Pattie Hunt Sinacole discusses background checks

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Q: I recently met a friend via Zoom to talk about our job searches.  We worked together years ago, and then we developed a friendship.  Last month, we exchanged resumes, to help each other proofread and edit our resumes.  I value her opinion and feedback.  When we exchanged resumes, I noticed my friend included that she completed a bachelor’s degree.  I am fairly certain that she did not.  When I worked with her, she told me she had completed a “partial degree.” When we have talked, maybe a few times per year, she never once mentioned returning to college to complete a degree. How important is this to employers?  Should I mention this to her, or keep my mouth shut? 

A: It sounds like you and your friend have a positive relationship, where you can safely share suggestions and feedback.  She also sounds like a valuable resource, particularly if you are in the same industry.

I am not clear how long ago you worked with your friend.  I would approach your concern delicately, as she may have completed her degree, without mentioning it to you.  In a gentle way, you could ask “Chris, I didn’t realize you had completed your degree.  When did you complete it?”  Her response will tell you a lot about her current educational status.

Falsifying a diploma, degree, or any other piece of information is never a good idea. Many, but not all employers, conduct background investigations, which may or may not include a verification of a prospective employee’s educational credentials.  If you review many employment applications, either online or in print, there is often language that discusses what type of background check may be required, if an employment offer is extended.  Background checks may include a number of different verifications.  Some may include a criminal check, or verifying employment history, a driving record or academic credentials.  In some industries and in some occupations, these checks are required.  For example, none of us would be want to be driving next to larger commercial truck, whose driver had not successfully completed a motor vehicle check.

Further, there is nothing to prevent an employer from disciplining (and even terminating) an employee for providing misinformation on an employment application, even after the employee has been hired.  I have been involved in several employment terminations when a falsification has been discovered, sometimes several years atter an employee has been hired.  For years, the employee mistakenly assumed that this falsified information had “slipped through the cracks.” Now, with technological advances, these discrepancies often surface.

Ultimately your friend will have to decide how to present her educational background on her resume.  Hopefully she has completed the required coursework for her bachelor’s degree.  If she has, bravo to her.  If she hasn’t, you have carefully raised the question.  She will have to present herself to employers in the way she feels is best.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.