When Do You Fire Someone for a Resume Error?

This month’s Yahoo kerfluffle – a company that desperately needs this type of stuff least – involves the misstated resume of new Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson.

You’ll recall that Thompson replaced Carol Bartz several months ago. Bartz was fired via a phone call from Yahoo’s chairman. Candor and accuracy was and is never an issue with Bartz, something that probably did not advance her career with the Yahoo board.

Instead of stating (just) a BS in accounting from Stonehill College, Thompson’s official resume, the one that gets filed with the SEC,  listed accounting and computer sciences. Turns out the school didn’t offer CS degrees at the time Thompson graduated.

Dan Loeb, a hedge fund manager (and Yahoo shareholder who owns 6% of Yahoo’s shares) who has been often critical of Yahoo has asked for Thompson’s firing. Yahoo’s not responding.

Warren Buffett weighed in ( ”It doesn’t sound like an inadvertent error.”) The headlines are not so pretty; “Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson lies on resume” is a an example.

So here’s the cut to the chase. What do you do when an exec has a resume that’s false?

Here’s three  times when you should fire someone who carries misstatements on their resume:

Is the misstatement material in the context of the person work and role? Saying your degree is “English” rather than “English Literature” may not be a big deal if you’re a computer engineer. But if you’re an academic, it’s a big deal.

Does the error advance or embellish the person’s credentials or career? The executive MBA from Chicago (Stanford, Harvard and some other schools by the way, don’t offer an EMBA) that becomes just a regular MBA from Chicago’s Booth School of Business clearly connotes a different credential. A CS degree like Thompson’s error for someone in the computer science and technology field rather than say an accounting major? Looks pretty dicey.

Should the person have known? Thompson’s bio – with the error –  was on the official roster at eBay for his head of PayPal role before he went to Yahoo. If he spoke at a conference or two along the way it’s likely his introduction included where he schooled and his majors. Should he have known? Sure.

These are fine lines to be shaped and much of the time it’s not so black and white. I’ll admit to abbreviating one of my undergraduate degrees (Political Science and something called The Program in Urban & Regional Government) to simply Urban and Regional Government to save a line on my resume. Does it advance my career or is it material? Not so likely. Do I know? Sure.

While there are standards for all employees the fact of the matter is tone starts from top. While I hear from colleagues who have worked with him that Scott Thompson is a good guy, and a good manager, Buffett’s sense is that when someone falsifies something or doesn’t correct a known mistake that you’ve got a bigger issue.

“If you can’t trust the people you’re working with,” Buffett notes, ” you’ve got a problem.”

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