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Does the 'Error' on Scott Thompson's Resume Matter?


Scott Thompson

Does the "inadvertent error" (as Yahoo originally called it) on Scott Thompson's resume matter?

That is one of the questions that has been hotly debated since the news first broke last week that Thompson, Yahoo's CEO, does not have a computer science degree from Stonehill College, as his bio on the company's web site claimed. (He has an accounting degree from the school.)

The accuracy of Thompson's resume is of great interest, of course, to Daniel S. Loeb, the activist investor who first uncovered the discrepancy and is now demanding Yahoo fire Thompson. (Loeb, who owns roughly five percent of Yahoo, runs Third Point, a hedge fund that is trying to gain seats on Yahoo's board of directors.) On Monday, Loeb demanded Yahoo hand over all paperwork related to the hiring of Thompson or face a lawsuit. Thompson told his employees that he "deeply regrets" how the issue has affected the company, but says he won't step down.

There are financial, public relations, and legal implications as a result of the "error." Thompson's bio containing the inaccurate information was included in Yahoo's SEC filings.

But "Resumegate" isn't just about Thompson.

It's about fairness. As Rocky Agrawal pointed out in his Venture Beat piece titled “Why Scott Thompson’s “inadvertent error” is a big deal”, employees often have to undergo background checks before they are hired. So why wasn’t the CEO of Yahoo vetted at least as closely as a lower-level employee?

Yahoo employees tell Kara Swisher of AllthingsD, who has detailed the controversy’s effect on company morale, are angry that the company first dismissed the discrepancy. They say that most workers would be fired for a similar offense.

But there are those who say the controversy is much-ado-about nothing. In his article for The Daily Beast “Stop Picking on Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson!” Newsweek’s technology editor Dan Lyons wrote:

Who cares? Thompson has a degree in accounting, not computer science, but frankly at this point in his career does it really matter what he studied as an undergraduate? He’s 54-years-old, has been CEO of Paypal, and before that Held high positions at Inovant, a subsidiary of Visa, and Barclays Global Investors. He’s qualified to run Yahoo.

A lot of people embellish their resume, it seems. Researchers estimate that between 40% to 70% percent of workers "fib" on their applications.

The Wall Street Journal has compiled a handy list of high-profile resume embellishers, which includes a former Chief Executive of RadioShack and a dean of MIT. Most of these embellishers lost their jobs, after their embellishments were discovered. 

Sometimes, the discovery of discrepancies on a resume can lead to the disclosure of a larger fraud. In 1981, after Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke won a Pulitzer Prize for her account of an 8-year-old's struggle with heroin addiction, questions were raised about claims she made on her resume, which led to a closer look at the reporting she did for her award-winning story. She resigned two days after she received the award. It turns out Cooke fabricated the story — and many items on her resume. She claimed she graduated magna cum laude from Vassar College and earned a master's degree from the University of Toledo. But Cooke only attended Vassar for one year and graduated .

The Post's ombudsmen published a long piece four days later, which made several recommendations, including:

"No reporter or other staff member should be employed without a thorough check of his or her credentials."

If you're interested in further parsing the ethics of padding a resume, was the subject of today's Forum on KQED, with guest Kirk Hanson, professor and executive director of Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

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