my coworker lied about her entire resume — should I tell anyone? — Ask a Manager

how to answer "tell me about yourself" in a job interview — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

I work at a small (fewer than 10 employees) firm as a mid-level associate. A few weeks ago, a close friend, Josie — who doesn’t work with me but lives in my city — showed me a photo of a woman while we were out to lunch and asked if she worked in my office. I said yes, it was our new (five months into the job) account coordinator, Larisa. She said Larisa is her cousin and that she had seen her post something on Facebook about where she worked and had connected the dots that it was my firm. She seemed surprised that Larisa was working there, and she shared that Larisa had only ever completed one semester of college and had been unemployed for seven years before getting this job. This surprised me, as I know that all positions at our firm require a college degree and cannot imagine we’d have hired someone with such a gap in employment.

Since it was bugging me, I went back and found the email HR sent out when Larisa was hired. It included a little blurb about her and said she had earned her BA from a local university and had come to us with 10 years experience in the industry. I told this to Josie, who said that that was the university Larisa had dropped out of after one semester, and reiterated that she had been entirely unemployed for the previous seven years. (Larisa is only 32. She’d been married for most of that time and supported by her husband’s income, but began job searching after they divorced earlier this year.)

My question is, do I tell my bosses? Larisa is fundamentally capable at her work and doesn’t seem to be failing at anything. Most of her duties are clerical and client outreach, not things which are too difficult to pick up on the job. If she’s not doing a bad job, is it worth bringing up to anyone that she does not have a degree or any of the experience preferred for the position she’s in?

I’m not worried about the accuracy of the information — Josie sent me screenshots of Larisa’s Facebook posts from around six months ago, complaining about the difficulty of job searching when every job requires a degree, experience, etc. and lamenting that she does not have either. I’m assuming she just lied on her resume and figured employers wouldn’t confirm her degree.

I know these are heavy allegations but I’ve been able to find absolutely nothing indicating that she ever graduated from college or held a paying job in the years preceding her being hired here.

Is this something I should flag for my bosses, or is it a case where the hiring manager’s lack of due diligence is what’s really at fault here? I’m personally really frustrated at this, since I took out loans and studied hard to get my degree only to wind up with a coworker who claimed to do the same without any of the work. I’m inclined to just leave it and not deal with any of this, but the AAM reader in me knows that if Larisa was willing to lie about such fundamental things in the application process, there are likely other issues with her character and professionalism. If it matters, Larisa is not my direct report but I rank above her in our admittedly small hierarchy.

My normal stance when you suspect a coworker has lied on their resume is that if your manager doesn’t bother doing any due diligence on hires — reference checks, background checks, etc. — that’s on them. So generally I’d say to leave it alone unless it’s playing out in truly problematic ways (like the person can’t do the job and their manager is investing heavily in coaching them, which she might not do if she knew the full story, or if it’s putting important work at risk).

But fabricating an entire work history is in a different category than, say, exaggerating one’s accomplishments or fudging the dates of a past job. To be clear, those things aren’t okay either! But making up an entire fake job history is a whole new level of egregiousness. And as you note, if Larisa were willing to do that, it would raise really serious questions about her integrity and trustworthiness.

So given that we seem to be talking about an entire fabricated work history and not just a couple of details, I do think you should talk to your boss. When you do it, though, make sure you don’t present this as absolute fact. It does sound like fact, but who knows what you might not know, and you want to be as objective as possible here. I’d say it like this: “I feel awkward raising this, but something was shared with me that alarmed me and that I feel obligated to share with you. A close friend of mine told me she’s Larisa’s cousin, and thinks that Larisa might have submitted a false resume. She said Larisa had been unemployed for the seven years before we hired her and only completed a semester of college. When I expressed surprise, she sent me more information that seemed to confirm it. I don’t think either of those things are inherently prohibitive — and if you hired her knowing them, then there’s no need for me to continue. But based on the info sent around about her when she started, it sounds like she might have submitted a fake resume to get hired. I realize I don’t have all the info here, and I certainly don’t want to gossip about a coworker. I’m not going to share this with anyone else, but I didn’t feel comfortable not passing it along to you in case it’s something you want to look into.”

By the way, note the “I don’t think either of those things are inherently prohibitive” language. That’s there because it’s true — people can do clerical work without degrees or experience. (So much so that if it were just the degree, I’d tell you to leave it alone.) But it’s also there because who knows, maybe your employer did know all this. Maybe Larisa didn’t lie on her resume, and somehow the HR person who wrote the blurb about her got some facts wrong. That’s pretty unlikely, given the extent of the discrepancies and your account of your company’s hiring prerequisites, but you want to allow for that possibility and not seem like you’re coming in guns blazing.

Ugh. If you’re right about this, flagging it rather than keeping it to yourself is the right thing to do. If you’re somehow wrong, this is going to feel icky — but it sounds credible enough that I do think you’ve got to have the conversation.

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