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
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 2209 GMT (0609 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1802 GMT (0202 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1741 GMT (0141 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1900 GMT (0300 HKT)
John Sutter says the right is often stereotyped on climate change. But with 97% of climate scientists say humans are causing global warming, we all have to get together on this.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
Andrew Liepman and Philip Mudd: When we declare that we will defeat ISIS, what do we exactly mean?
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 2040 GMT (0440 HKT)
Thailand sex trafficking
Human trafficking is a multibillion dollar global industry. To beat it, we need to change mindsets, Cindy McCain says.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
The leaders of the GOP conferences say a Republican-led Senate could help solve America's problems.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1401 GMT (2201 HKT)
Nicholas Syrett says Wesleyan University's decision to make fraternities admit women will help curb rape culture.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Mike Downey says New Yorkers may be overdoing it, but baseball will really miss Derek Jeter
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1232 GMT (2032 HKT)
Quick: Which U.S. president has authorized wars of various kinds in seven Muslim countries?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Women's issues should be considered front and center when assessing a society's path, says Zainab Salbi
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 1805 GMT (0205 HKT)
A catastrophe not making headlines like Ebola and ISIS: the astounding rate of child poverty in the world's richest country.
ADVERTISEMENT