out the right information about the stuff you clearly know about your own personal life, then I think that really reflects on the whole (candidacy)."

She added, "Hypocrisy is becoming as red, white and blue as the flag but it doesn't mean we salute it."

Both the still-running Republican Robertson, who claimed on a resume that a summer arts course for tourists at the University of London was graduate study abroad, and Delaware Democrat Biden, who dropped out of the presidential race after he orally put himself in the top half of his law school class when he actually ranked 76th out of 85, gave in to a temptation that overwhelms many--enhancing their academic records.

Recruiters said the tactic, the most common, is usually the dumbest because the facts are easily checked.

"I've had it happen hundreds of times over the years," said executive recruiter Robert Dingman, referring to self-awarded degrees. Dingman, whose firm is based in Westlake Village, added, "I've had people claim doctorates and master's degrees even when the job didn't require it. We check and found they took a couple of courses."

Experts offered a variety of reasons on why applicants produce resumes that contain as much fiction as fact. The prime reason seems to be that a lot of people with creative resumes are never caught. And they're never caught because lots of companies, particularly small employers, make only cursory background checks.

"Many companies have very, very unsophisticated systems for screening people," said psychologist Blanche.

Nobody Checks

Dingman elaborated, "Once a person pulls this off (lying about credentials), well, nobody checks on the next job and it tends to be self-perpetuating."

Dingman believes applicants are tempted to inflate their background by the perception that "if I don't have this credential, I won't get the position."

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