Help! The Lie on My Résumé Has Been Discovered.

Advice on manners and morals.
April 18 2013 6:15 AM

B.S.

I lied about my degree on my résumé for years—and now I’ve been found out.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
I'm in my mid-40s and have a relatively successful career. For more than 20 years I've exaggerated on my résumé, in particular regarding my education. I got comfortable with the lie and no one ever questioned my “degree.” A few months ago a recruiter from a prestigious company reached out to me about a position in his organization. I had multiple interviews and was getting great feedback. Then, they went quiet. I contacted everyone I spoke with and received no response. I was stunned since everyone had been so responsive when I was there. A few days ago I received an email from one of the people who interviewed me. It was just a link to an article about the importance of checking a candidate’s references. I had a scalding moment of humiliation and understood the silence. That stupid lie about my education got me. I immediately removed the lie from my résumé. Here’s my problem: My professional network is comprised of people who are connected to the organization I interviewed at. I’m terrified that this lie is going to follow me to my current position. Should I go to my employer and confess my false education history? I can't afford to lose my job, yet I know if my company finds out on their own, that's what will happen. I'm so ashamed and want to learn from this mistake.

—Fraud Revealed

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Dear Fraud,
A few years ago the beloved dean of admissions at MIT had to resign when it was revealed she had fabricated her education credentials, ironically proving that advanced degrees were not a requirement for her job. Your success shows that the degree you claimed to have but actually don’t wasn’t a necessity for your job, either. (But please don’t tell me you’re a neurosurgeon or a nuclear engineer.) If you want the catharsis of coming clean with your company, your confession will likely give you plenty of free time to contemplate your original deception. I spoke to employment attorney Philip J. Gordon who said that volunteering this information will raise two questions with your current employer: Why is this person updating her résumé, and, What are we going to do about this fraud? Flagging for them that you’re likely looking for another job and admitting that you’ve been misleading them for years about your education will force them to act. They cannot afford to set a precedent that misrepresentation of credentials can go unpunished. Gordon says the consequences for you could range from placing a note in your file and putting you in a warning period to firing you. I’m all for honesty, but in this case I think a more fitting punishment would be for you to keep quiet and simply join the ranks of people with inflated résumés whose eyes pop open from guilt at 3 a.m. some nights. (Gordon points out this calculation is different if you lack a required credential that could create serious liability for your employer.) As for the interviewers at the other company ratting you out, put aside that fear. The person who sent you that note was simply doing you a favor. Everyone knows it is extremely bad form for those reviewing job candidates to blab about who came through the office. Recommit to being an impeccable employee and hold your head high, even if it never did wear the mortarboard you claim.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Boss Turned Cougar

Dear Prudence,
When I was in college, there was a religious leader, quite a bit older, who was a teacher and mentor to me. As I neared the end of my college career, the relationship grew friendlier, and I would sometimes be uncomfortable because of the way he gave compliments to some women and was a little too touchy. After I graduated a female friend of mine and I went on a short trip with him and we slept in the same hotel room, all in separate beds. It seemed to be a nice transition between the mentor/student relationship to a possible friendship. It's been a couple of years since I graduated, and I've kept in touch with him. Recently he had his heart broken by a woman he was dating. He started reaching out to me and a few of his other students, all females my age, and we would listen to him in an attempt to help. He took me and a friend out for drinks one night, where he got completely wasted and couldn't keep his hands off either one of us. It was nothing sexual or threatening, just lots of hugging and hand-holding. I have had coffee with him a couple of times since then, and both times he has invited me back to his apartment, which I declined. Last week, he invited me on a short trip. He's offered to pay, and while I know he won't try anything, I am uncomfortable about it. My other female friends don't seem to think there's anything odd about his attempts at friendship, so am I reading too much into this? How do I tell him to lay off without hurting his feelings since he’s emotionally fragile right now? I do enjoy spending time with him, but it's hard not to be on edge and I wonder if I'm just being too uptight.

—Edgy

Dear Edgy,
Your college needs to add a couple of seminars to their course catalog. The first semester offering should be Spotting Manipulative Creeps followed by Reporting Creeps to the Authorities. I sincerely hope you and your friends are in the minority of young adults in your inability to recognize a sicko who gets his rocks off by exploiting his relationship to young women. This guy is not your friend, he is yet another man with a collar and a title who is using his position for his own emotional and sexual ends. (I disagree with your assertion he’ll never go beyond hugs and hand-holding, which are bad enough.) While trying to stay within the legal line, he’s taken advantage of the renewable resource his job provides: naive girls. You may no longer be a student, but his impropriety began when he was your teacher and he was able to build on it after your graduation. Emotionally fragile, indeed! By the standards of any college and religious group, he has violated numerous rules of conduct and you should blow the whistle on him. I think you should contact the dean of student affairs at your school and say you recognize now how inappropriate the behavior of this faculty member has been. This man also needs a permanent leave of absence from your life. When this “mentor” calls to firm up travel plans, tell him that you’re not going away with him now or ever. I hope you are confident enough to tell him you cannot be his confidante and that he needs to find professional help for his personal troubles.

—Prudie

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