Bar Bulletin

Bar Bulletin

Big Guys, Big Lies: Why Business Needs to Keep it Real

March 2023 Bar Bulletin

By Al Davis

If the name George Santos doesn’t ring a bell, then you’ve been in a sleep to match that of Rip Van Winkle or you’ve made the conscious decision to shut out all news coverage. Should you fall into one of these categories, George Santos is a recent member of the House of Representatives from New York who was elected in the mid-term elections.

As it turns out, in order to get elected the story he told voters about his life was a complete and total lie. Not content to lie about his employment history, he lied about his education, religion, family background, sexual orientation, criminal history, charity work, and yes, possibly even his name. Yet neither political party did enough of a background check to find any of this, and today, he remains an elected member of Congress.

Given that this is a business article, you’re saying to yourself: What does that have to do with my company? He’s a politician. Politicians lie! What’s the big deal? The big deal is that while Congressman Santos is the latest political liar, people do lie in business and that can affect companies large and small.

Hall of Shame

It turns out that Brian Williams, a respected NBC news anchor, told a lie for twelve years about being forced down by rocket-propelled grenade fire while on a helicopter in Iraq. When the truth of the fabrication came to light, Mr. Williams lost his network anchor position and NBC lost the number one network news ranking.

In another case, right out of the TV show Suits, Brian Valery became an attorney for the law firm Anderson, Kill & Olick, claiming to have passed the bar despite having never been to law school. After representing 50 clients and charging over $300 per hour, Andersen, Kill and Olick was forced to negotiate settlements with those falsely represented. Valery lost his job and was sentenced to five years’ probation for impersonating a lawyer.

David Edmondson lied about two degrees on his résumé to secure his position as CEO of RadioShack. He claimed to have two degrees from Pacific Coast Baptist College. Neither degree was true, and he was asked to resign.

Ronald Zarrella had served as CEO of Bausch & Lomb for eleven months when it was discovered that he did not have the MBA from New York University that was on his résumé. Despite the news sending the shares of the company down in heavy trading, the company stood by their CEO based on his proven management skills. Lucky!

Others known to have lied about their backgrounds have held titles such as CEO of Yahoo, Dean of Admissions at MIT, CFO of Veritas Software, and President of IBM’s Lotus Development Corp.

The Boundaries of Believability

For those working outside the political world, the ramification for résumé lies is often swift and absolute, labor experts say. An article in the Chicago Tribune outlines some interesting facts.

Most companies have some type of policy that says falsification of documentation is grounds for termination. And yet, according to a survey conducted by StandOut CV in the Fall of 2022, more than 50% of Americans have fattened up their résumés at least once, with most lying about previous work experience, skills, college degree and personal details.

Yet experts often disagree on the impact of falsehoods on both the candidate and the ability to do the job. A former recruiter says that most falsehoods are really “embellishments” such as adding the word “proficient” to a skill where the applicant is not. And this type of subtlety is why many companies fail to notice.

Typically, most people don’t lie about where they went to school or what degree they have. Another expert states: “It would surprise me that people would do that now because it is so easy to Google somebody or run a background check and find these things out.”

For most employers taking candidates at face value is second nature. With multiple, urgent roles to fill, tons of résumés to go through, and dozens of interviews to schedule, you don’t always have the time to dig into a candidate’s background as thoroughly as you would like. Most of the time, this isn’t a problem — the majority of candidates are honest, upstanding people just trying to find the right opportunity.

But occasionally you will find a bad actor who chooses to exaggerate or even flat-out lie about their experience in order to get the job they want. If hired, the consequences can be disastrous. Replacing an employee, especially a senior employee, even if they’ve only been there for a short amount of time — is time-consuming, expensive, and tedious, not to mention embarrassing.

Reading Between the Lies

So, the next time you have an interview with a candidate that seems too good to be true, make it a priority to check for these signs that a candidate may be lying or exaggerating.

1. Their answers are vague or unrelated.
2. Their body language gives them away.
3. They lean too heavily on group accomplishments.
4. They get defensive.
5. Their background and skills don’t pass the sniff test.

Despite the urgency of the hiring process in today’s environment, it’s important to go through the hiring process with deliberation. Above all, check references and check the references of references. Check social media, all social media, rather than relying just on a Google search. Be prepared to give skills tests and for creative positions such as advertising and promotion, ask for and discuss past work portfolios.

Remember, George Santos is only one of 541 members of Congress. But your next hire could have a major impact on your company. Take the time and choose well. 

Al Davis serves as Principal at Revitalization Partners LLC, a corporate and board advisory firm that specializes in restructuring and receiverships. He is a Court Appointed General Receiver in the State of Washington as well as an interim CEO and advisor to middle market companies. He can be reached at or 206.903.1855.

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