How Far Does C-Suite Lying Go?

Last Updated Nov 14, 2008 9:59 AM EST

When does a white lie become a Big Lie?

That's a good question in the wake of a report that C-Suite officials are lying on their resumes. The Wall Street Journal has reported that in a survey of 358 senior executives and directors at 53 publicly traded companies, at least seven cases turned up in which people lied about their backgrounds.
In one case, a man claimed to have a degree from MIT when he only attended classes. Another individual claimed an accounting degree from a Florida college when he only attended for two semesters.

Gum shoe agency Kroll Inc., part of Marsh & McLennan Cos., believes that only about 20 percent of all job applications are actually checked. So, chances of getting away witrh lying are pretty good.

But what degrees of lying are we talking about?

A trick that I noticed when I worked in New York City involves dropping your business cards all over town. Every evening there are seminars or do-good sessions at this think tank or that foundation literally from the Battery to the Bronx. So, you drop by and drop your off business card, or get someone else to do it, at as many events as you can. The point? People think you are super active and it helps your business or career. But you don't have to bother listening to all those boring speeches.

Or, you claim you have a master's when you took some evening courses. Or you headed a department when you didn't.

Some organizations have a strict policy of firing or expelling you if you are caught lying. That is the approach at the University of Virginia from which a cousin of mine graduated and where two of my children have attended classes. They have an honor code. You get caught, bye-bye. That was even the case when an Illinois student was accused of plagiarism while on a UVA-sponsored educational cruise. She was dropped off at the next port.

One of the most extreme cases involves Admiral Jeremy Michael Boorda, a former Chief of Naval Operations. He allegedly shot himself in the head after being accused of wearing ribbons for combat medals he didn't earn. Hopefully, lying won't take things that far, but it is pause for thought.