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Career Advancement Through Lying: OK or Not?

CNN has a story today about a man who, since 2001, has been falsely claiming to have survived the 9/11 Pentagon attack and a couple of tours in Iraq as a Marine. Before being caught, Richard Strandlof formed the Colorado Veterans Alliance to bolster his lies. He also toured as a motivational speaker and spoke on behalf of veterans at the Colorado Capitol.

In 1998, Riley Weston (née Kimberlee Kramer) made headlines when it was revealed that she was 33 years old, not the 19 she claimed--making her one-episode stint as a writer on Felicity and subsequent big-money deal with Disney much less notable (and much less justifiable).

We've all read the statistics that up to 50% of resumes contain distortions or lies. On a recent interview, a friend of mine was required to sign a (presumably) legally binding statement that all of the claims made within her resume and application.

So is it okay to lie if it furthers your career? No.

But should we care if people do it? No.


As was bound to happen, Strandlof was caught. Someone either researched him enough to brand him a liar, or one of the pals he watched live 9/11 coverage with (at a home in Santa Cruz, CA) ratted him out. Whatever the case, Strandlof is now publicly a loser--and may face prison time and a $100,000 fine for his misdeeds. The embarrassment of a "stolen valor" conviction alone is enough to turn the man into a hermit, and it has to be especially strong when there are currently real, active, ass-kicking Marines in combat.

Riley Weston's fame was short-lived and fast-burning because she was caught, and suddenly, the label "wunderkind" was replaced by "con artist." It turns out that, rather than a writer, the woman was actually a frustrated actor. Her lie has encouraged a performer's worst-case scenario: Beside a few bit parts in no-name movies, Weston has had virtually no on-screen time since her guest-starring role on Felicity in 1998. According to her website, she has written a bunch of movies (mostly for the Hallmark Channel?), but I could find no supporting documentation--so I will assume that it's all lies. The alternative, had she never been caught, is that Weston would've been relegated to the oh-my-God-she-looks-so-old file by the time she hit age "30" (= 43 in Riley years). Now she's an old liar, rather than just an old actress.

A lie is most risky when it's incorporated to the average joe's resume. While politics and Hollywood are playgrounds forgiving to liars and ne'er-do-wells, a private citizen is unlikely to benefit from boasting beyond his capabilities to secure a job. Assume that, particularly in today's highly competitive market, employers will be fact-checking and calling your references--so resume-padding will be caught. Why set yourself up for dull performance marks? Be straight about successes (especially data and financial claims). If it's hard to confirm your claims, or you worry about whether a past employer will verify them, emphasize your workplace values and personality that can be clearly demonstrated once you're hired.