Yahoo-Thompson mess shows uni failings

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

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 Let's face it; asking people to bring their university degrees in paper form to the interview is just outdated; as is calling a university office to confirm a degree.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.

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