I lied on my resume — now what?

A reader writes:

I recently applied for a prestigious company looking to fill a role that’s rarely open — and I lied on my resume. Specifically, I lied about where I went to school. The company hires people from top-caliber schools and I thought swapping the name of my college would help me get my foot in the door.

The company had already called me in for a series of in-person interviews with key players in the department. My interaction with the team has reinforced my confidence in wanting the job and guilt about lying where I attended college (at least two people have remarked what a wonderful place it is, so it hasn’t gone unnoticed).

My HR contact just reached out to me and asked me to complete an electronic application and-again-it prompts me to fill in my education credentials. Now that I’m in the final stages of consideration, I’m terrified of the background check revealing the lie and losing this job over it. What should I do?

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My former intern ghosted her new job
  • Telling freelance clients I’ve increased my rates
  • Are sandals now considered business attire?
  • Using up vacation time right before resigning

{ 299 comments… read them below }

  1. Baker's dozen*

    I hope OP1 takes Alison’s advice and learns from it. This isn’t exaggerating the importance of your role or the part you played in some achievement or other, it’s a straight up lie. There’s no way that OP1 can continue in this application process, let alone the job with this lurking in the wings.

    1. Ping*

      I think OP also needs to know how this harms others. Many times women and POC are accused of falsifying their resumes. Now part of this has to do with prejudice – people can’t conceive that a “lower status” person could reach that level of achievement. But the other reason they get accused of this is because people like OP actually do falsify their resume.

      OP, I hope you learn from this and never do it again. But also remember the collateral damage you are doing to others when you act so unethically.

      1. Forrest*

        I mean, yes people lie, and they shouldn’t. But if that makes people assume that Poc or women lie *specifically*, that’s a racism and/or a misogyny problem. Nobody gets to blame that on “well some people lie, so obviously it’s natural to assume that minority groups do.”

        1. Ping*

          There’s already a tendency to disbelieve. They are grabbing at plausible excuses not to believe.

          The fact that others do lie gives them a plausible excuse.

          People who fabricate their resumes don’t realize the amount of harm (yes, harm) they do to others. They need to realize that I t’s the ultimate selfish act. They take away a slot from a deserving person who earned that slot. They also try to claim that “everybody does it” when everybody doesn’t do it.

        2. Mookie*

          Yes, exactly. The origin of double standards lay with the privileged, and that privilege is reinforced by behaving as though everyone else must provide disproportionate proof of both their exceptionality and spotless character. Discrimination and bias are irrational when it comes to using evidence of bad behavior selectively and then interpreting it generally towards an entire group. Holding bigoted views is not the result of simply observing human behavior in objective fashion, because all humans do these things. The difference is that an offender belonging to the in-group is granted individual agency and culpability, whereas one of an out-group is representative of their community which now bears the burden of guilt by association.

          Behaving poorly is bad in itself. No observer is forced into concluding more meaning in the behavior than exists; that’s justification for a pre-existing prejudice, not a logical or reasonable deduction. Excusing this is, well, inexcusable.

      2. Andy*

        > But the other reason they get accused of this is because people like OP actually do falsify their resume.

        I would be surprised if women and POC were more likely to lie on the resume then white males.

      3. Marie*

        Did I miss something? Do we know if OP is female, minority, etc.? I read the letter twice and saw no reference to that…for all we know OP is male, white, both…

    2. Just a person*

      The truth will likely come out somehow from an unlikely source. Way back I worked in an HR department. The “computer guy” at our location, Fergus, was hired on annual contract basis (and paid nicely) as a new grad from a great program a respected big state university. His first year was okay and the contract was renewed but then he started doing flaky things and caused a major system outage that had significant effects on everyone’s work. It was bad. Around that time my boss, head of HR, got a call from a car dealer who said Fergus had broken a sales contract on a pricey custom-ordered car and that, while trying to sort the mess out along with the auto loan lender, they learned he never graduated from State U. She told me and some management types about it in confidence; since it was information disclosed illegally, our lawyer advised against acting on it to dismiss Fergus at that time despite the performance issues. Meanwhile, as things got flakier, management quietly recruited someone to take over. With a couple of weeks left on his contract, Fergus asked about signing a renewal with a raise. The grand boss invited Fergus to meet with him and my boss about the contract. When Fergus sat down, he was informed that his contract would not be renewed due to poor performance, told to hand over his keys, given a check for the remainder of his contract, and escorted out of the building. His access to the system was cut off and the rest of IT staff was advised not have contact with him. Last we hear, he was having trouble getting a job.

    3. halloway avenue*

      Actually, I think it’s quite easy to get past the background check without revealing the lie.

      All OP1 needs to do is be honest on the background check form.

      As crazy as this is, most places do NOT compare what you put in your BG check form to what you put on your resume. So it’s entirely possible to present one set of credentials to a hiring manager, and another to a background check company (who, it should be known, do the bare minimum to complete the check. They are motivated by swiftness, not completeness).

      In fact, my company won’t even allow me to see the results of my direct reports’ background checks. All I get is a simple “yes” or “no” about whether they passed. So there is no way for me to verify whether their resume matches their background check application.

      I’m actually quite surprised this isn’t acknowledged more often.

      1. Megabeth*

        Even if this is the case and OP1’s manager(s) never see the result of the background check, the truth may still come out at some point. Until it does (and it probably will), the OP will have to live with the fear of being found out. If I were this person’s manager and I found out about this, I’d have serious questions about their integrity.

    1. Yvette*

      If they are exist you can usually find them by going to the search box “Enhanced by Google!” and after copying the letter title type the word update into the search box and paste the title after that. I have found a lot of updates this way. If it is there it usually shows up in the first page of found items. I checked this one, no luck. Does not mean it is not out there.

  2. employment lawyah*

    Just drop out now. They won’t know why. Then, don’t do it any more. As you’ve now realized, this is a very bad idea.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Just drop out now. They won’t know why. Then, don’t do it any more. As you’ve now realized, this is a very bad idea.

      Unless they’ve initiated the background check, in which case they’ll figure out why, and nothing else changes.

      However, if you just can’t bear to drop out, your only alternative is to come clean. I don’t know how you’d successfully explain it away–a lapse in judgement and remorse don’t seem grave enough–and I’d bet bus fare that the end result will be the same. But someone with borderline-legendary charisma might be able to pull it off.

      1. H.C.*

        I think most states require applicants’ consent for a background check to be initiated; that being said, not sure if OP had already consented to this in the initial application process, or is being asked to consent in the latest round of filling out forms.

      2. JessaB*

        There are stories about people who lied about or left out things that were 20 or more years old and it came back to bite them. Particularly when a new banking regulation sent companies reverifying their employees. This is a not good thing. Better to walk away before you’re caught and don’t do it again. Because if they catch you, you’re going to be on record as being completely untrustworthy.

    2. Lollie*

      Yep. The only sensible option. Withdraw from consideration with a plausible excuse, then possibly get some therapy to understand why you did something so self-destructive and unethical. You made a really bad choice here, and the best outcome is learn something from it.

      1. Roscoe*

        I mean, while I think everyone could benefit from therapy, I don’t know that this is something that you need therapy for. While its not something I think I would ever do, we don’t know their situation. They may have just been desperate and trying anything to get a foot in the door. If they went to a known “party” school, it really doesn’t change their qualifications, so I can see how you wouldn’t think much of it.

        I’m not condoning their actions, but your response seems a bit much.

        1. pancakes*

          I’m not sure what you mean about a party school or what that has to do with the letter, but being desperate and being self-sabotaging aren’t the same. Many, many, many people desperate for work don’t put themselves into self-sabotaging scenarios like this one, and/or don’t have delusions that they somehow won’t be caught. Therapy is certainly appropriate in these circumstances.

          1. Indy Dem*

            One bad choice, like lying on a resume, is not necessarily a reason to see a therapist. If the LW thought that they had a pattern of behavior or an underlying diagnosis or issue to work out, that would be a good reason, but not for one lie.

          2. Xantar*

            There are people who will seriously advise others to lie on their resumes and don’t think it’s a big deal. It’s really bad advice, but as we know from this blog, there’s a lot of advice that persists despite being really bad. It doesn’t mean the people who pay attention to that advice need therapy.

            1. pancakes*

              The letter writer didn’t say or suggest that they only did this because someone advised them to, so I’m sure why you bring that up. In any case I wouldn’t say that people who rely on lousy advice should categorically be excused from therapy, particularly if they do so unthinkingly.

          3. LunaLena*

            Yeah, there are a shocking amount of people out there who think lying on your resume is okay because “everyone does it.” That doesn’t mean they’re delusional, just that they’ve convinced themselves that it’s justified for whatever reason. It’s not that different from how some people think it’s okay to shoplift because “they’re a big company, they can afford it” and “it’s not stealing if you really NEED it” and “they expect it to happen.”

            I think Roscoe mentioned party schools as an antithesis to a prestigious school. His point was that, whether you went to Harvard or CU Boulder, it doesn’t change whether or not you have five years of experience in llama grooming, so some people might easily assume that it doesn’t matter if they lie about their education.

            1. pancakes*

              It’s at least a bit delusional to think that the truth about where this letter writer went to school won’t come to light at some point if they don’t withdraw their candidacy. If they’ve somehow convinced themselves that whoever uncovers it will agree that it was justified, that’s delusional too.

              1. LunaLena*

                Eh, I think the justification is on the same level of hiding known bad traits (like extreme jealousy or credit card debt) from new significant others. It’s not that they think no one will ever find out, they’re hoping it won’t matter by the time they’re found out. I mean, look at some of the comments below asserting that having a degree from a good school shouldn’t matter at all and it’s stupid/elitist for a company to prefer it. If those people practice what they preach, then theoretically it shouldn’t matter that the OP lied about their education as long as they were a good employee up until they were found out.

                So I still disagree that it’s delusional and rises to the level of needing therapy to figure out. It’s just that a lot of people fool themselves into thinking that something is okay because it benefits them. It’s obviously not great for people to do this, but it’s human nature.

                1. AstridInfinitum*

                  Even if the issue were only where the LW had gone to school and the organization truly placed competence above education, the liar still lied. And that’s the signpost that points to bad judgement. If I were this person’s manager and it came out after a couple of months that this fact had not only been fabricated, but continued to be propped up the whole time, it shows a serious lack of honesty and I would question everything from the on out. So, while the work might be good, and the person otherwise capable, the lie is still there. Maybe that’s harsh, but that’s how I’d feel on the manager side.

                2. pancakes*

                  People who try to hide those traits from their significant others are delusional as well. I don’t agree that it’s human nature to have such childish views about how relationships should work and/or to be self-sabotaging in those particular ways. Good therapy would help those people, and the people with the misfortune to have become romantically entangled with them. I don’t understand your objection to it, or what you fear would happen if someone who doesn’t strictly need therapy according to your inscrutable criteria went to a few therapy sessions.

                  You seem to believe that the same commenters who are saying fancy schooling shouldn’t matter are the same people who make hiring decisions. Some, maybe, but clearly there are people in hiring who firmly believe it does matter.

              2. The Rules are Made Up*

                Not sure why you’re getting “delusional” from this. I’d say it would be delusional if the LW wrote in with a letter saying “My job fired me for a small exaggeration on my resume and I think they’re overreacting. Would I be able to sue?” Or some other such thing where they are clearly under the impression that it’s everyone else with the issue. This LW knows they made a mistake and clearly knows there’s a chance they’ll get caught hence why they wrote to Allison in the first place. Many many people do things that are self sabotaging, and though I think everyone should also go to therapy, it seems like you’re reading a lot into this for some reason.

                1. pancakes*

                  I’m getting delusional from, “Now that I’m in the final stages of consideration, I’m terrified of the background check revealing the lie and losing this job over it.” This was entirely predictable. Not only predictable, probable. It is delusional for anyone entangling themselves in a lie of this magnitude to imagine that everything will fall into place and living with it will be easy.

                2. Librarian1*

                  That’s not delusion. Delusion would be not understanding that they did anything wrong in the first place and then getting mad when they got caught. The OP clearly knows they did something wrong and they know they need to come clean about it. It was bad judgment to do it in the first place, but come on, people exhibit bad judgment all the time, it does not make them delusional, and it does not make them a bad person, which it seems is what you’re trying to say.

                3. pancakes*

                  Librarian, “delusional” refers to believing things that aren’t true. It isn’t limited to the very particular state of mind you describe.

                4. Sasha*

                  A delusion is a fixed belief, in the face of contrary evidence, which is not culturally appropriate.

                  So refusing treatment because you believe that God might spontaneously cure your cancer is not a delusion, because it is culturally appropriate in many evangelical churches. It is medically unwise, but people are allowed to make medically unwise decisions.

                  Believing that John Cleese sends you personal messages via the medium of old Fawlty Towers repeats, or that your wife has been replaced by an automaton, are delusions.

                  Worrying that you might get caught out in a fairly major and easily-checkable lie is not a delusion, because the oater is correct, they almost certainly will be caught. Lying in the first place was pretty silly, but not delusional – hoping you won’t get caught in a lie is possibly over-optimistic, possibly unwise, but plenty of people the world over tell lies despite the fact they are obviously going to get caught. It does not rise to the level of mental illness, does not require mental health treatment, and frankly it belittles and stigmatises people with mental illness to conflate the two.

                5. Librarian1*

                  Pancakes- I wasn’t saying that’s the complete definiton of delusional, I was saying that someone who is delusional wouldn’t even be worried about being caught because for the reasons that Sasha said. And I 100% agree with Sasha that this is contributing to the stigmatization of people with mental illness.

                6. pancakes*

                  Sasha, your notion of cultural appropriateness doesn’t correspond to any dictionary definition of the word.

                  If anyone here is stigmatizing mental illness, it’s the two of you insisting that the word “delusional” only ever refers to people with the very particular and rather rare condition of delusional disorder, and therefore should never be spoken of. I don’t get it, and we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this.

        2. Radio Girl*

          Withdraw, and consider it a lesson learned, OP.

          The fact that you wrote to AAM about your mistake suggests you are a decent person who slipped. We all do.

          Good luck! I would appreciate an update someday.

        3. NotAnotherManager!*

          The issue with places like this is that they typically only hire from the Ivy League or other highly-selective schools and use that as a screening criteria. You could go to a well-regraded public university, and it’s not “good enough”. (I work in one of the industries where this is common. People at work have expressed surprise that all my degrees are from state schools because I “seem so smart”.)

          1. Katrinka*

            Yeah, they’re jerks for doing it that way, but lying about where you went to school isn’t the answer. When it comes out, it will only reinforce their stupid belief that other schools and students are inferior.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              I’m not suggesting it is. We background check all candidates, and lying will get your offer pulled on the spot. Merely pointing out that it’s not going to a “party school” that sinks you but going to any school that is not on the top 10-20 list. Elites hire from the places they send their kids.

          2. Fiske Guide snob*

            Most places that hire from highly selective schools know enough to include places like UC Berkeley, UCLA, the University of Virginia, UT-Austin, UNC Chapel Hill, and the University of Michigan in their roster.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              Yeah, I work for one of those places, and I know the list of “acceptable” public schools by heart. (William & Mary and Georgia Tech can usually squeak by as well.) I got to hire a mediocre candidate from U. Mich. once over a candidate with hard-to-find experience who went to University of Cincinnati – and was then chastised by the hiring principal for even sending them a candidate who went to (dripping with contempt) Cincinnati… the next time I had to hire for them, I was also reminded to send them candidates of “appropriate educational pedigree”. I hire for staff positions, not people whose CVs go on the website.

      2. pancakes*

        Mistake? No, by the letter writer’s own account, lying about their schooling was intentional. It’s not as if they somehow typed the wrong school name on their resume and then failed to proofread it. Whether they’re likely to lie about other important things in the future isn’t something you can predict from this letter.

        1. Jimmy*

          The mistake is that OP thought lying was a reasonable option.

          Lying about credentials is common (BAD) advice given by career counselors.

          1. pancakes*

            It’s not unheard of, of course, but where are you getting data that it’s common? How common, exactly?

            I don’t see how you can confidently claim to know just what another commenter meant by their word choice, either.

          2. Forrest*

            Is it??! Does the US not have any kind of professional accreditation or standards for careers counsellors? As a careers adviser in another country, that’s pretty shocking!

          3. Jimmy*

            I don’t have data sources but it’s common enough that I’ve heard it from multiple unrelated people.
            Similar to the outdated ‘you need to show gumption’ etc.

            & it was just an inference. (It seemed like you didnt understand how it couldve been a mistake so I wanted to illustrate an example.)

          4. Jimmy*

            Forrest, yeah its awful!

            For example I was advised to show up in person and ask about my application the day after applying online.

            After a couple times it was obvious the advice was hurting more than helping.

          5. pancakes*

            You personally hearing from multiple people that career counselors advised them to lie does not establish that it’s common for career counselors to advise people to lie. It could be that people you know make uncommonly poor choices in selecting career counselors, or that career counselors in your region are more dishonest or less professional than they are in many other places, or any number of other reasons.

            My question mark to Oof wasn’t meant to express confusion about what a mistake is; it was meant to question their judgment in depicting a deliberate choice as an error.

          6. allathian*

            Yeah, the lying on the resume was a stupid thing to do. Who knows why the LW did it. It was a mistake in the sense that it wasn’t a reasonable option, but it was not a mistake in the sense of an accident, the LW did it deliberately. Probably because they’ve received bad advice at some point.

            I’m a bit surprised by the comments recommending therapy for the LW based on this one incident. There’s no evidence that the LW is a compulsive liar. I do think that the LW could benefit from professional, good quality career coaching, starting with Alison’s books…

          7. Happily Self Employed*

            I went to a fairly prestigious job career counseling agency and although they wouldn’t have said to lie about going to Harvard instead of Humboldt State, they DID tell me to exaggerate my work history to the point where it wasn’t much more truthful. For example, if I did a proofreading pass on a $2 million DoE grant renewal application on a temp assignment that ended before the contract was awarded, I was supposed to say that I brought in $2 million in new business as the sole author of the grant. Never mind that I did not have the skills or experience to back that up…

        1. Deranged Owl*

          off-topic derail on therapy, yoga, and church

          OK, now I am curious…

          [Not an attempt to start this off-topic derail again, I just find Alison’s summary funny ;-) ]

    3. LeahS*

      Yes, I would say drop out. I coordinate between our background check vendor and hiring managers and they will absolutely find out during the background check unless the company is super old school.

    4. Person from the Resume*

      Yes. LW1 was looking for a magic wand to undo his previous actions but keep the results of his lie same. The company has shown they care about where you went to school so you make it as far as being hired, you’re still very likely to get caught especially as you run into “classmates.” If you drop out of the running now they’ve never caught you in the lie, and that’s the best case for you.

      1. Colette*

        The sad part is that the company may not care about the school – they might have interviewed the OP if her resume had been accurate. But they’ll care about the lie.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          I can’t recall a time my hiring managers declined a solid candidate because of their alma mater. But I’ve withdrawn dozens of offers, and declined further review, because the candidate lied about their credentials.

          OP1, I’m sorry you’ll lose out here, but you must assume everything you claim on your resume or application will be verified. The ‘wrong’ school won’t hold you back but lying will.

      2. Lexie*

        I’ve had jobs where on day 1 I had to supply a copy of my diploma to prove I had the degree I claimed to have.

    5. GS*

      You absolutely should drop out now and I’d recommend waiting a few months and if they have an ATS where it’s easy to do so, swap your resume with the lie for a real one. Wait quite some time before you apply again. Crossing that ethical boundary would get your offer (should you receive one) rescinded and definitely a note next to your name with info about how you lied. It’s a bad look and will damage your future chances of ever working there.

    6. Learn from me*

      Years ago, I lied on my resume about having a degree that I did not. At some jobs, they didn’t run a background check to confirm this so I didn’t get caught. But eventually, I was fired three months in at a job that paid well and was prestigious because I couldn’t provide proof of my degree. It has taken a lot of therapy for me to get to the root of my behaviors, make amends and move forward. Withdraw now and make the correction to your resume ASAP, please.

      1. Quickbeam*

        Thanks for sharing that. I went to a state school, nothing fancy during a recession. Saw two friends of mine do resume magic and get great jobs only to be walked out when the lie resurfaced. It always seems to come out.

      2. Smithy*

        Thank you for sharing, and I also think an important part of why these types of lies do happen and why they’re horribly risky. The reality is that there may be some people who do get jobs this way and don’t get caught. There are background checks that will just look at credit, criminal records and/or confirm employment. And then there are background checks that will go deeper and include confirming degrees.

        However, you’re likely not going to know in advance and it leaves you in a place where if at any time that information does come to light, and risk living with a lot of dread hanging over you.

        1. Happily Self Employed*

          It’s particularly risky when you’re claiming to share a background with people you will be working with. And Ivy League people will *not* shut up about their school, the way they did things there, name-dropping famous people, inside jokes… yeah, this is going to be like one of those sitcoms I think are painful to watch and not funny.

      3. Happily Self Employed*

        I had a therapist briefly during grad school. One of the things that got him fired was that he suggested I quit grad school and just say on my resume that I had finished my program. I told him lying on resumes is a terrible idea, and he said that if I believe hard enough I actually graduated, I can create my own reality. So why do all that work and not have time for hobbies?


        1. Librarian1*

          Okay, now THIS is delusional. It’s also really bad practice and he should probably lose his license.

  3. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    It was never more frustrating than spending weeks chasing enrollment verifications and losing other candidates when someone refused to come clean… At one point (all of our hires had to have their diplomas verified per government contract specifications), I finally started adding a subtitle to job ads: ALL DEGREES AND LICENCES WILL BE VERIFIED WITH THE RESPECTIVE INSTITUTIONS.

    1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      Also to add: Alison’s advice definitely applies to applicanrs to the companies like ours who faked even having a degree, not just from a specific school. At one point, we had someone tell us his “resume consultant” was making extra money off of selling fake diplomas as well

    2. annakarina1*

      Yeah, when I got my job that required a Master’s degree, I had to show proof of a transcript and my degree that I had actually gone to and graduated from the university. I would have been toast with a spoiled reputation if I had pretended I had a degree from there.

      1. Seal*

        Same here. In fact, I had provide official transcripts for all of my degrees (except HS) to prove I actually graduated for my last 2 jobs. I have a BA, 2 master’s degrees and a post-grad certificate, all from different schools, so I’m happy they didn’t ask for transcripts until they offered me the job.

        Word to the wise – when you list your degrees on your resume ALWAYS assume they’ll ask for transcripts!

      2. Beth Jacobs*

        My master’s is from a university founded in 1348, so I got a traditional huge rolled up diploma in a tube (in Latin to boot). I’ve had to haul that to two jobs now – I have an electronically signed digital certificate as well, but nobody seems to want that :)

        1. Roeslein*

          I got the huge rolled up diploma in Latin too when I defended my PhD! Only issue is that it’s not very readable, so I’ve had to request certified translations of it into various languages…

    3. Massmatt*

      A charitable foundation in my area was racked by scandal several years ago when it turned out the CEO lied about her degree. This was a foundation that was working closely with prominent colleges and universities so it was a very big deal. It started a wave of turnover in upper management and the reputation of the foundation is still damaged.

      It’s much easier to damage or even destroy a reputation than it is to build one. Something to consider when tempted to take the easy way.

      Warren Buffet, on taking over a company in turnaround, told managers “if you make a decision that costs us money, I will be understanding. If your decision costs us our reputation, I will be merciless”.

    4. GS*

      I work in a heavily regulated industry as a recruiter. I am always so frustrated when people lie – we do not necessary care about whatever you are covering up, but if you lie about it? You’ve failed our ethical standards.

      1. Albatross*

        I always heard that was the secret to getting a security clearance – they’re generally willing to work with messy families, poor decisions as a teenager, outré love lives, stigmatized medical conditions, etc. as long as you’re open about it and doing what you can to help the problem. (Not talking to the relative who’s in prison for assault, did community service for the teenage shoplifting, on anti-psychotic medication, that sort of thing.) But you have to be open about it, because they don’t know what else you’re hiding. (Sometimes blackmail is also a concern, depending on field.)

        1. Chinook*

          But, with blackmail, the concern is more about being confronted with a lie or hidden truth. If you employer knows your dirty secrets, then there is nothing to lie about. DH said his lie detector questions for security clearance were intrusive and awkward, but it meant that nobody could find anything on him that the employer didn’t already know.

        2. LifeBeforeCorona*

          Years ago for a security clearance, I had to answer “last known address” for several family members. I still got my clearance and it probably helped that I attached a note stating exactly why some family members were impossible to find and verify.

        3. DLM*

          Former security clearance background investigator and adjudicator here, and that is generally true.

          Part of my spiel was “it is of utmost importance during this interview you are completely truthful. If you tell me something derogatory, we may be able to work with you to mitigate it. But if you lie and we find out about it, that is lack of candor which is not mitigatable.”

          Agency guidelines differ, but that one was pretty much across the board

      2. iliketoknit*

        My job requires serious background checks for security issues, and that is what we are always, always told – the cover up is *always* worse than the crime. One of the background investigators put it in a way that made the most sense to me: if you’ll lie on the application [or in the background check] to make yourself look better, what will you do when you’re on the job?

    5. LunaLena*

      Huh. I work in higher ed, and when I applied for the job, I was asked to include a college transcript and diploma. And I noticed that all the job listings required them as part of the application package. I always wondered why they did this, especially since they aren’t scrutinized heavily when I serve on search committees, but if something like this happened (or happened multiple times), that would explain it.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        I have a (coffee stained) copy of my diploma. I wonder sometimes if I should order a new one and a copy of my transcripts just in case.

        1. Owler*

          Mine is laminated into a framed print, courtesy of a graduation gift. It’s hiding in a closet or attic somewhere, but I’m sure I could drag it out if I needed it… /s/ (somehow I don’t see it helping me)

        2. Stephanie*

          My undergrad and grad alma maters both provide 8.5 x 11 sized diploma copies for employer verification.

        3. NotAnotherManager!*

          My degrees are enormous and framed. No ones ever asked for the actual diplomas, so if transcripts don’t work, I have no idea how I’d manage to haul them in.

          1. Lexie*

            I had a job that due to licensing standards was legally required to have a copy of our diplomas on file. Shortly before I left, the agency started requesting transcripts too but it was the diploma the state wanted to see.

      2. Smithy*

        I wonder if this is because most standard background check packages don’t include pro-active degree checks. I’ve had a few background checks done by HireRight for different jobs, and some have asked for me to submit proof of my education as either a photo of a degree or final transcript. Some have not.

        I have no clue how they necessarily verify it with the university, but from my experiences requesting my own transcripts – it’s not easy.

        1. Popcorn Burner*

          I had to hold off on applying for jobs with my state’s government for years after college (these required transcripts) because I had medical debt from my university. Owing any debt to my alma mater means you can’t request your transcripts from them. This really limited my employment options, as I lived my state’s capital at the time.

          1. Happily Self Employed*

            That is horrible. How are you supposed to pay your debts if you can’t earn money because you can’t verify your education?

            1. Popcorn Burner*

              That’s how I ended up in nonprofit! My former employer (national nonprofit organization) does background checks and education verification, but does not require transcripts. Thank goodness for that.

        2. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

          There are a couple ways to verify. Many unis have a deal with The National Student Clearinghouse, and we simply provide a name/maiden name, degree type and gradation year or DOB and pay a small fee to verify. Otherwise we call the Registrar’s office of the university. Either way we can find out if the applicant finished, attended some courses, or lied.

  4. cranky*

    also, if a company won’t even consider you if you didn’t go to some fancy pants top tier college (which as we know are extremely meritocratic always and there is no rigging of the system whatsoever), they suck. sorry, OP.

    1. Public Sector Manager*

      Totally concur! You see this with law firms all the time: “Looking for a litigator with 10 years experience. Must have attended a Top-14 law school.” I’d rather have a trial attorney who wins than one who happened to go to a good school.

      1. JI*

        The thing is, getting into a good law school is often correlated with one’ talent as a lawyer.
        My wife did a pro bono housing case. The landlord had hired some ambulance chasing loudmouth who attempted to browbeat my wife and her colleague (both went to top 5 schools) on the basis of his supposed extensive experience.
        My wife hammered him in court with one fifth of his experience.
        He might have been good at bullying poor people with limited English, but he was just a better lawyer, knew the law better, better writer, better at arguing

        1. Zombeyonce*

          Sorry to burst your bubble, but this single bit of anecdotal evidence reeks of privilege, not truth. You may even have multiple stories like this, but your wife is a single person that may be an exceptional lawyer who also got into a top tier law school. Correlation does not equal causation.

        2. Sandi*

          Do you have the statistical evidence for this, other than your one anecdote? Because typically getting into a top school correlates with doing well on tests, which often correlates with income.
          (I know, if I was a good person and had the time then I would find the studies to prove what *I* said…. )

          1. Ashley*

            And the income to afford the price tag of a top tier school. Full scholarships rarely cover living expenses

            1. Anon Lawyer*

              Most people take out loans to attend top law schools. Whether that’s a good idea or not (at the very top law schools, you are not taking a ton of risk but obviously it is a lot of debt), most students at those schools can’t afford the price tag.

              1. Swingbattabatta*

                Co-signed. From the person who went to a top 5 law school and still owes $100K, 10 years out with steady employment since graduation. Thanks, recession, interest rates, and insane tuition costs.

        3. Marny*

          As a practicing attorney (who went to a good law school), I can tell you that getting into a good law school has nothing to do with one’s talent as an attorney. Your wife and her colleague sound like good attorneys. They likely would have been good attorneys if they had gone to Elsewhere School of Law. I meet good attorneys all the time who went to school somewhere I’ve never heard of. And I meet bad attorneys who went to top-tier schools. Where one was admitted to law school is indicative of nothing when it comes to predictors of talent as a lawyer.

          1. SlightlySnarky*

            I had a boss who lied about his law school. He claimed it was from a Top 20 school, when, in reality it was one at the very bottom of the rankings. It wasn’t ABA accredited. When confronted, he claimed he didn’t know which school issued his JD diploma. (Really? Does the diploma say University of Westeros or Podrick’s Beach School of Law?) In any case, he was a terrible lawyer, didn’t bother to learn the applicable law, responded to everything with a gut reaction based on how he thought it should be without doing the appropriate analysis.

            I also had a boss who went to a Top 3 law school (the one on the West Coast). She was a terrible boss and terrible manager. She was also a terrible lawyer, didn’t bother to learn the applicable law, responded to everything with a gut reaction based on how she thought it should be without doing the appropriate analysis.


        4. epmloyment lawyah*

          Hmm. Yes and no.

          1) Good candidates don’t always go to top schools. I deliberately chose a lower ranked school for multiple complex reasons–including but not limited to my full-tuition scholarship. I’m not any less smart now than if I had opted to pay for it.

          2) It’s true that most people are top schools are very smart in a GPA-and-test sense. Those skills are very useful in some arenas. For example, fast reading, great writing, and excellent literary synthesis may make you a great person to work on appellate briefs. But it doesn’t necessarily translate to other skills like reading a jury, or speaking well, etc.

          3) By the time you’re 5+ years out: In most cases, the main differences between lawyers result from experience, work ethic, and dedication to craft. NOT the school they went to.

          4) Still, I agree to a point: a) All else being equal, a grad of a top school is *more likely* to be smart, and b) smart people are *more likely* to be good. If I was hiring straight out of law school, I’d prefer Harvard grads over Podunk U. grads too. But all else is rarely, if ever, equal.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            3) By the time you’re 5+ years out: In most cases, the main differences between lawyers result from experience, work ethic, and dedication to craft. NOT the school they went to.

            That’s a lot of professions, although I have no doubt as a non-lawyer that it rings especially true for attorneys.

        5. Rayray*

          On the flip side, there are many people who get into their schools because of who their parents are.

        6. pancakes*

          Why do you suppose the landlord hired a personal injury for a housing case? Doesn’t make sense.

          1. Emma*

            Probably a few reasons:
            1) landlords are used to litigating against tenants who can’t afford representation and don’t know the law. So there’s no point paying for an experienced housing lawyer when someone with a mouth who knows how to use Google is just as likely to win. Judges are supposed to be proactive in doing a proper legal analysis even if the parties’ arguments suck, but that often doesn’t happen in practise.
            2) 90% of the ‘legal process’ that many landlords engage with is just sending aggressive letters that use legal-sounding language to intimidate tenants into dropping the issue. Going to court can be damaging for tenants, especially in the US, and is also something many people are very afraid of. So you don’t necessarily need to be able to argue persuasively on the basis of housing law in order to provide useful legal work to a landlord.
            3) probably some mates’ rates involved

        7. emmelemm*

          Sure, but my partner went to whatever-middle-ranking-I-don’t-even-know law school, and he’s won plenty of cases, at trial. Very few people come out of any law school with great trial skills; it’s a combination of natural aptitude, good mentoring and experience.

        8. NotAnotherManager!*

          So, because your wife and her colleague got one pro bono slam dunk over one ambulance chasing loudmouth on a pro bono matter, that’s proof that their top law schools are the deciding factor? Nah, that’s just standard BigLaw academic snobbery, and, for some older-school thinkers, it’s a way to have the “right kind of people” at your firm. There are very smart people (and very good lawyers) who decide to go to a Tier 2 school because they don’t want to risk $100K in debt because they don’t have a trust or parents to pay tuition and are okay with working outside the AmLaw 200. And plenty of Tier 1 graduates wash out before they come up for partner or even before they can pay off their loans.

          Even law school attendance sometimes doesn’t correlate with being a good lawyer. Many law schools are still very focused on ivory tower academics and high-minded theory and barf out tons of new associates every year who have never looked at court rules to see what it actually takes to file a document with a court, have no idea what a bates number is, have few project management or business development skills, and require two years of professional development in-house to learn actual useful, marketable skills that clients will pay for.

      2. Hannah*

        I agree on principle, but law firms have to deal with client expectations and for better or worse, many clients are focused on name-brand law schools (and law firms) and don’t have the ability to gauge what makes a “winning” trial attorney. Also, on the civil side, statistically cases are way likelier to settle than to proceed to trial or even to summary judgment, so trial skills might not be a priority – good advocacy and lawyering should be, but again, that’s hard for a client to assess in the abstract when they are deciding which firm to engage.

        1. Bluesboy*

          Client expectations can be so awkward, but it’s true. I work in the financial sector, and where we are, pretty much everyone went to the same university, because clients ‘know’ that it has the best economics course in the country and they expect it.

          Thing is, while it IS a good course, it’s also an expensive private university. So if you’re looking for someone from a rich family (typically white and middle class) who gets good test results then yes, it’s a great way to choose your banker. If you’re looking for someone who’s actually good at their job then…well, I know someone with a Masters from that university who has worked for Kepler Chevreux and JP Morgan who still doesn’t really understand what EBITDA is.

          All of which doesn’t change the fact that if my son decides he wants to go into banking…I will stump up the cash to send him there. Because this is the way it is, unfortunately.

      3. Blarg*

        It also is so geographically limiting. You have to be willing and able to move to one of the few places the “good” schools are located in.

        A friend with all the usual privilege (cis white man) chose to stay close to home for law school and … heaven forbid … go to night law school and work full time in his other highly competitive, licensed profession. Fifteen years later he’s largely gotten “past” not having gone to a top school and is a partner in a top firm in his specialization, where most other partners are top-school types. But he still keeps the part-time night school part quiet, though it’s obvious if you look at his resume closely. It’s so absurd! He’s got a JD, multiple masters, his PE license, etc. But wrong school??

        I’m at least glad that what school you went to in my field (nursing) matters not one iota. Got a license and degree? Great. Done.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      It does seem very unfair to favor prestigious universities and colleges. Because attending one of those doesn’t guarantee the person is any good, or that they will have success in the role. But appearances are everything to some industries I suppose. Or connections.

    3. Firecat*


      I earned a national scholarship in undergrad that was given to 200 people around the nation. A lot of the big name and Ivy Leagues were represented: Duke, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Berkeley, Standford, MIT, etc and I would say about half the recipients were from those schools. There were also students from public State schools like me.

      Part of the scholarhip involved a research competition in 5 categories amongst all the participants. Only 1 of the 1st place winners was from a known school – MIT. The rest of us were from little known public schools. The MIT person who won was also a “scholarship student” as they called her. That’s when I realized Ivy League was BS. The only thing they all had in common was that they eloquently dressed their complete lack of substantive research in obscure vocabulary and flowery ennuendos. The judges were not fooled.

  5. Marny*

    I agree with Alison’s advice to LW1, but I’m so disgusted at a company placing so much importance on something as trivial as where someone went to school. That kind of thing just results in the hiring of the same kind of people over and over again, likely wealthier people from wealthier families with legacy admissions, etc. etc. Even if it’s a good college and the person was admitted based on merit, all it means is they’re good at the SAT. Sorry, I’m just grossed out at the elitism.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      In some cases it does make sense though. There are a few fields where the top terminal degree (usually PhD or MD) programs are only offered at a very small handful of universities. One of those is near me, and it’s a specialized veterinary surgery for horses, specifically racehorses and event horses. Or, think of something like nuclear physics and atomic physics programs. Fields that are so difficult an rigorous, you’d likely not have many students who even make it that far, and probably even fewer professors who teach it.

      So, I get it, but the real emphasis on top tier schools seems to be for business, finance and law studies. Which seems kind of elite just for the sake of being elite.

      1. PollyQ*

        I’m not seeing how that’s an exception. If you need a specialized degree, just ask for the specialized degree.

      2. Marny*

        Oh sure. There are fields where having a certain specialized degree that is only offered at certain places can make a big difference. But a B.A. from Harvard isn’t automatically better than a B.A. from Florida State (there is nothing wrong with Florida State (I’m choosing a random state school. Don’t be offended, ‘Noles.)

        1. Rach*

          I was curious so I googled top nuclear physics programs and on more than one list University of Florida was ranked 8. My health didn’t allow me to continue to a graduate program once I obtained my physics degree, unfortunately but there are great schools throughout the country and world that aren’t Ivy League.

          1. AcademiaNut*

            Academic programs can be interesting that way. The Universities of Hawaii and Arizona aren’t particularly well knowns as top academic programs, but they’ve both got excellent astronomy programs, due to proximity and access to telescope facilities. And if you’re going into academic research, the school you get your PhD from matters a *lot*, much more than at undergraduate, not just for reputation, but the resources the school provides (money, access to top facilities and labs, interacting with the top people in the field). I looked up the list of Ivy league schools, and only two of them stand out as known for their astronomy programs (Princeton and Cornell). If someone told me they got a PhD at Dartmouth, I’d have to ask where it was, because I don’t know.

            1. Happily Self Employed*

              Humboldt State University in California is THE place to go for Forestry or Fisheries. (For civil service jobs as well as in the industries–and if you want to do research at Monterey Bay Aquarium, go to HSU.) And pretty much any Biology undergrad who wanted to go to med school (or vet school or dentistry) got accepted into a program; one of my lab partners went to Harvard Medical School. We were selected for a state-funded* stem cell research program, and anyone who completed that was pretty much guaranteed a spot in a PhD program doing stem cell research. (*Funded by Prop 54 in 2004 after the ban on Federal funding for stem cell research; Prop 17 is renewing the CIRM bond funding for the next decade. Yes on 17 for Science!)

      3. Rach*

        This is such an odd thing to say. Physics programs (nuclear and otherwise) are offered throughout the country and some top ones are “party schools”.

        1. Huttj*

          Also you can enter Nuclear Physics from a variety of specializations. My (late) dad was a prominent nuclear physicist, and his Ph.D. was in…I think it was gravitation and General Relativity? His diploma’s somewhere in my mother’s attic.

          Enough of the details of that stuff is classified, there’s expected “on the job” learning and getting people from different backgrounds on the same page.

      4. Richard Hershberger*

        Graduate programs, especially specialized ones, are an entirely different matter. If you are looking for someone in a narrow subfield, you look to the three schools that are good at that narrow subfield. This is entirely different from undergrad degrees, and frankly from all but narrowly focused graduate degrees.

      5. Metadata minion*

        Sure, if the degree is only *offered* at a few universities, you’re only going to hire from those universities. The problem being addressed here is where the degree is offered at many universities, but the employer is only hiring from the most “elite” of them.

      6. Quill*

        The school’s prestige (usually correlated with location and expense more than directly linked to academic quality) is a bad proxy for the degree program’s applicability when you have to get that specific. If there’s only a few schools that actually teach a program it’s relevant, but if it’s just about being a top ten school for business… it’s just because of nepotistic networking and lazy hiring.

    2. LawLady*

      I mean, I can agree that there are various structural iniquities. And absolutely, many brilliant people go to lower-ranked schools for a whole variety of reasons. Lots of really prestigious employers hire top talent out of state schools for that reason. (My experience is in law and consulting.)

      But calling it “trivial” seems a little unrealistic as well. For lots of jobs, doing well at a top school is going to correlate perfectly to being an excellent employee. Heck even just being “good at the SAT” means good grammar, reading comprehension, vocabulary, etc. Those are useful skills in many positions!

      1. Quill*

        Eh, I did great on the SAT. For various health related reasons I would do less well now.

        For the majority of people, the difference between going to a top ten school and a well regarded state school is purely based in money and location, not their test scores, at least when it comes to a BA / BS. Non-costal private colleges that aren’t on elite lists do a thriving trade in students who have good scores and want a specific degree, somewhat more affordably than shipping out to the east coast.

        Making sure that a school has a good reputation for the program isn’t trivial to the job requirements, but making sure that it’s ivy league is.

    3. Bleah*

      One thing not mentioned, does the employer really care or have they developed a reputation as only hiring people from well known schools? I have worked at places where they definitely tended to hire more people from top tier schools at first, but they still hired from non-top tier schools. And as the company grew, they really tried to stop looking at the school you went to, but they still had that reputation years later that you needed to go to a top-tier school to apply. It might be that this employer has this reputation, but it’s not real.

    4. Usagi*

      A very famous fruit company (that’s not a fruit company, they make smartphones and tablets and stuff) does this, at least for a few of their fast-track management programs. I know because I applied for one, absolutely killed the interview, got the call that I didn’t get the position, and when I asked for any feedback, it was basically, “well, you were fantastic, but we generally only hire graduates of [nearby prestigious school].”

      I have NO idea why she told me that. I would’ve been perfectly happy with “well, you were fantastic but other people were better.” Or even something really generic like “well, you were fantastic, but we were looking for people with more experience in XYZ.” Instead, I was left with a terrible taste in my mouth, and jumped ship to one of their big competitors soon after.

      Unfortunately Big Competitor was also a pretty junk company, so now I work for a local company where I’m a lot happier.

      1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

        I attended a State school near the smartfruit orchard, and I’m sorry to say yeah, the region was steeped in academic snobbery. I relocated after graduating and worked briefly at a college. Whenever I (reluctantly) told professors where I got my degree, they said appreciatively, “That’s a good school.”

        1. Happily Self Employed*

          I think I live a few blocks from that State school… yeah, they are trying hard to prepare students for tech jobs.

          OTOH, I attended a different State school, and its Computer Science program was hopelessly out of date. A friend who had experience but not credentials decided to get the credentials from a school with affordable tuition and affordable cost of living, and was disgusted by how outdated the curriculum and teaching methods were. He didn’t think it would prepare any of his classmates for a career in tech.

    5. Cassidy*


      Companies typically just want someone with at least a 4-year degree. How does that translate into elitism and “all it means is [students are] good at the SAT”?

      I went to community college and finished my junior and senior years at a doctoral-granting state school, worked hard, learned a lot about the world and about myself, and am very proud of my degree; and did all this while working full-time.

      Is there something for which I should apologize? Is there something elitist about that?

      1. LunaLena*

        That comment rankled me for the same reason. I went to a top tier university and, as the child of a single parent who was underemployed for most of my high school and college years, the only way I was able to afford it was because I worked really hard in high school and won scholarships and took out loans and had a job all four years in college. But apparently that only proves that I was “good at the SAT”? Guess all my hard work was for naught, I just got lucky? And sure, I knew a few rich kids who had had everything handed to them, but the vast majority of people I knew in college were people like me – worked hard in high school and earned their way in. Quite a few paid their own living expenses and took out student loans to pay the tuition as well.

        But apparently all that is just gross and elitist.

        1. Frankie*


          I’m the first person from my extended family (both sides) who got into top university. My parents didn’t go to university at all, and whole my life we’ve always been lower class, with precarious finance. My parents literally cried with happiness when I showed them my acceptance letter.

          I managed to get in because I worked hard in high school, missing out typical fun HS experience like going to parties or proms because I’d rather spend my time studying. In college I won scholarships, just like other students from similar background.

          If that makes me gross and elitist, then I’ll wear that badge proudly.

      2. Happily Self Employed*

        Some companies just want a degree, but OP was talking about snobby companies that only want Ivy League (or the Fruit Company that only wants certain schools). These employers assume that going to an Ivy/Stanford/whatever means someone is more qualified than someone who went to a state college or university. About half of the people in the Ivy League are legacy, athletes, whatever–and the primary criterion for the rest is a high SAT score. That’s what the commenter meant.

        Unless your “doctoral-granting state school” is UC Berkeley, they’re not talking about you.

        1. LunaLena*

          Direct quote from Marny: “Even if it’s a good college and the person was admitted based on merit, all it means is they’re good at the SAT.”

          How is Marny not specifically talking about people like Cassidy, Frankie, and me, i.e. people who were admitted based on merit?

    6. Ivies train spooks and late night comedians*

      My BIL is running into this issue. He went to a top-ranked school but it’s not Yale or Harvard, so he’s often passed over. 43% of white Harvard students are legacy, athletes or related to someone. It’s time people realize what Ivy League schools are: elitist institutions that serve to reproduce existing class structures.

      1. Esmeralda*

        Does he know for sure that this is why he’s being passed over? (I’m sorry if that sounds mean — just have to wonder how anyone would know for sure that this is the reason)

    7. TechWorker*

      Maybe things are slightly different in the U.K. (degrees generally cost the same no matter where you go, I *think* it’s harder to bribe your way in, though also don’t come from stupid levels of money so who knows). But here ‘going to an elite school’ is a mixture of ‘very good academics’ and ‘interviewed well’. If you’re hiring grads where education is one of the few things you’re going on, is it really that terrible to concentrate your hiring at elite universities? Doesn’t seem totally trivial?

    8. young professional*

      I wouldn’t say where you went to school is trivial. Top schools absolutely reproduce class hierarchies and are filled with students who got help from their family lineage, but as a first generation American / college student who went to a liberal arts ivy, there were a lot of folks like me who got in based on our passions, writing ability, extracurricular activities, showing dedication to academics in high school, while being low-income, first gen.

      The skills I learned defending myself in a 5 person seminar are probably a little sharper than what I would have picked up in a 200 person class at State U, but that doesn’t mean as an employee I will be any better at my job. (I say that doing my masters at a State U, albeit a high caliber one).

      I think avoiding “ivy leagues are useless titles / state schools are crap” generalizations will do us well.

  6. Not A Girl Boss*

    Ugh OP, I so understand. I had an experience at a career fair where I handed my resume to a prestigious company who took one look at my school and threw my resume in the trash right in front of me. (Hello, you couldn’t at least hand it back to me so I could reuse it?? And who has a giant trash bin specifically set up for reject resumes at a career fair?)

    I was going to a prestigious college and had one year left before I graduated… when I ran out of the ability to pay for it and had to transfer to a local school ranked #300-something. It was a really really hard pill for me to swallow, and the temptation to just lie and said I graduated from FirstSchool was high.
    BUT… I’m glad I didn’t lie.
    1) Who wants to work at such a jerky pompous company?
    2) I’ve found that the kinds of jobs who specifically hire from top-tier schools A) like to talk about schools and B) do background checks… I would have been found out.
    3) My career progression was slower and less glamorous at first…. but I eventually ended up getting a mid-career position at a prestigious company, and was much better prepared for it when I did. Obviously this isn’t always the case, but in my experience the quality of education between my top school and my bottom school really was very different, and I would not have been adequately prepared to jump right into a prestigious job.

    1. Mainely Professional*

      I mean, you can put that prestigious school on your resume… just give the dates you attended. You paid! Get the cachet!

      1. Not A Girl Boss*

        That is what I did back when I first graduated, but IME no one cared about anything but the school I graduated from. If anything, it kind of looked like I was expelled or flunked out or something. (I did include my GPA, but it was still an awkward question every interviewer asked that led into me talking about my financial situation).

        1. Lizzo*

          Honestly, if a job candidate told me their options were 1) continue at Super Prestigious University and take out a crapload of loans to pay for the last year, or 2) transfer to Other School and finish out the degree, I’d respect their sound fiscal decision-making skills.

    2. Jimmy*

      I would not have been able to keep my cool if somebody threw out my resume in front of me. That’s so unprofessional & downright nasty.

  7. Kiki*

    Letter #2: If I felt close to this intern, I would reach out to make sure she’s okay. I also, personally, wouldn’t change the nature of my references based on what you’ve heard from this third party– she did really great work while she worked for you, that’s what references should be concerned with, not what you’ve heard through the grapevine about her since she’s left. There are understandable reasons people quit a job without notice, like Alison said the workplace could have been abusive or she may be in the middle of some sort of personal crisis. Granted, going AWOL from your job isn’t great and isn’t a paragon of professionalism, but if someone were, say, dealing with an abusive partner or something, it would be terrible to think that it could poison not only her current job, but also past references.

    1. Massmatt*

      I disagree somewhat with Alison’s advice, IMO she let the new hire off too easily for abandoning a job and was too critical of the person calling the LW to let her know what happened. The former intern didn’t just quit without giving notice, she just stopped going to the job altogether. No matter how abusive or nasty the boss or workplace is, that’s extremely unprofessional. She couldn’t leave a note? Send an email? Make a phone call to say “I quit, I won’t be coming in to work anymore, goodbye”?

      I would not give a reference for her again unless I got a very good explanation.

      1. Colette*

        If the OP knows that to be true, it’s reasonable to consider. But if all she knows is a story from someone she doesn’t know, I’d ignore it.

        1. Quill*

          Yeah, there’s not enough evidence to repeat the allegation. It’s hearsay from someone whose position and knowledge wasn’t verified (unless of course OP knows this person, but it sounds from the letter like they do not.)

          Anyone else vaguely worried for OP’s former intern?

      2. Scourge of Incompetent Management*

        I completely disagree. The LW doesn’t know that the new hire left w/o notice. Someone told her that, but she doesn’t know it. Moreover, even if it were true, we’ve seen situations here in this column where leaving w/o notice is perfectly legitimate. Bottom line: to the LW, everything here except how the new hire performed when she was an intern is hearsay. If she fears for her reputation because of recommending a bad employee, she has a moral obligation to find out whether the hearsay is true before she changes the content of her references based on it.

        1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

          True. The caller could well have been a bully or harasser who caused her to walk, and now wants to not only smear her to someone who thought well of her, but also to submarine her chances with other prospective employers.

          OP knows the intern, and the caller was a stranger. Her reference is based on her firsthand knowledge of the intern, not the caller’s. Following up with the intern and at least getting both sides would be fair, if it can be done tactfully.

      3. introverted af*

        You’re trusting that this new employer is truthful and would have no reason to smear a former employee, which is a big leap based off the LW conversation with him. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reaching out and confirming that the former intern is ok and knows that this stuff is going around, but I wouldn’t change my reference yet and I would be focused in any future reference calls on her previous good work.

      4. Risha*

        I find the phrasing very suspect – “she quit last week without notice and simply stopped showing up to work.” Well, which was it? Did she quit, or did she stop showing up?

        Depending on the person telling the story, that could mean anything from ‘suddenly stopped showing up to work so we eventually construed it as quitting’ (concerning) to ‘she quit without giving us two weeks notice and we think it’s unprofessional that she didn’t show up the next day anyway” (possibly justified, depending on the circumstances).

        1. Rayray*

          I also found that wording strange. If she quit on the spot and said “Today is my last day” was she supposed to show up the next day?

          I’m wondering if the job or boss were just too awful to handle so she jumped ship. I remember one time when I worked at a law firm, someone was hired as a legal assistant and was told she’d be processing case files and doing more involved work. Then, they shifted her to mailing which was just printing labels and stuffing envelopes. Not what she applied for or accepted, and she quit on the spot one day. The manager and attorneys were mad and said it wasn’t a classy move but I think she did the right thing and they deserved that.

          So who knows what this intern went through. I personally think the LW should base her recommendations on the former intern based on her own experiences, not what happened at another work place. That isn’t fair.

          1. Mainly Lurking (UK)*

            Yeah, when I read this letter I immediately thought of a couple of previous AAM letters (both from Spring 2017, curiously enough) where an employee quit suddenly and refused contact with their employer, and it was because they had been treated appallingly by a co-worker or co-workers and the employer did not deal with the issue appropriately.

            One was when an employee was pushed in front of a moving car by a co-worker with a bird phobia. She incurred painful and expensive-to-treat injuries, but the company seemed more interested in protecting the co-worker, who in fact decided to stop therapy (there are a couple of updates to this story):

            The other story was when a letter-writer’s assistant was pinched more than once (the second time near her arse) under cover of “the spirit of St Patrick’s Day”:


            In both cases I can sympathise with the wronged employees, who must have felt that it wasn’t worth the emotional toll of trying to communicate further with their employers. We can’t rule out a similar situation here, and I would hate OP2 to just take the word of a reference-checker who has called her out of the blue to bad-mouth someone.

            1. Happily Self Employed*

              We are in the middle of a pandemic, assuming the OP is talking about something that happened in the past 7 months. The first thing I thought of is “Are we sure she’s not dying of COVID-19 at home or in the hospital?” Or she could have had a family emergency related to the pandemic. Or she could’ve had a non-COVID medical or family emergency, such as getting hit by a bus.

              True, with cellphones and email it’s easier to check in with your boss these days. But I would think a boss would have more motivation right now to try to check to see if the employee were OK.

              I agree it’s weird of the reference-checker to be calling back references to complain about the employee being AWOL.

              1. Jemima Bond*

                They said she was active on social media so it would seem they are not concerned she is extremely ill/in hospital. I mean they likely think if you can update Instagram you can call the office. Of course technically she could be held against her will by someone who’s controlling her social media but it’s a bit of a leap without any other intelligence.

                1. Quill*

                  You can also schedule some of your social media activity, so I wouldn’t take that as a sure indicator that she’s perfectly well.

                  There’s also a possibility that the intern is physically able to notify the former job but the caller is unaware that she did, that the place or her situation is so overwhelming that she hasn’t (not the most responsible but stress will kill your executive function) or that the caller is getting things blown out of proportion.

        2. Kiki*

          Same. And sometimes people are just kind of unclear use strange phrasing so that could be it, but we’ve definitely seen cases in this very blog where bizarre bosses expect employees who very clearly quit to keep working afterwards. That’s part of why I don’t think LW should incorporate this into future recommendations– LW wasn’t there and won’t have an objective perspective as to what went down with their former intern at this other company.

        3. Malarkey01*

          Same and “ghosting” is one of those words misused all the time. It’s suppose to mean just up and disappeared and you have no idea what happened and aren’t able to contact them. If someone says “I’m quitting” or “We’re breaking up” that’s not ghosting even if they don’t give you a reason or sufficient notice.

          Personally I wouldn’t reach out if you were only a manager at her previous internship (as opposed to an advisor or mentor). If she contacts you again for a reference, you could use that opportunity to ask what happened and relay your conversation. Then make a determination if she’s someone you still feel comfortable providing a reference for.

      5. Kiki*

        The former intern didn’t just quit without giving notice, she just stopped going to the job altogether.
        That’s not actually clear to me from the letter as written:

      6. Kiki*

        she quit last week without notice and simply stopped showing up to work
        Are they truly confused she quit and then did not show up to work? That’s pretty normal to me, literally what happens when people quit. Is she not emailing them back after she quit? Also normal, especially if something happened that triggered her quitting, like being abused, harassed, etc.

        If she

      7. Rainy*

        Do we know the new hire abandoned a job, though?

        Why did someone LW doesn’t even know call to try to ruin the new hire’s reference?

        I mean, maybe the new hire is exactly the piece of shit you describe and the stranger is a nice guy who just wanted LW to know what’s up, but we don’t know that.

        I can think of a couple of things that would cause a total stranger to look up a new hire’s references and try to spoil them, and only one of them is genuine concern for the professional reputation of people he doesn’t know.

      8. Who Plays Backgammon?*

        Some workplaces are toxic to the point of being unbearable and sometimes someone really is out to get you. This guy could have been a harasser or a bully, and if she left instead of taking more from him, he could be trying to submarine her chances at future, better employers. Something may have happened that caused her to decide this was her best road to take.

        All speculation of course. Finding out the facts, if possible to do tactfully, would clear it up.

    2. Yoz*

      Just chipping in to say that the guy from the firm getting in contact with OP after the former intern left isn’t something I’ve come across before. Can anyone tell me – is this common practice?

  8. epmloyment lawyah*

    Also, as fr this:

    5. Using up vacation time right before resigning.

    In many (not all!) states and jobs, vacation is a “wage” and earned-but-unused vacation must be paid out when an employee leaves. This should not be hard to determine.

    If it’s paid on departure, then you should just proceed with your plans to leave; you’ll get the value of the vacation either way. If it’s lost I would probably take it; your earned it.

    But if your employer has been reasonably decent to you then ethically I would try to take the vacation in a way which wouldn’t make your transition noticeably more difficult on the employer. For example, if you tend to have an extra-busy week after you return from vacation (as do many folks) then I’d try NOT to include that week in your 2 weeks of notice.

    1. Free Meerkats*

      What I did was give my then current employer 4 weeks’ notice, two for transition and the last two on a previously planned vacation. They got a good two weeks’ work out of me and I got the paid vacation. Everybody won.

    2. valprehension*

      This! I was a little sad about switching jobs recently with 3 weeks’ unused vacation at my old job, but then they paid those three weeks out when I left! It’s not a vacation, but under the circumstances the money was more useful to me right now.

    3. Texan In Exile*

      Beware that in WI, it does not appear to be law that earned vacation must be paid out. I worked at a place that did not pay unused vacation. (Or maybe they were just breaking the law?)

      1. HR Bee*

        WI employer here. Can confirm that we are not required to pay out earned, unused vacation though some companies do so on their own.

        In fact, at every company I’ve worked at, if you used more than you’d accrued, we took it back from your last check. So there’s that. (Definitely hate this policy and I push back every time but it is what it is unfortunately.)

        1. Retired Lady*

          Yes, worked in Wisconsin all my life. At my last employer (22 years) we got our entire vacation hours to use at the beginning of the year, but they weren’t “truly” yours until 10 months into the year. If you left before that they took the amount used out of your last check.
          It was a use it or lose it system, any unused hours didn’t roll over to the next year.
          If you retired after 20 years service, they paid out any remaining vacation hours. If you didn’t have 20 years you lost it.

          1. Uranus Wars*

            Man, I worked at a use-or-lose job once that front loaded all vacation. But if you used any before you accrued them and then quit, you were not required to pay it back! And if you happen to have extra days banked, you got paid those out. I was in HR and our owner explained it to me as the cost of being good to people, even if they are leaving.

      2. Just J.*

        Same here. OP, quietly check your employee handbook before assuming any remaining vacation will be paid out. But I agree, use it before you lose it.

      3. Rayray*

        Same in Utah. I got paid out when I was laid off from a job, but employers are not legally required too. They can, they just don’t have to.

      4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Looking into it, many states leave it up to the employer still. There’s really not that many that require it but it’s still good to look into just in case! Oregon and Washington both leave it up to the employer to have their own written policy and they have to follow it. So they can’t pay everyone out but one person they don’t like kind of shenanigans but they’re within their right to say nobody gets paid out.

    4. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      I once worked for a company that awarded the full vacation allotment on the first Monday in January.

      I resigned on the first Monday in January. Then they held up my vacation pay. I had been talking to a co-worker there, after the fact, noted management’s childish behavior. They paid it out 29 days after I left – the checks had been issued on the 15th but they decided to horse around with it.

      They also understood the meaning of the expression “treble damages”. So they paid.

  9. WFHGal*

    If you think it’s okay to lie about your background, you should watch the show Suites. They’re able to keep a lid on the lie for a while, but as the main character advances at the firm, he’s subject to more scrutiny and can’t answer mundane questions about the college he lied about going to….like well-known pizza shops’ specialties. The lie nearly tears down the entire company, since it damages their credibility.

    1. MK*

      That show was completely unrealistic in how long a non-trained person with zero experience of the legal system could pull off pretending to be a lawyer.

      1. LawLady*

        I mean, I found Suits to be completely unrealistic. But I also felt like I graduated from law school with next to no idea how to be a lawyer, so I’m not sure his zero experience in the legal system was really the unrealistic part.

    2. Jzilbeck*

      I’m surprised Suits went on for as long as it did with the main character pretending to be a lawyer. Like, he should’ve been thwarted and punished after 5 episodes….not 5 seasons. But then again, gotta get the ratings somehow!

  10. CatLadyInTraining*

    Don’t go any further in the application process. Lying is wrong. Period. I don’t even know why it needs to be discussed.

  11. Not Amused*

    Of course OP should NOT get the job. They have shown incredibly poor judgement from the gate.

  12. newgrad*

    I wish I could copy and paste this advice and put it everywhere I know. In the past few weeks, I’ve seen multiple (multiple!) people on Twitter flat out bragging about lying on their resume to get a job and advising other people to do the same! I’m not petty enough to find their employers and send them the tweets, but I’ve always thought about how quickly they’d get fired if someone did. Don’t lie on your resume! And for the love of GOD, if you’re going to do it don’t brag about it on social media!

    1. newgrad*

      The worst part about it is that many of them have said they lied to get “easy” receptionist/admin jobs that “don’t require any experience,” which also just completely disregards and patronizes the people in these roles and the very real experience they require.

    2. londonedit*

      I mean…impostor syndrome is a thing anyway, I can’t imagine how it would feel to be in a job knowing you actually genuinely probably shouldn’t be there! I suppose the sort of people who are likely to lie about something fundamental on their CV are so full of hubris and Gumption with a capital G that they’re also the sort of people who will just swan around like they own the place, but still. I can’t imagine. I’ve never actually been asked to prove that I have the qualifications I say I have on my CV (no idea why, maybe it’s an industry thing? It’s such a small industry that you’d be found out very quickly!) but even so there’s no way I’d lie. You’d just be living your life in fear of That Phone Call that would bring your whole career crashing down around your ears.

      1. irene adler*

        IN addition, I’d be worried that the employer would expect me to demonstrate competency in the feigned skill (or degree) at some point. Then what?

        1. Jackalope*

          My favorite story about this: I spent a few years living overseas, let’s say in Malawi, and learned the local, slightly obscure language, let’s say Chichewa. I put this on my resume since it never hurts to be multilingual, and since I’d gotten pretty fluent (proudest moment was talking with a stranger for 45 minutes on the train before she realized I wasn’t a native speaker!). Went to an interview, and the interviewer asked me what I thought were idle questions about my time in Malawi and whether I spoke Chichewa (many people get interested in what the language was, so this seemed normal) as we walked from the waiting room to the interview room. Then partway through the interview, he gave me this challenging look and… started speaking Chichewa to me. I hadn’t gotten to speak it in a little while (a few months or so) and so I lit up and started chattering away a mile a minute in Chichewa; he pulled out the map he had of Malawi and we compared places we’d gone or wanted to go. The interview continued, but by then the ice was thoroughly broken. Over a decade later, I’m still with that employer.

          Only later, once I’d gotten over the high of getting to speak Chichewa, did I realize that that was almost certainly a test to see if I’d told the truth. I’ve never been so happy not to have lied in my LIFE; had I made it up (and who would expect to be caught on a random obscure language like that?) I would certainly have been blacklisted from that employer and would have missed out on an amazing career.

          Moral of the story: don’t lie on the resume, even if you think no one could possibly catch you.

          1. Quill*

            I got my current job by telling jokes in spanish, a MUCH more common language to be reasonably fluent in where I live. Congratulations on acing that interview!

      2. JohannaCabal*

        I dunno, the people I’ve heard of who do that sort of thing just lie to get the next job.

        On another level, there’s a guy who fakes his resume and references (companies call the numbers and he answers with a different voice extolling his virtues). He also uses different names and often works his way into senior-level positions, including a stint as a priest. What usually happens is that he’s on the job for a few weeks, the background check comes back, he’s terminated, and then he’s off to the next job. Dateline did a special on him years back.

        Liars, man….

      1. Anon because I tell this story too often*

        I once held an interview with a candidate and said “Oh, it says on your resume that you did X at Y job. Can you tell me about that?” and the person replied “Oh I didn’t do X at Y job, I did it at Z job” – when their resume had it in both places. It was a softball question and both jobs were similar enough that I was unlikely to figure it out, but I’m glad they said it because the job required a high degree of attention to detail. If you’re going to lie on your resume, at least follow through in the interview!

    3. Anon-y-mous for this*

      I used to lie about my bachelors degree a long time ago, before the Internet age, when verification was not as common or as easy for companies to check. I never did it for jobs I wasn’t otherwise qualified for, but yes, sometimes just to get past the “degree required” hurdle. I also never used a Big Prestigious School or even a college where I lived, but rather a small obscure college in a small town near where I grew up, so it seemed plausible.

      I did eventually finish my education while I was lying about having a degree. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. I was lucky I never got caught or called out, but probably was passed over because of it. I feel bad about it now, but years ago, well, sometimes I was desperate to survive and it was a way to try to survive and get an entry level job. But you really can’t get away with this today because it’s too easy to check.

      1. JohannaCabal*

        As much as I complained about liars in a response above, I do have to admit to lying about being fired years ago. I’d never been fired before so I didn’t know how to job hunt following it. If I had to fill out an application, I’d lie about my reason for leaving.

        This has come back to bite me in a subsequent job search. I can’t remember which companies I answered dishonestly and if I answer honestly now, I’m not sure if the ATS systems will cross-reference the earlier info I submitted. So, this is another thing to consider if you’re going to lie.

        1. Quill*

          I’m in a weird position where I have never, technically, been fired… but I was told resign or be fired, and I’m never sure how to answer those questions! So who knows if ATS systems have me flagged as a liar for the “have you ever been fired” question, or for “left to pursue other opportunities” (the opportunity to not be part of that B. S. anymore, for one…) when my former boss, should anyone have called him, may or may not confirm that if asked. (He’s generally a petty person who holds onto things FOREVER. But he’s also fairly rude and unlikely to give someone who calls that isn’t a customer time of day, so he might just say “yeah, she worked here, it was fine” to get them off the phone.)

    4. Massmatt*

      If memory serves, we have had several posts where candidates are ADVISED to lie by career counselors and coaches. Shocking, especially given how quickly and easily these things can be checked, but it’s happening.

    5. Luke*

      I’ve heard people give this horrific advice before, and I’ve stood against it every time. Even got into a heated debate with a friends father in law, who tried to convince his daughter to lie about a degree she didn’t have.

      Assume for the moment LW1 passes the background check and never gets found out. Five years in the future, they’re doing great and get considered for promotion . So their employer runs a through screening process for the higher level role- and that’s how the LW1 gets busted.

      I’d imagine when that happens, the employer deactivates their badge and says “sign this , there’s the door”. Fraud is one of those things most companies address with automatic termination. That leaves the LW1 with no job, no references ,and in this age of Social Media no reputation either.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        I don’t think LW1 would even get that far now.
        At my most recent jobs, which were mid-level, degree verification was part of the screening between offer and on boarding.

  13. CatLadyInTraining*

    To add to my last comment:
    Maybe look into applying to companies that don’t place a huge emphasis on where you went to college.

  14. Beth*

    LW2: if you have contact information for this intern, PLEASE, reach out to her. There’s a nonzero chance that she’s in real trouble.

    1. Random Commenter*

      It was mentioned that she’s still active on social media, so she’s probably not in trouble.

      1. Anonymous for this*

        Can’t tell from that.

        Right now I have a child whose cancer is back, and a spouse who’s suffering from severe anxiety and depression and is on medical leave. Earlier this year I was hospitalized with a back injury and I’m only now getting back to about 80%. Hoping my spouse recuperates within a few months, because we need the money.

        You would never know from my social media (or places like this….) about it. I need some places where I can not think about my troubles, and where people aren’t seeing me as a person with troubles and are always asking, “So how ARE you poor thing?”

        1. Quill*

          Also, tweet or instagram post scheduling is a thing, and you usually can’t tell without extra context which items are going out automatically.

  15. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    Such a low-stakes question about the sandals in the office but it surprisingly comes up every so often. But also, open-toe does not equal sandals but it seems like some people/regions group the 2 together (??) which is just so odd to me. No place I’ve worked has allowed flip-flops but I’ve never been in a formal office where women need to wear “closed-toed” shoes (which always sounds to me like the office wants everyone to wear loafers or boots). The only time I’ve run across a no open-toe shoes rule was actually in industrial places like printing, manufacturing and warehouses where it is entirely a safety issue.

    1. Stormy Weather*

      Right, not in a formal office. When I’ve worked retail or warehouse or any other job where it’s possible I would drop something on my foot, then yes, close toed shoes were part of the dress code.

      There are lovely sandals on the market, if they match the outfit and don’t look like flip-flops, I really don’t see why not.

    2. doreen*

      Not all open-toed shoes are sandals, but sandals are always open-toed. I’m not sure there are many offices that require closed toe shoes – I would imagine open toed pumps are just as appropriate in most offices as their closed toe counterparts

    3. Filosofickle*

      Early in my career in Chicago, I worked at offices that were business casual — not at all formal — and still had closed-toe + hosiery (!) rules. I’d like to think this is a relic of past times, yet there are still people that think closed-toe flats or pumps are appropriate and anything where toes show is not. Maybe a pass given for peep toe. It is something I keep an eye on, though, because while I know sandals are fine for the office, are they fine for interviews and more formal business events? How dressy does the style need to be? The first time I saw a high-level exec on stage at a conference in strappy heels with a suit was about 10 years ago and that stood out to me as something I didn’t usually see.

    4. Liz*

      My office doesn’t allow open shoes for safety reasons. We’re not a warehouse but we still have to shift tables and pull chairs in and out, and having furniture or even a foot land on a naked toe is far more likely to cause injury than if one is wearing closed shoes. Hence, health and safety started demanding closed shoes so as to reduce reportable incidents.

    5. Dream Jobbed*

      Libraries often require closed-toed shoes. You understand the first time you dump a cart full of books on your feet.

  16. Ray Gillette*

    For LW2, I find it a little odd that the reference checker guy specified that the intern quit without notice, and suddenly stopped showing up to work, and isn’t responding to their attempts at communication as though those are all separate things. She quit, dude. Of course she’s going to stop showing up to work and talking to you. Now, if she quit by simply not showing up to work, that’s a different story, but “quit without notice” suggests that she did tell them she was leaving rather than simply going dark.

    1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I noticed that too but I assumed their attempts at communication are things like getting her last paycheck or other paperwork, returning a badge or keys (if she didn’t leave them at her desk), or general questions that an employer would expect to be able to ask even if someone quit without 2 weeks notice — the status of a project or where to find the TPS file. But I agree with Alison that it’s very odd that the guy called the OP about this — even if they did have a connection prior to this intern — the OP isn’t her mom. She isn’t going to “ground” the intern. And if they’re concerned for her, she presumably put an emergency contact person on her hiring paperwork, call them or the police.

      And in general if someone calls for a reference on a former employee/intern, tell them what you know first-hand from your previous experience with the person. Something that happens after they leave your employment, or something that you are only hearing about second- or maybe third-hand is irrelevant to the reference IMO.

    2. boo bot*

      This is an excellent catch! I didn’t notice it, but if she had just disappeared he would have said something like, “she stopped showing up for work without explanation,” which paints a more dramatic picture. I think he tried to give the impression that she ghosted, but didn’t actually want to lie about it in case the LW had already heard from her.

      I think the LW should reach out to the intern, not to reprimand her or get an explanation for her behavior, but to warn her that her former boss is calling her references saying this stuff. Whether what he’s saying is true or not, it would be helpful for her to know that he’s doing this.

    3. Massmatt*

      I read it differently, and assumed she just left the job without even saying “I quit”, that seems like the most reasonable interpretation of your second clause. And the attempts to contact her were to see if she was all right, not hit by a bus etc.

      If someone disappears are we to just pretend they were never there, like rabbits in Watership Down?

    4. Dream Jobbed*

      I read it as she stopped showing up, but they knew she was okay (alive) because she is still on social media. Not that she quit and left. But it is confusing.

    5. fhqwhgads*

      Yeah, it’s weird. I read it as she quit without specifying an end date, they assumed she’d continue for two weeks, but then never showed up again, but they checked her social media and she seemed active and thus not dead or in hospital.

    6. Ellie*

      The reference checker’s behaviour is extremely odd. I had someone quit without notice via email, in a very bad way, who wouldn’t respond to my communications to get his laptop and other equipment back, and when he did finally drop it off at the front desk (without telling anyone), it was missing all the peripherals. It never occurred to me to go look up his references. We didn’t even deduct his leave balance for the cost of the equipment or the lack of notice (we were glad to be rid of him really). If someone asked me about him now I’d be honest, but I wouldn’t go looking for opportunities to trash his reputation. Its a very odd thing to do. I wouldn’t hold it against them without knowing more.

    7. MCMonkeyBean*

      I really agree–she didn’t ghost, she just quit! Quitting without notice is a big deal a lot of places but is certainly very different than just not showing up.

      I do think though that if this was wildly out of character for her I would assume either a) it was a really horrible workplace that she needed to get out of ASAP, and I agree with Alison that the fact that he reached out and tried to paint her as unprofessional makes that seem very possible, or b) something significant came up in her personal life that she needed to deal with right away. If you liked the intern and wanted to stay in touch I do think reaching out to check on her would be nice in either of those scenarios. I like Alison’s wording. It doesn’t sound like you think you are owed an explanation but that you are available to talk if something is wrong (though of course you should only send that if you would genuinely be willing to talk if she wants to).

  17. Random Commenter*

    Regarding the woman who wore heeled sandals to an interview, why wouldn’t they hire her if she’s good at what she does? If it didn’t match the company’s dress code, they could just tell her.
    I suspect a lot of interviewers never look at the applicant’s feet.

      1. CupcakeCounter*

        I agonize over shoes for an interview so I really wish someone other than me paid attention.

    1. PollyQ*

      Because there are often multiple applicants who are good at what they do, and either consciously or unconsciously, many interviewers are going to take things like how people dress into account. Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with wearing sandals in a fairly casual office, but I don’t think I’d wear them to an interview.

    2. Rayray*

      I find that pretty stupid as well. I have some cute dressy sandals that pair well with some dresses. If I wore them to an interview, I’m not subject to the company’s dress code that may exclude open toe shoes.

      Again, nice dressy shoes. Not $2 rubber flip flops.

      Even so, hire based on merits not footwear. Perhaps they are very poor and you know, a JOB could help.

  18. Blarg*

    #2 — I was the quit without notice person fairly recently. Toxic, horrific place and bosses who would absolutely try to smear me to others. I’d been there only a couple months and in a new role — not long enough to have much to pass on, and not leaving anyone in the lurch. But I did reach out to be recommenders and let them know — didn’t get into the details but advised I was back on the job hunt again cause prior job was the wrong fit. My people were great and supportive and happy to keep an eye out for new opportunities for me and be references again.

    1. Massmatt*

      Did you just walk off the job without even telling anyone you quit? Because that’s the interpretation I’m getting in letter #2.

      1. Blarg*

        I sent an email. Wrote it after a disastrous and dangerous (literally) Friday shift and set it to send Sunday evening so I had time to change my mind. I didn’t.

        1. Happily Self Employed*

          Could be that the employee in the letter quit suddenly because her coworkers weren’t following public health guidelines, or customers were being abusive about masks.

  19. Prod Mgr*

    As an interviewer, I’ve said “that’s a great school” more times than I can count and will say it about pretty much any school I’ve heard of before. It’s a pleasantry and usually a lead-in to a question related to their education.

  20. RC Rascal*

    I briefly worked with someone who was fired to claiming he had a degree from State U when he didn’t. Turned out he had left 1 semester shy of graduation. He started lying about it the late 1980s when theses things were hard to check, and kept lying. Meanwhile he built a very successful 25 year career in industry. He cane to work for large multinational Corp in a senior role and they discovered it about 60 days after he started. He was fired.

    If he had simply put the he attended State U for 4 years and had XYZ hours he would have been fine. He was successful enough no one would have cared he didn’t finish.

    It was the lie that got him.

  21. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    Am I just being paranoid, or does the ghosting intern letter creep me out just that bit? I mean, why is the REFERENCE being called regarding the person, rather than their emergency contact?
    This gives me the “is this someone fishing for contact info so they can stalk her?” vibes.

    1. Stormy Weather*

      I found that a bit odd too. The intern no longer works for the LW, why would they even know?

      I’ve had thirteen interns. I keep in touch with two.

    2. Not playing your game anymore*

      I thought it was just me and too many episodes of Dateline and Forensic Files…

    3. KX*

      Because he is mad at the ghoster and wants to blame someone directly. He’s acting out on the impulse that, well, if YOU hadn’t provided the reference then I wouldn’t be in this mess.

    4. Rainy*

      My assumption, honestly, was that the person who called LW had been or was currently sexually harassing her or worse, and she’d turned him down and then left the job when he wouldn’t leave her alone, so in retaliation he’s trying to ruin her references.

      I think it might be a kindness for LW to reach out and let her know LW was contacted, by whom, and what the substance of the conversation was. New hire may need a lawyer. Or a restraining order.

      1. DinoGirl*

        100% this. That they have been checking this entry level employee’s social media and calling this reference after they’ve quit is odd at best, verging into creepy.

        1. Quill*

          The social media thing put me over the edge. I would presume that most (maybe not all) people younger than me would have some hesitance to have their work life up in their social media immediately. So either the social media had to be disclosed to the company (weird, boundary violating, and obviously unsecured if Caller is using it to check in on her without her being aware) or Caller knows her socially, either from work or not, or Caller sought out her social media, presumably was able to verify that it was her…

          None of those things seem like appropriate checking in on a former employee.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It has been asked before, either in random FFA or letters if you should tell someone who you’re a reference for that they’re “bad” in some way. So I can see someone just deciding that was a thing that is done. But at the same time, it’s weird and if I didn’t know the person in another capacity [we’re former colleagues or networked within the industry together], then it says a lot more about the employer who was ghosted, that’s for sure!

  22. Jimmy*

    I don’t understand at all why these degrees are still considered prestigious.

    Not to be too political but… clearly they can just be purchased!

    Hiring a candidate because they have a top school degree is like hiring somebody because they own an expensive car and a beach house.

    1. Rayray*

      You make a fair point, I mean we’re all familiar with how your parents can buy your way into USC with minimal punishment if they’re famous.

      Makes you wonder how many thousands upon thousands just flew under the radar at various schools.

      Also – having a prestigious family is a ticket into many prestigious schools.

  23. whistle*

    An issue that compounds the college lie is that when the results of the background check show that OP does not have the degree listed on the resume, the search committee is not going to think “Oh, OP must have gotten their degree from a different school”. They are going to think that OP does not have a degree at all.

  24. Competent HR Manager*

    Not that I condone lying, and I have terminated people for lying in this manner – but do you really want to work for a company that doesn’t care about your credentials unless you went to a prestigious school? You have clearly proven that their preference is short sighted and more so – discriminatory. but they liked you enough to get to this point in the process that CLEARLY school doesn’t really matter.

    And I hope said company’s HR department finds out this is going on (and lord I hope they aren’t complicit) because this could potentially be significantly risky. A lot of protected classes are unable to get into these schools for a variety of reasons. So they are inadvertently discriminating against them.

    Frankly – I don’t know what company this is, but I would LOVE to read about the settlement applicants get when one of them actually ends up going to the EEOC. In fact – I would help them do it

    1. LawLady*

      I’ll be honest, the idea that hiring only from top schools is EEOC complaint-worthy feels like a real stretch. While I can agree that there are real structural inequality issues at play (the Varsity Blues scandal was eye-opening), it’s simply not true that “a lot of protected classes are unable to get into these schools for a variety of reasons.” The schools are subject to anti-discrimination laws as well.

      1. Dahlia*

        You’re ignoring the systematical issues at play. It’s almost impossible to get into this kind of school if you have to, say, work a job instead of doing extra-curriculars.

        1. LawLady*

          I’m not ignoring systemic issues, just acknowledging that the real world exists and many of the criteria that are correlated to success are going to also be correlated to privilege.

          For what it’s worth, I myself am from a lower income background and worked through high school, including multiple jobs during the summers, and went to a very prestigious college. Many of the top schools are trying to diversify, including recognizing that a part-time job while in school shows grit.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            You’re right you’re not ignoring it–you explicitly named it… and then went on to dismiss it. A very weird take.

      2. Seacalliope*

        I feel like that is punting in a serious way. It’s okay to discriminate on schools and okay for schools to discriminate based on test scores, and someday we’ll have equity in public schools so that test scores fully reflect merit — but not today. So another generation just has to wait until the system isn’t broken anymore.

        1. LawLady*

          Right, but unless we’re going to do hiring and admissions at random, there do have to be criteria. I think the reasonable line is to encourage institutions (both colleges and employers) to ignore pieces that are totally irrelevant to job performance (like knowing the convention of sending a thank you email after a white collar interview) but allow them to “discriminate” based on factors that are actually correlated with success as an employee.

          And yes, the system is going to be unfair. All else equal, a kid with private tutors is going to get into a better school and get higher grades at that school. But good grades from a rigorous program likely are indicative of skills at writing, math, or whatever it is the employer is looking for. I’m all for improving access to good education, and I think many of the top schools really are making progress on reaching talented students who wouldn’t normally be in the funnel, but I think that the idea that employers and schools shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate based on any metric that’s correlated with privilege to be a little ludicrous.

          1. ABK*

            As someone in a field where school matters, one reason is that employers are familiar with the programs and can be confident that students are coming out prepared. Likely because employers have worked with the institution to develop curriculum, special events and interview prep, etc. A grad from Random U may 1) be less likely to know about job opportunities being targeted to other schools, and 2) need to have a really great resume that makes up for the anonymity of their educational program. Employers that target certain schools do so because they’ve had good experiences with their grads in the past and have invested in the school.

            It is a hugely biased system, but biases are everywhere when you could have 20 fold the number of applicants than positions.

      3. Quill*

        Depends on the age of the applicants, not all of the EEOC laws are of equal age and enforcement, and of course laws vary from state to state. Not everyone who might have been barred from a school (not just colleges, but high schools and below) due to race before 1965 has retired! Sex descrimination wasn’t initially part of the EEOC’s mandate either, and the ADA portion wasn’t in play until 1990.

        There have also been enough admissions scandals coming up in the last decade that even if hiring only from top schools isn’t legally actionable, it’s a terrible look in the court of public opinion.

    2. Moose*

      > You have clearly proven that their preference is short sighted

      How? You don’t know whether OP is fit for the job or not. Interviews are notoriously imperfect for evaluating a candidate. Having solid indicators of competence (education, references from similar past roles, certifications, publications, etc) help form a complete picture of an applicant.

      There are clearly issues with choosing to focus on candidates from prestigious schools (and I say this as a lucky Latina who attended one), but the solution isn’t quite as simple as considering all schools equal.

    3. Malika*

      I do not think it is any way fair or good, but companies that only want people from certain backgrounds want to play it safe and be able to say they only hire top-tier. People they perceive as being the most comfortable and succesful in an elite company. Having Ivy-league eds only is their choice and they have to accept the pro’s and cons that go with that decision. Even if you would be better off with more socio-economic diversity in your workforce.

      I once worked at one of the biggest auction houses, whose name ends with an ‘s. They only hired by word-of-mouth and therefore 99% of people who worked there were white, college educated and comfortably middle class at the very least and incredibly posh at the most (our security specialist was the only black person in the building, and even he had a background involving polo horses). The pro’s is that all the client-based roles were filled by people who were very comfortable with interacting with famous/high net-worth clients, knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who had a valued painting in the attic, and were open to working there until the end of time as opposed to the job-hopping that occured with most of my generation (institutional knowledge in an auction house is still highly valued). The drawbacks were a complete deaf ear to the outside world, workplace practices that would have folded a less mighty name, and a complete inability to handle an increasingly culturally diverse customer base (no, your increasingly Chinese customer base does not want to see a 30’s ‘yellow peril’ poster at the chinese porcelain and artifacts auction and your African customers don’t want to buy your antique blackface statues). Companies want what they want and will ensure they get it, even if they have to be discriminatory and bend the law.

  25. I Couldn't Resist*

    Is there really that much of a difference between Rhodes College and being a Rhodes Scholar?

    1. Esmeralda*

      Yes. This is clever, but doesn’t make the point you want it to.

      Students at Rhodes College could become Rhodes Scholars. But as a whole, Rhodes College is not comparable to Rhodes Scholars and their accomplishments. Nor are other colleges.

  26. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    Most unis have now moved all of their transcript and diploma records online and ordering a replacement is quite easy and often comes with digital and secured options!

  27. Hiring Mgr*

    Here we just write Education: Harvard

    And hope nobody knows it’s really “Harvard Extension School” :)

    1. Malika*

      A friend of mine has this on his CV. It’s always an eye-catcher, even though he makes very clear what it is and therefore also not. It takes effort and resilience to complete his course and the name does offer a certain cachet. I want to code, so Harvard is not interesting for me, but if they would offer the right course i would definitely take it!

  28. Brusque*

    There is so much that could ve going on there that we can not know. Who knows who that caller even is. Even if it was someone LW knew them there are so many people who hide their true colors pretty well till something happens that make them snap. I definitely wouldn’t change my personel opinion on somebody based on something I’ve just been told from someone calling me unsolicited and telling me stuff. That smells too suspicious and seems unprofessional to me.
    I’d contact the intern though and warn them about that person. She should know that they’re calling people behind their back tattling. Also this sounds like fishing for contact via third parties and I’ve never heard a story where this was beneficial for the person inquired about.

  29. Anony8408*

    RE #2: 5. Using up vacation time right before resigning.

    Instead of using the vacation time, does your company offer a payout of any unused time?

  30. House Tyrell*

    OP1 should withdraw and stop lying but this does remind me of when my friend was applying to a very progressive and prestigious org in our field and was asked in her final interview to defend why they should hire her, someone who went to a state school over the other two finalists who went to Harvard and Princeton. She had to spend 20 minutes trying to defend her school choice an why she chose to even apply there and the education she attained and they of course didn’t hire her and actually hired both of the other candidates. I also went to a state school and currently most of my coworkers went to Ivies or prestigious schools and won’t stop talking about it and I have a lot of school pride but never bring it up because the few times I have tried to enter conversations related to education I get shut down or talked over immediately.

    1. Jimmy*

      If you wanna be snarky could say: “It’s crazy that we all ended up in the same place right?”
      “How much did your degree cost? …Wow that’s a lot, was it worth it?”

      1. pancakes*

        How do you envision the person with the impressive degree and the new & impressive job answering in that scenario? It seems quite likely they’d say it was worth it.

    2. Malika*

      I have worked for top executives who ran a very well-known company. One had a high school diploma, another went to community college, and the rest attended solid but non-ivy state colleges. The colleagues underneath me would tease the apprentice in our midst about his non-prestigious credentials. He would then point out he was fine with it, seeing as he had the same educational credentials as the CEO (he of the high-school diploma). That shut them up swiftly.

      If you have the means and drive to attend a prestigious university that must have been a fantastic experience, totally worth it. But those of us who haven’t need not hide under a stone in shame.

  31. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Lying on a resume – where I’ve seen it done the most is in the world of finance.

    Jobs in finance require a clean = no criminal record (felonies). I have seen people come in, work at a job for one, or two, or three months, and the company does an internal investigation , finds the felony, and the guy’s fired.

    Another case = a job where a security clearance is required, and due to a misdemeanor (example – drunk driving) it gets revoked. And if the guy or gal needs the clearance to continue in the job, it’s curtains.

    And don’t get me started on people who proceed with an application/interview process, and, when they show up for work on day 1 we learn that they’re not eligible to work in the United States. Worse yet, we may have turned away others without an immigration issue.

    1. Malika*

      In my country you need to hand over a certificate of past behaviour. You don’t need to be a blank slate, but money laundering and mishandling of sensitive information are big no no’s and this is supposed to be a clearing on that aspect.

      I have had people come in and try to endlessly delay the background check. Wrong tactic. If you fess up about what will turn up on that certificate, our management could be very lenient. One colleague received an offer even though he’d done time for GBH. He was a good colleague who had learnt from his jail time, attended anger management classes and even offered in-house trainings on how to defuse difficult situations. Being honest and stating how you changed for the better shows an ability to be trusted and growth.

      But if you claimed you were a blank slate when not, out you flew as quickly as you came in, regardless of the reason you were registered for a criminal offence.

  32. Susan1*

    I see why #1’s answer is written, however I would suggest another answer. I would suggest that the applicant be honest with the company about the error and be honest as they were in this letter, apologizing. I would suggest to do this by email. And then let the hiring manager decide what to do next. Otherwise this person can effectively never work at this employer ever again if we go by the answer given to #1.

      1. Susan1*

        I would have to think long and hard about hiring someone like this as well, but maybe there is still a small glimmer of hope if the OP does the right thing now and comes out with it (before any transcripts are requested) and apologizes.

  33. Sc@rlettNZ*

    I struggle to understand why OP1 thought this was a good idea. It’s not like they slightly exaggerated their experience to make their application more appealing – they outright lied about something that is easily verifiable. As Alison pointed out, even if the lie wasn’t noticed and they were offered the position, they would have to live in fear of being outed. Imagine the water cooler talk with people who had actually attended the University that the OP is pretending to have gone to.

    Real life isn’t like an episode of Suits.

  34. Blue Eagle*

    LW#2 I totally disagree with Alison on this one. The LW should definitely reach out to the former intern and let the intern know what the boss said and inquire if there was a problem with the job. The LW should have both sides of the story before coming to any conclusion and should NOT take what the boss said as gospel truth without verification (unless, of course, the LW knows the boss and is comfortable that the boss wouldn’t shade the story).

  35. agnes*

    When I worked as a recruiter, I had a client who had a list of 12 universities that he expected his candidates to attend. He told me not to send applicants to him unless they graduated from one of these schools. He lost out on a lot of good potential employees because of that.

  36. MonkeyPrincess*

    Surprised more people aren’t creeped out by the dude tattling that someone quit with very little notice. I assume it was a non-contract job in an at-will state and the former intern did nothing terrible by quitting for her own personal reasons that aren’t anyone else’s business. Yes, 2 weeks notice is considered polite, but it’s not like your company is giving you that when they lay you off.

  37. His Grace*


    It’s bad enough that you lied on your resume. But the lie centers on where you went to college. This almost never ends well, not just because of the lie, but because of the consequences. You most likely will not be considered for this or any future role with this company, and on top of that, you face the possibility of being blacklisted from this particular industry should word get around.

    If I were you, I would call HR or the hiring manager, explain that you lied about your credentials, and are voluntarily withdrawing your candidacy. No guarantee that this will help, but it should at least stem the bleeding somewhat.

  38. DinoGirl*

    So glad you offered the suggestion the ghosting former intern may have been escaping an abusive workplace. That was my immediate gut reaction. This boss both checked her social media after bshevwuit And contacted her reference? Seems super odd on the boss’s part to be that invested in a new presumably fairly entry-level employee.

  39. Waiting to be Future Endeavored*

    LW #2: In Covid times especially, I would give someone the benefit of the doubt and think Alison’s recommendation on how to check in with the intern is a good one. Even if someone isn’t sick, there could be issues with workplace safety or other things not being addressed.

    I “ghosted” a part-time admin job when I was in my early 20s — I was going through other things, working multiple jobs, and was not having a good experience in that office. I knew it wasn’t the best thing to do, but I just called and lied about having to go out of town and then I never came back. I would not recommend this and should have given notice! But it also didn’t hurt my job chances in the future.

    I think of the intern did good work in the past then there was probably something with this job or something else happening.

  40. Veryanon*

    Oh jeez, lying on the resume. Please don’t do it. I had a colleague years ago who was really good at her job and had applied for a promotion, for which she was being strongly considered. However, she had lied on her original application materials that she had a bachelor’s degree, but she didn’t. She did attend school there, but never graduated. As part of the promotion process, the company re-did her background check (I’m not sure how it got missed the first time around) and discovered the lie. She was fired. The terrible thing was that a bachelor’s degree wasn’t required for either the job she was in or the promotion, so if she had just left it out, she would have been fine. I think about that every time someone asks me if they should embellish their qualifications.

  41. Malika*

    While I have never lied on a resume, and even go through it with a fine-tooth comb to ensure there can be no implication of lying, I made the mistake of not correcting someone in HR who assumed i’d finished my bachelor when I had not. I had started the job saying I was going to finish it on my cv, and then gave up six months into the job. I never told anyone (it was a sensitive subject and I felt like a huge failure), but the company thought i’d finished up. They then put me in a pay scale that was open to bachelor degree holders only and given attendant responsibilities. I then spent four years constantly looking over my shoulder, wondering whether I would ever be found out. One of the biggest mistakes of my life. No one ever found out, but the impostor syndrome was high in that tenure, even though i always got glowing reviews. Once I left I wiped it from my CV, and now claim the only college is my ongoing night schooling at the local community college, for which i am now motivated and mature enough to finsh. I will admit to unfinished bachelor degree immediately if asked, and that has only ever happened once. Whenever I watch Suits I always get agitated, and i am reminded just how stressful covering up was.

    Lying is really not worth it, and being deceptive can tarnish your image but also your self-confidence. I know the job market is really tough out there, and it can be unfair to see that lots of doors are closed due to not having a (fancy or otherwise) degree. If you keep on looking though you will find a workplace that does value what you have to offer, and you can tackle your further education in a more stable and confident manner.

  42. Malika*

    Isn’t it just better to withdraw, wipe that lie from their CV and never ever make this mistake again? I believe the background check only starts once they have decided to give you an offer, though maybe it’s different in the US. The recruitment world is small, and I wonder whether fessing up would just bite you in the ass in the future.

  43. Former Employee*

    Very late to this one. It was obviously a mistake to lie and the OP must withdraw from consideration.

    Separately, I’m not sure if I would want to work in a place that only considered applicants who were graduates of a handful of elite schools. It sounds as if the place would be very insular. I think that a well run organization would want to hire the best people, regardless of where they went to school or what sort of background they come from.

    I mentioned background because there are many highly qualified people who went to state schools because they came from poor or working class families. Knowing people from such backgrounds, I can say that even if they were offered a scholarship to one of the Ivies, they would not have been able to attend because there was no way they could have afforded room and board, plus books and the various other expenses required in connection with attendance at that type of school.

Comments are closed.