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In Defense of Lying on Job Applications


Bob’s Dylan’s lyric, “To live outside the law you must be honest” have long served as my moral inspiration. I am thereby forced to admit that I’m not buying the idea that Merilee Jones, the woman who was the Dean of Admissions at MIT, should be made to run the gauntlet with the likes of Henry Kissinger and Paul Wolfowitz because she lied on her resume thirty years ago when she applied for the job. Maybe I just don’t have the proper amount of respect for our vaunted institutions like MIT in the first place. I don’t consider universities that further the advancement of our beloved State which devotes itself to the continuation of war respectable. But hey, that’s just me.

I thought everybody lied on job applications and resumes at one time or another. Sometimes it makes the difference between putting bread on the table rather than some suicidal moralistic impulse that one must never lie even if you starve. I decided to ask around about the subject.

“Have you ever lied on a job application or resume?” I asked a cab driver friend of mine. “Yes, I have,” the Brandeis dropout replied. “Thirty years ago when I applied for a job at the Hilton as a busboy I put down on the resume that I had worked as a waiter at Mr. Steak in Boston. It was a complete fabrication.” In what seemed to me a non-sequitur he ended the conversation by saying that he doubted if a restaurant with the name “Mr. Steak” would have survived very long anyway. Although this could have been an oblique reference to his recent conversion to vegetarianism.

I asked a jazz musician friend of mine who hasn’t had a straight gig in forty years if he ever lied on a job application. “I did have one straight job when I was eighteen, as an exterminator,” he said, acting kind of proud about it. “But I was lying when I wrote on the job application that I had a high school degree.”

Out at the urban tennis courts I asked the tennis coach if he ever lied on a resume. “Never about tennis,” he asserted loudly. Some mothers of the little kiddies he was instructing were sitting nearby on the bench and heard my question. Then we moved aside. “But I have lied on my pizza delivery jobs,” he revealed. “I had to compress dates. It doesn’t look good to put on a resume that your pizza delivery work has been stop-and-start. I had to say I delivered pizzas for five years consistently.”

I was thinking that maybe I should put the question to a more elevated crowd. I remembered my mother-in-law telling me a story years ago that when her husband was filling out his application for medical school in the 1940’s and he was asked to state what profession his father had been in, he wrote down, “Professor, University of Moscow, Russia.” “University of Moscow?” I said dubiously. “I know,” she admitted, “there was no University of Moscow.” Then she thundered, “What was he supposed to say, that his father had been a horse trader in some schmutz town in Russia?”

Trying to keep things current I called around to some of my fancier friends, some even college professors. “Have you ever lied on a resume?” “Never!” they responded. “Never?” I asked. “Not even when you did like, odd jobs before college or something?” They all said they never lied. Why do I not believe these folks, they with their credentials and their tenured positions? Call it a hunch.

The last and final job I will ever work I put down on the resume that I had no college degrees at all. I was lying. I just thought I’d be overqualified and wouldn’t get the job. I mean, I needed dough in a hurry. Later when I was talking about graduate school to one of my coworkers, a local gangbanger who I was encouraging to get out of the ghetto, the manager who overheard me said, “I didn’t know you went to college.” I told him I was sorry I lied on my resume. “That’s silly,” he said. “You didn’t need to lie on your job application. We hire anybody.”

I have a feeling Marilee Jones was a risk taker and pushed her luck a bit. She had a good run, thirty years isn’t bad to be the Dean of Admissions at one of America’s most revered institutions. I just can’t be moral about her lies because there is nothing moral about these institutions. They are knowledge factories that turn out little war makers, little business profiteers. They are not sanctuaries of humanity or decency, not any more. And that cannot be laid at the feet of Marilee Jones. I just wonder how she’ll fill out her next job application.

EVA LIDDELL lives in the Pacific Northwest.



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