Liar, Liar, Degree On Fire! What the Recruiting Community Can Take Away from the Adam Wheeler Harvard Scandal

by Nanci Lamborn, SPHR, and BrightMove Recruiting Software.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or your toddlers have hijacked the TV remote control this past week, you’re likely to have heard all about the, shall we say, inventive young man who successfully duped Harvard officials for three years http://tinyurl.com/23defk5. After being exposed for plagiarism of a Harvard professor’s work, Wheeler’s web unraveled quickly. Turns out everything in his application to Harvard, from his stellar grades to his glowing recommendation letters to his impressive publishing credits, were all completely faked.

As we used to say as children when we knew our friends were fibbing, “Liar, liar, pants on fire!”

So how on earth does such a reputable and prestigious institution like Harvard miss this? Apparently the number of available warning signs that were missed along the way are raising quite a few eyebrows http://tinyurl.com/2db9uv8. And if even Harvard isn’t immune to this level of fabrication, how rampant could this be on a national level?

Confident that you would never be so easily misled and that your trusty instinct would never let you down? Not so fast. In the Wheeler case there are multiple individuals who were involved through his transfer process and in his three active years on campus, separately all of whom are likely intelligent and intuitive people. For some answers to this particular question, read the comments in this Psychology Today article which covers a fascinating perspective on why people are generally so easily deceived http://tinyurl.com/mwot2e. Still feeling so confident?

This type of scandal should be a glaring reminder to those of us in recruiting, a reminder of just how easy it is to be sucked into deception by charming and well-spoken candidates. As recently as 2008, a SHRM study found that a staggering 53% of candidates have some sort of lie on their resume http://tinyurl.com/55obdz. Ironically, the majority of the misrepresentation is, according to this study, most likely to involve educational information, and that many employers or recruiters simply do not verify the data supplied.

As a recruiter this statement embarrasses me, and as a hiring manager who uses outside recruiters, this statement makes me furious. Is a recruiter not staking their reputation on each and every candidate they present to a client? How can someone stake a professional reputation on any individual candidate whose credentials have not been documented, verified and validated? And lest we forget the realm of negligent hiring, any employer who claims not have the time to invest in a simple background check or who believes they cannot afford the respectively small cost to perform these safeguards deserves whatever lying con they get.

In fact I’m fairly sure Adam Wheeler is looking for a job. Would your processes catch him?

Nanci Lamborn, SPHR, is a freelance writer and a senior human resources generalist for a global financial services software firm in Atlanta, GA.

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