Skip to main content

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

By Melinda Blackman, Special to CNN
May 12, 2012 -- Updated 1445 GMT (2245 HKT)
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
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1252 GMT (2052 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 2323 GMT (0723 HKT)
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT