Little White Lies—Degrees and Majors


So many little white lies! One common way job seekers bump up their qualifications is by insinuating a degree or certification is complete when it isn’t. Or claiming to have a major, minor, or other academic focus that he didn’t.

Isn’t it better to imply that your PhD is complete, when in fact you’ve completed the coursework but not the dissertation? Isn’t it better to say your majored in “Business” when in fact your degree is in “History of Business Organizations”? Isn’t it better to claim you have a minor in Spanish because you had enough credits to receive that minor, although you never did the paperwork with the registrar or the department? That’s just paperwork, isn’t it?

Little white lies might work sometimes—increasing your chances of getting an interview and even a job offer. But, as I’ve said before, they aren’t harmless. They’re time bombs waiting to go off. The news is full of stories where lies were discovered—years later—and cost the person his job, or cost a candidate an election, or simply caused embarrassment. Remember lies about your education are easily uncovered by reviewing your transcripts. Again, employers can and do review transcripts before making final hiring decisions (and if they fail to do so for some reason, they can still fire you later—once the deception is uncovered—even after years of faithful service to the company).

As always, the key isn’t to pretend you have qualifications, skills, and expertise that you don’t have. The key is to lead with your strengths, and to downplay or contextualize your weaknesses. Sure, it’d be nice to have the PhD completed. But the coursework you did along the way is still worth something to employers, even without the completed degree. Your major may not be en vogue, but a lot of the coursework and projects you did will still be relevant to employers, especially if they built your analytical, communication, critical thinking, or other skills.

Remember the simple, bright line rule: everything on your resume must be able to pass a background check. That’s the big difference between “presenting things in the best light” and lying.