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Published April 2006

Lessons from RadioShack
resume flap

Three questions crossed my mind when I read about the recent RadioShack debacle involving a disgraced CEO and an “inflated” resume:

What was he THINKING?

Sure, when Dave Edmondson joined RadioShack in 1994, it wasn’t in the role of a big cheese floating around in a highly scrutinized corporate fishbowl (he wouldn’t earn that honor until May 2005), but to list earning college degrees when you clearly had not seems a surefire recipe for disaster. Besides being dishonest, those little “inaccuracies” would come up when the company performed a routine background check, right?

Which led me to my second question: What happened to the routine background check?

Even if the company hadn’t been able to garner character references, given the sometimes litigious nature of that process, it could have contacted Edmondson’s alma mater to verify degree completion. It was 1994, not 1894. A simple faxed request would have gotten the ball rolling.

Unfortunately, Edmondson is not the first person to include incorrect information on a resume — and have it come to light on a national stage.

In 2002, Sandra Baldwin, the president of the U.S. Olympic Committee, resigned following the discovery of inaccurate academic information on her resume. The year before, George O’Leary left his position as Notre Dame’s football coach a week after accepting the job when it came to light that he hadn’t earned a master’s degree or won three varsity letters as a football player as stated on his resume.

But some new research has me thinking that this latest RadioShack fiasco, which resulted in Edmondson’s resignation, may be a cautionary tale writ large for anyone with hiring duties.

According to a study from ResumeDoctor.com, nearly half (42.7 percent) of the 1,000 resumes the company analyzed during a six-month period contained at least one significant inaccuracy, and 12.6 percent of the resumes contained at least two such inaccuracies.

And by inaccuracy, we’re not talking about the, shall we say, “creative” use of verbiage that transforms duties such as answering the phone and mailing correspondence into “being responsible for external communications.”

In compiling the data, the company focused on verifying dates of employment, job titles given and education obtained — the most basic information on a resume, said Mike Worthington, co-founder of ResumeDoctor.com.

The results were a surprise to Worthington, who thought that perhaps 15 percent of the resumes reviewed would wind up containing misinformation. The final data — found in the resumes of entry-level job candidates, executive personnel and everyone in between — suggest a more far-reaching problem, one borne of a pressure-filled environment where everyone is looking for an edge, even if they have to invent it.

“People are just having this attitude of ‘everybody is doing it; I can too. It’s just like cheating on your taxes.’ ... That doesn’t make it right,” he said.

In the survey and during his day-to-day experience, Worthington has come across a number of resume offenses. He recalled the production assistant at a media company bumping up his title to that of associate producer, the job applicants padding dates of employment to cover gaps in work history and the job seekers listing a college degree earned that was still a work in progress.

Little lies, all, but collectively they point toward the weakening of a common moral fiber. On an individual level, they raise the question of personal integrity — something every employer should value in a job candidate.

There is some good news, at least from a human resource perspective: The inaccuracies found in the resume study dealt with information that is easily verifiable.

Worthington noted that while HR departments might balk at giving character references, most will confirm or deny dates of employment as well as job titles and job responsibilities.

As for ensuring that the academic information is correct, a faxed request for degree verification will start the process in most cases, and some schools even allow would-be employers to check degree status online.

The bottom line is that a sizable portion of the population has the audacity to create resumes laced with misinformation — misinformation that can and should be caught before an employment contract is offered.

Which brings me to my third question: Whatever happened to the person responsible for hiring Edmondson? Something tells me it didn’t involve a $1 million-plus cash payout like the former RadioShack exec received.

— Kimberly Hilden, SCBJ Assistant Editor

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