Yahoo-Thompson mess shows uni failings

Yahoo-Thompson mess shows uni failings

Summary: Perhaps it's time for us to protect our universities and our companies from resume mistakes, whether they be inadvertent or intended.

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Perhaps it's time for us to protect our universities and our companies from resume mistakes, whether they be inadvertent or intended.

Everyone is jumping up and down about the slip-up that saw one degree too many listed for Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson in a recent Yahoo filing.

Thompson was listed as having a computer science degree, when he only has one in accounting.

It could have been that the incorrect filing was just due to an administrative mix-up, but Yahoo shareholder, Daniel Loeb, is suggesting that Thompson intended to mislead the company's board about his technology credentials. One could argue that you don't need ethics or technology credentials to head up a major company, but I'll leave others to argue that point.

I've been shocked over the last few years at how many people are willing to lie on their resumes. I find it hard enough to talk myself up, but some people don't have an issue with making up a few "white lies", if they think they'd be perfect for the position. And, although I haven't met anyone who'd go as far as to pretend they had a degree they actually don't, you do hear about it happening.

In order to make sure that universities aren't getting a bad reputation because of people pretending they have a qualification they don't, we need to make sure that organisations can know they're hiring the real deal. Unfortunately, currently, verification can be a painful process. Let's face it; asking people to bring their university degrees in paper form to the interview is just outdated; as is calling a university office to confirm a degree. Even universities with an online service for verification can't be left off the hook, because approaching each university individually for a number of candidates can be a time-consuming process.

For giggles — this is how the University of Sydney does verification:

In May 2009 the University of Sydney introduced new stationery for the printing of official academic transcripts, certificates of graduate status and other documents. The new stationery is purple in colour, with an image of the university coat of arms in the centre; and a white header, which includes the name and colour coat of arms of the University of Sydney.

Employers, agencies or persons seeking verification of a student's or former student's qualifications, should submit a written request by fax, email or post to Academic Records. The student's full name, date of birth and student ID number (if known) should be included. Information cannot be provided over the phone.

If additional information is required, eg, enrolment dates or the major(s) achieved, a signed written authority from the student or former student is required. If sending an email request, this authority should be scanned and included.

Helpfully, the university says it will provide the information within three working days. Fast, right?

I like the way the University of Queensland does it; you just type in a name and date of birth, and then you're told whether that person completed a degree.

Ideally, this type of system would be scaled up in a global fashion, so that an employer can check job seekers' credentials at the university that they attended — a secure look-up in that they trust; not the current exercise of checking someone's details on LinkedIn, and relying on how many references they've managed to wrangle by buying people beers.

After all, we're an increasingly global society, and it is just inconvenient and unproductive to be making phone calls across the globe to check applicants' claims, while potentially disastrous to company reputations if we ignore the issue.

Australia could take a lead on this, cementing our reputation as an education provider to international students.

Topics: Government, Government AU, IT Employment

Suzanne Tindal

About Suzanne Tindal

Suzanne Tindal cut her teeth at ZDNet.com.au as the site's telecommunications reporter, a role that saw her break some of the biggest stories associated with the National Broadband Network process. She then turned her attention to all matters in government and corporate ICT circles. Now she's taking on the whole gamut as news editor for the site.

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5 comments
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  • Honesty and ethics is more important for a leader than his or her Management skills. Ask all the people who worked for companies like, Enron, Lucent Technologies, Satyam Computers etc.
    mloke1
  • By the time you get to be CEO of a reasonably sized organisation, your Uni qualifications are pretty much irrelevant.

    Does raise an important issue about how qualifications are conveyed. In this day and age of almost perfect replications being able to be made at low cost and plenty of people willing to offer them over the internet, trying to persist with the old paper medium is ridiculous - paper should be for putting on the wall only. There again this is Universities we are talking about here - they have only had dedicated IT degrees since early to mid 90's because apparently only scientists and engineers needed computers before then.
    xBeanie
  • Unfortunately I fear these universities also have very thin IT budgets -- especially the University of Sydney.
    suzanne.tindal
    • I dunno; I used to work for a Uni and they find the money if they want to. I think rampant conservatism is the real problem.
      xBeanie
  • You just gotta do what you need to do to get the job. Eg. lie to the whole nation to get a job... by you-know-who :)
    ngoctranminh