What MBA?

A few months ago, I wrote about the difficulty HR faces when evaluating résumés for puffing, inflation or outright lying about qualifications. That was then. This is now. The economy has gotten worse. More people have lost jobs. Colleges and universities are dumping graduates into a job-scarce market. A May 21st article in the Christian Science Monitor points out that "3.3 people are [now] competing for every job in the United States (in December 2007 the ratio was 1.9 applicants per job opening). … The wait for a job has become longer. The average period of unemployment hit 23.4 weeks in April, compared with 17.9 weeks in 2008, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics."

What are job hunters doing? Well, the Monitor story says that some are getting a bit wacky to gain attention, such as the guy who walked up and down Park Avenue in New York wearing a sandwich board that said, "Experienced MIT grad for hire." But others are fiddling with the truth on their résumés. Only they're not padding them; they're stripping them of qualifications and experience, according to a May 26th article in the Wall Street Journal.

You have to feel some sympathy. After all, if the only job out there is flipping burgers, someone with a PhD might figure that it's better than sleeping under a bridge, right? But you can also understand why there might be a reluctance to hire said PhD, unless, of course, the degree is in chemistry. I can see where a chemistry degree would help ensure that your burger has just the right mix of special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions on a sesame seed bun. Who said all those lab hours were pointless?

But this leaves HR with a huge problem. I mean, it's relatively easy to call MIT to find out if Jane Brainiac graduated and with what degree. But if someone omits the fact that he or she has a degree, you can't exactly call every college and university in the country to see if Degree-less Joe is actually Dr. Joe. So what's HR to do? Hire the person and then fire that really good waiter when you find out later he "forgot" to tell you he graduated summa cum laude from Harvard Law School? If you decide to just let it ride, what does that do to any ethics code the company might have?

Of course, the ideal answer would be that the best person would be hired for the job even if overqualified, which would allow the company the benefit of that person's skills, learning and experience no matter how long the employee stays. And, who knows, perhaps Ms. Former CEO might just discover that emptying trash cans is much more rewarding than coping with the daily stress of running a multinational company. Has this become a problem in your company?