Skip to main content

What Yahoo CEO's false bio tell us about resume fraud

By Melinda Blackman, Special to CNN
updated 10:45 AM EDT, Sat May 12, 2012
Resume fraud is not uncommon, says Melinda Blackman.
Resume fraud is not uncommon, says Melinda Blackman.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson has come under fire for lying about his academic degrees
  • Melinda Blackman: "Groupthink" may be a culprit in the hiring process of Thompson
  • She says Thompson's case raises larger issue of resume fraud
  • Blackman: Vetting a job candidate thoroughly can be time consuming, but it's important

Editor's note: Melinda Blackman is a professor of psychology at California State University, Fullerton.

(CNN) -- The vetting process and the subsequent hiring of Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson seemed like standard procedure. But in recent days he has come under fire for the controversy surrounding his academic credentials.

A graduate of Stonehill College, Thompson earned a bachelor's degree in accounting. But his official biography at Yahoo and Paypal, where he worked previously, says that he also has a degree in computer science. Thompson probably could have gone further and claimed he had a master's degree in engineering and no one would have questioned it. Holding these credentials seems very plausible for someone with Thompson's job history. And since he was a well known and successful executive, a background check was probably put on the back burner. Why? "Groupthink" is a possible culprit.

The term groupthink was coined by Irving Janis in 1972 to describe ill-fated decisions like in the cases of the Bay of Pigs invasion or the destruction of the Space Shuttle Challenger. In these instances, small, cohesive committees engaged in flawed decision-making while being under the gun to produce a result quickly. Group members feel the need to conform and be in a consensus, despite what their gut instincts tell them.

Melinda Blackman
Melinda Blackman

While we don't know all the factors that went into the vetting process of Thompson, the executive search committee that was responsible for his review may have engaged in groupthink. Fortunately, in Yahoo's case, the only bad outcome is that jobs were lost under Thompson's leadership.

Thompson certainly isn't the only high profile executive to have been caught in this type of scandal. Plenty have come before him and plenty will come after him.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter and Facebook.com/cnnopinion

In Thompson's case, it turned out that he didn't even submit a resume, and that he reached out directly to Yahoo about the job. How his record got embellished is not exactly clear at this point. Whether he was in any way involved with enhancing his biography or somehow the resume mistakenly incorporated incorrect information, the firestorm over Thompson serves as food for thought about the bigger issue of embellishing one's resume.

Resume fraud is not uncommon. It is committed to gain a competitive edge in landing a job, but the rationale that people use to justify the fraud is less clear. Some people actually perceive their lies to be 80% truths and therefore see no problem in fudging their resume. Other job seekers may feel the exaggerated information is permissible as a way to compensate for the many hard knocks they have endured in life. The more times that false information goes undetected, the more desensitized people become to their own deception, and will likely continue with this pattern of behavior.

Research has suggested that the best predictor of one's future behavior is one's past behavior. The more pieces of the puzzle that a job search committee can put together about a candidate's past, the more accurate it will be in assessing that individual.

Nowadays, with a competitive job market and fewer jobs, recruiters should take extra precautions against resume fraud. In addition to background checks and verification of credentials, the interview process is an opportune time to ferret out any falsified information.

Structured job interviews with standardized questions are ideal for determining how qualified a candidate is for a job. But employers should be just as concerned about the candidate's characteristics, especially their level of integrity.

The unstructured employment interview -- informal questioning or conversation -- is better at revealing a candidate's personality traits. Candidates are usually caught off guard with small talk over dinner and drinks and inadvertently end up spilling the beans. Any red flags in a candidate's past will have a high probability of being raised if they exist.

Vetting a candidate thoroughly can sometimes be costly and time consuming, but it is worthwhile for the long-term health of the organization. I'm sure this has been an expensive learning experience for Yahoo. Hopefully, others will take note.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Melinda Blackman.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT