Will Lying Hurt Your Career?

Last Updated Nov 8, 2010 4:48 PM EST

Lying Executive CareerA few months back, Stanford's Jeffrey Pfeffer wrote 'Truthiness' Can Make or Break a Corporation. On the same day I wrote How Padding Your Resume Can Destroy Your Career. While I agree with Pfeffer, that lying does diminish executives' credibility and harm their companies, it doesn't appear to negatively impact their careers.

In citing two senior executives who were caught fabricating degrees on their resumes, the premise of my earlier post was that lying could irreparably harm your career for two reasons:

  1. Background checks are getting more sophisticated and invasive all the time. If you lie, you'll get caught sooner or later.
  2. Once you're caught, the resultant media flurry will follow your Google search results forever.
And while I was right on both accounts, that doesn't necessarily mean you won't get to keep your job or get hired.

Sure, the top Google search results on the two executives, former Broadcom Senior VP Vahid Manian and Microsemi CEO James Peterson, are still all about the fraud:

  • Broadcom COO Fired Over Questions About Academic Degrees
  • Broadcom and Microsemi Execs Fingered by Fraud Hunter
  • White Collar Fraud: Broadcom Executive Fired Today
  • Microsemi CEO Slapped for Fabricating Degrees
  • James Peterson Expands the Lie; Microsemi Board Doesn't Care
And yet, in Peterson's case:

While Microsemi's board determined that Peterson lied about having two degrees from Brigham Young University, as well as in a press release when he "categorically denied" the allegations, they ultimately did nothing about it. To this day, Peterson's still got his CEO job. And over the two years since the news broke, Microsemi's stock is flat while its competitors and the major market indices are all up around 60 percent. Go figure.

As for Manian:

While he was indeed fired from Broadcom for fabricating two degrees from the University of California at Irvine, he was recently named senior VP of business operations at Telegent Systems. He was also named to the technical advisory board of Symwave. While working for a startup is a far cry from $5 billion Broadcom, he's still essentially got the same job.

Of course these are just a couple of examples, but there are plenty more of top executives from big companies like Dell and others who didn't just lie, but, in all likelihood, committed outright fraud and still managed to land on their feet.

You know, when boards of directors hire or fail to discipline senior executives who commit fraud or lie about things material to the company, they're, in my opinion, failing to serve their company, employees, and shareholders. It amounts to nothing but cronyism at its worst and only serves to undermine the public's faith in corporate America.

Moreover, when I included "Lie about something important on your resume" as one of 10 Ways to Destroy Your Management Career, that should not have been a lie. But when it comes to senior executives, in many cases, it's not true, either. And that's sad ... but true.

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Images CC 2.0 via Flickr users bloomsberries