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Fabricating a Career

Unemployment is high, and it may go higher. You may think I am misguided to be talking about hiring people when you are thinking about laying them off. Unemployment means opportunity too. Good candidates are looking for jobs and now is your time to find them. But make sure what you think you are getting is actually what you are getting.

We have had this conversation before: As a person, but more important, as a leader, your word is you bond. People will not follow you if they cannot trust you. But what about that misstatement you made years ago? Should you be penalized for that? Opinions vary on this, but the court of public opinion has weighed in.

Let’s look at a recent case. Tetra Tech is ranked 8th on the Engineering News-Record list of Top 500 Design firms. Based in Pasadena, California, it provides engineering and consulting services, with about 8,500 employees and 275 offices worldwide. Recently, Sam W. Box, 62, the President of the firm, was demoted for “discrepancies” on his educational record. Clearly in his years in industry, Mr. Box has done much good and contributed a great deal. This is confirmed by his continued employment at Tetra Tech. I doubt the discrepancy had much material impact on his technical ability to lead the organization. However, this is a question of character.

In 2001, George O’Leary was selected to coach the football team at the University of Notre Dame. Sports Illustrated reported:

George O'Leary resigned as Notre Dame Football coach five days after being hired, admitting he lied about his academic and athletic background. O'Leary claimed to have a master's degree in education and to have played college football for three years, but checks into his background showed it wasn't true. In explaining his error, O’Leary commented, "Many years ago, as a young married father, I sought to pursue my dream as a football coach," he said. "In seeking employment, I prepared a resume that contained inaccuracies regarding my completion of course work for a master's degree and also my level of participation in football at my alma mater. These misstatements were never stricken from my resume or biographical sketch in later years.”

Today, O’Leary is head coach at the University of Central Florida. He is enjoying some success on the field and his players are performing at high levels academically. I am truly glad to see him back on the field. We can only wonder where he would be had he not misrepresented himself years ago.

These episodes remind us that people get hired for their competence, their ability to do the work. But they get fired for character—or lack of it.

I am well aware of the old proverb that says those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. My intent is not to criticize these two fine men. My intent is to remind everyone that reputations take years to develop, seconds to damage, and perhaps a lifetime to re-establish.

Tough times like we are in today can cause people to do dumb things, like fabricate a resume. Higher unemployment means better candidates coming in the door. This is perfect time to pick up a couple of high-caliber team members so you are ready to go when the economy recovers. Just make sure you are getting what you think you are getting. Interview well and do the background checks. These are your two best methods to uncover a fabricated career. Do this today to protect your company’s reputation for a lifetime.

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