, Volume 51, Issue 2, pp 175-184

“Small” Lies, Big Trouble: The Unfortunate Consequences of Résumé Padding, from Janet Cooke to George O'Leary

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Abstract

Lying and dysfunctional impression management have been identified as two serious forms of deviant behavior in organizations. One manifestation of such behavior is distortion of one's résumé. In 1981, Janet Cooke lost American journalism's highest honor, the Pulitzer Prize, and her job when her work was exposed as a hoax. The revelation surfaced after it was discovered that she had lied on her résumé and her biographical record. Twenty years later, football coach George O'Leary resigned from one of the most coveted jobs in college sports when it was discovered that he had falsified his academic and athletic accomplishments decades earlier. This paper summarizes the two cases — their similarities and differences — and places them in the context of organizational deviance. The case studies provide discussion points, practical advice and instructional material for students in business ethics and management classes. Lessons include the importance of preparing accurate, unvarnished résumés and the morally bankrupt nature of allegedly minor distortions that can later cause huge trouble for the individuals and the institutions involved.