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Archive for September 17th, 2008

What lying about degrees reveals about an American employment obsession

September 17, 2008 By: almostgotit Category: Marilee Jones, academic degrees, lying, resume 9 Comments →

Marilee Jones Book

Fantastic book for parents of
children applying to college,
co-written by Marilee Jones
and pediatrician Kenneth
Ginsburg.  I love my  copy!


Marilee Jones was the highly-esteemed dean of admissions at MIT until an anonymous tipster informed MIT that Jones had lied about her degree once upon a time, way back when she submitted her first resume for a low-level secretarial job that did not require a degree in the first place.  

I obsessed about her downfall for weeks on this blog

Yesterday’s story about the resignation of Lan-Lan Wang, the highly-accomplished dance professor who has also founded several dance companies, has made me think of Marilee once again. 

And again, the downfall of a qualified person was brought down by an email “tip” about bogus academic degrees.   What is really going on here?

Alison over at Ask A Manager fielded a question there on Monday from a person wondering if s/he should tattle on a coworker for misrepresenting her own qualifications, and Alison gave exactly the right answer:  No.

Lies are rarely if ever acceptable, and lies on your resume will invariably bite you on the butt.  Important note: don’t lie, and don’t ever lie on your resume.

But lying v. not lying is not my point here.  Nor was it my point when I blogged about Marilee Jones.  In fact, if anything, all of the noise lately about people who lie on their resumes, especially about their academic degrees,  only illustrates what I believe is an even bigger problem in the current job market.

We all need to stop worshipping the Almighty Academic Degree. 

An academic degree only maps a fairly specific set of accomplishments:  it cannot and should not be used as a catch-all measurement of over-all talent, experience, and skill level.     Much less a measurement of anyone’s essential value as a human being.

As a theoretical measure of teachability, academic degrees serve a bit better.  However, a history of accomplishments in one’s actual field can and should be the best measure of all.

Full disclosure: my husband is a professor, and both he and I have academic degrees from top-tier institutions. 

But a degree does not magically enable a person to invent Microsoft.  Bill Gates, who never finished his own degree, was clearly the man for that job. 

Nor did Marilee Jones become the best dean of admissions MIT ever had by getting a degree, and there is no degree in any case in “Dean of Admissions-ness.”  She started at MIT as a secretary, and worked her way up the ladder in a fully-transparent process of ever-increasing accomplishment.   Her experience was her credential, and everyone accepted it exactly as such.

I do believe that someone with an undergraduate liberal arts degree is going to be a better all-around job prospect — but not always, and not in any specific way. 

Again:  Bill.  Gates.

I’m also willing to concede that a degree in physical therapy can be a value-add for someone wanting to be, oh I don’t know, a physical therapist.

However, I’ve seen many job advertisements that require applicants to have an advanced degree without even specifying why, or what that degree should be in.  And I completely fail to see how a generic “advanced degree,” e.g., an online Masters Degree in basket weaving, better qualifies a person in a completely unrelated job, e.g., one in public relations.  

What do you think?  What is the proper place for an academic degree in today’s job market?