Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Help! My Boss Has a Fake Degree! What Should I Do?

I recently vented to you nice folks about job hunters in Sand Land running around with bogus credentials from U.S.-based diploma mills. In response, I've received several emails and a comment from people asking what they should do about a boss or co-worker who is sporting a fake degree.

How naive I was when I wrote that post - I hadn't given alot of thought to the possibility that numerous people have managed to parlay meaningless pieces of paper into gainful employment, let alone positions of authority. But I guess it makes sense, doesn't it? I've never come across bullshit degrees in the U.S. but I've run into more than 20 in Sand Land. Large numbers of people wouldn't continue to plunk down hundreds (or thousands) of dollars for fake credentials if they didn't see a return.

So, in response to the emailers and commenter, let's play a game I learned in Sunday School.

[That's a sentence I never thought I'd write.]

Way back in the days when my parents forcibly dragged me to church multiple times a week, my Sunday School class often played a game called "What Would Jesus Do?" Or WWJD for short. We would sit in a circle on the floor and snack on Cheez-It's and Kool-Aid. One by one, kids would describe a problem or dilemma they were facing. Then they would say "WWJD?" At which point the listeners would debate what Jesus Christ would do if faced with the same situation. The ability to recite mad quantities of Bible verses from memory was key to getting your peers to buy in to your suggested course of action. So basically my thoughts never counted for shit...but anyway...I'm not bitter. Really.

For purposes of our "Would Would You Do" game, please use the comments section of this post to tell our advice seekers how you have handled (or would handle) the issue of bosses/co-workers with fake degrees in your workplace.

To squeal or not to squeal?
 For the people who asked my opinion, here are my thoughts:

(Disclaimer: I am not a seasoned HR professional. All of my training and most of my work experience is in an unrelated field but my current job requires me to spend a good deal of time blundering through all things HR. If you want the opinion of a respected HR pro, you might consider sending a query to someone like the Evil HR Lady):

The 5 year-old tattletale in me screams "Bust those fakers!" For those of you who have sacrificed time and tuition money to earn bona fide credentials, you have a right to be pissed when people use fake degrees to weasle their way into the same or better job. A fake degree is a time bomb on a resume and, in my opinon, an imposter deserves to have it blow up on them.  

However, my jaded, office-politics savvy self says keep your indignation in check and tread carefully. This is a serious accusation to level against someone. Before I contemplated saying anything to anyone, I would need to be 10,000% sure the credential in question is bogus - not simply from an obscure school I've never heard of. If I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the degree was crap, I would still think long and hard about the following considerations:

1. Is this faker a high performer who's exceeding expectations? Yeah, I know that's unlikely but if it's the case, the powers that be might not care about the faker's dubious academic background (assuming the faker is not masquerading as a doctor, attorney or other licensed professional).

2. What is the faker's position in office hierarchy? Are they very tight with the company's owners or top-level management. If they're a sacred cow, be aware that you're taking a big risk by ratting them out. Nepotism and personal connections play a bigger role in the Sand Landian work place than any other place I've seen. Outing someone with influence could backfire on you. No, it's not fair, but that's reality.

3. Would the people in power at your company be upset by an employee with a fake degree? Are you sure they understand what a degree mill is?

4. What is the risk to your company if it becomes public knowledge that the faker has a bogus degree? Again, if this is someone claiming to a be a licensed professional, it could be quite a scandal. If your company deals closely with firms from abroad (particularly western countries), employees with fake degrees may tarnish your company's credibility. But if it's a small, Mom and Pop enterprise, the risk to the company is less.

Without firsthand knowledge of your work situations and office culture, it's impossible for me to give you quality advice. The points I've raised are general things I'd consider before calling someone out. Best of luck, whatever you decide.

Ok, party people: You just discovered someone in your office has a fake degree - WWYD?


  1. Live and Let live!

  2. I know a few people with fake diplomas or degrees; you can get them online very easily and quite cheaply too. A couple of friends because they had to and their bosses were aware of that. As anon said above live and let live!

  3. Live and let live? Are you kidding??

    Do you mean to say that my years at a top notch university, where I busted my butt to graduate top of my class should be viewed in the same vein as some idiot who simply purchased his degree?

    Does that not devalue the time and effort I have spent to develop my credentials?

  4. Back home, such a case of fraudulent credentials would be considered criminal - definitely a career-limiting move. I wouldn't have thought twice before raising the flag but here everything seem to work a bit differently.

  5. Do not live and let live, but tread carefully, and be ethical, even if your fake diploma wielding superior isn't.

    Setting aside Careers such as Medical Doctors, Rocket Scientists, Structural Engineers, etc... the core issue when considering ratting out your fake-diploma bearing superior is as follows:

    Is the individual with the fake diploma Competent and capable in the job they are doing?

    If they are incompetent, then fire at will (though one hopes that if they were truly incompetent, they would have been dispensed with already).

    If the individual is Competent, or one would hope, outstanding at their job, it doesn't matter what their diploma says.

    Your years at a top notch university, where You busted Your butt to graduate top of your class should have prepared you for the real world of work, and created and exceptionally competent, smart, articulate, and socially adept employee.

    Assuming you are indeed both competent employees you should in fact, be viewed in roughly the same vein as some idiot who simply purchased his degree. Where you got your MBA stops mattering once you are working for the company and they can measure and judge both of you on your Actual Performance.

    May the better Employee win, if you will.

    At the risk of sounding really Salty: I do not think competing against peers with fake diplomas devalues your efforts in school, because you attended school in order to be better able to do your job. Your schooling should have prepared you to capably outshine someone with a fake diploma, and run circles around them, one would hope.

    Contrary to the beliefs of many, many, recent Grads I dealt with in Sand-Land; a diploma is not a free pass to the upper echelons of business, allowing you to hopscotch over those less fortunate, or an immediate ticket to the lofty positions of management. Those perks come from hard work, and hard work alone.

  6. Shiny degrees and diplomas alone can't replace real life work experience. But, faking credentials is fraud. Fake credentials = fraud = no integrity = unemployable = end of career. Most such folks end up in places where weird things get done to their behinds in a moldy shower. Or sand - whatever you prefer.Simple as that.

  7. In my field there are several different certifications you can get. One of the top ones keeps a list on its site of every person who has that credential. Several jobs ago, my boss had those letters after his name but was an idiot. I looked him up on the list, and sure enough he wasn't there. It was a big corporation so I don't even know who I would tell if I did want to tell anyone. I got a new job where I wouldn't have to work for an idiot.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. As with most things HR-related, a company's policies and practices help to make a difference. If there's a policy about how "falsification of employment information" is a bd thing, or a Code of Conduct to which employees are expected to adhere, or an ethics committee to provide some oversight in sticky situations, it makes the judgment call a bit easier.

    But make no mistake, it IS a judgment call - for all of the reasons you've noted above. I've been an HR exec for 25+ years.....in some instances, I've let the fake degree-holder slide becasue they were a strong performer with hard-to-replicate skills. In other situations, I've strongly suggested that the employee return to school for a real degree if their future career trajectory is important to them. And in a few cases, I've terminated the employee for falsification (see above).

    HR - it would be such a great job if it weren't for all those dang people. :)

  10. To be honest, her ein "Sand Land" i"ve known bosses who suggest one buys a degree, to get the job position they have no "Sandlandian" qualified for [degree or not] or to be able to justify a deserved wage increase for work input.

    Luckily, I have yet to have a fake cred boss:)

  11. Then we have the other problem - where people have a genuine certificate based on someone else doing the work or buying exam papers.

    There was a company in Kuwait that advertised 'We'll write your thesis' quite openly. I also worked with one woman completing a distance language degree who made up a piece of poetry to evaluate and got top marks.

    A lot of these institutions need to tighten up their procedures and companies need to contact institutions to clarify the attainment of a degree.

  12. I was refraining commenting until I saw yours. You are basing your argument underthe premise that the idiot above you is competent and doing a very good job at his position. But that is not the basis of the article. I dont think anyone who is doing well irrespective of a piece of paper will really be questioned and probably they will be respected (Steve Jobs, Bill Gates are not even grads let alone MBAs from HArdward). The point is they are far and few. I suppose this is about people who rise through connections or any other mechanism without doing a good job at thier position.

  13. Anonymous: I agree with your comment above. Would love to see a system that rewards based on merit.

    That said, the fact that spurious types are purchasing degrees from diploma mills does not imbibe a lot of confidence. If you are stupid enough to fall for such a scam, how can I entrust you to run a business?

    Also did anyone chuckle @ "HArdward" :)

  14. 'Omani Princess (not Omani LOL) said...
    To be honest, here in "Sand Land" i"ve known bosses who suggest one buys a degree, to get the job position they have no "Sandlandian" qualified for [degree or not] or to be able to justify a deserved wage increase for work input.

    Luckily, I have yet to have a fake cred boss:)'

    So, Omani Princess (not Omani LOL), are you justifying this practice?

  15. It seems everything is bullshit at my job anyways. We are forced to fake the grades for the students so the teachers and programs look more successful. i don't think it really matters if the locals don't have real certificates. i don't think it's right, but i don't think it'll ever change. so, i agree with the live and let live commenter above. live and let live. then let them all go to hell when they die.

    my boss once said to me, when i asked about the importance of certificates of experience--which can be faked much easier than a phone call to previous employers--something along the lines of "we are Omani...it's in our nature to lie".

    working in the middle east is sort of like an exercise in nihilism. just accept it and you'll be fine.

  16. Ms. Adventures,

    Do you consider all distance learning programs to be diploma mills?

    If not, in your opinion, what makes a distance learning program legitimate or credible? Is regional accreditation enough? How about being a part of a SHRM chapter?

    I'm curious to know your thoughts about this because I know of many traditional colleges and universities that have hopped on the distance learning bandwagon within the last few years.

  17. Ms. Adventures,

    I just read your blog post from January 16th where you replied to "AmasE" by saying that:

    "Online degrees and diploma mills are completely separate entities. I know a few people back home who have earned online degrees from reputable programs...."

    Now I know that you do not consider all distance learning programs to be diploma mills.

    Feel free to disregard my previous post.

  18. Hi Ms. Adventures,

    This blog is genius; I check back daily. Please keep it up.

    Also, would you mind if I emailed you regarding employment in Sand Land? Not for your company per se (I'm no Mechatronist) but as an American with a (legit) MBA I am finding most openings to be "for locals only". Any advice would be welcomed.

  19. Dear Ms. Adventures,

    I will see your earlier commenters' bid of "Live and let live", and raise your followers a "Shut up and row". You brought up the issue of how to deal with fake degrees when you're evaluating candidates who could potentially become your colleagues. You wisely decided that such candidates would be unlikely to add value to your company.

    For those struggling with the torment of dealing with bosses who have such fakewittery, ratting them out is an act of puerile petulance. The only self-respecting option you have if you're worried about the lack of respect your situation presents is to leave and join a company which respects your credentials. Unless you're willing to leave, you're in exactly the position your credentials deserve.

    I love the blog's writing and sardonic wit. Keep it coming!

  20. In response to "The Lounge" - thank you, and I agree with everything you said! Excellent, and oh so true :( I have to repeat the points I liked the most:

    "It seems everything is bullshit at my job anyways. We are forced to fake the grades for the students so the teachers and programs look more successful........so, i agree with the live and let live commenter above. live and let live. then let them all go to hell when they die. ...... working in the middle east is sort of like an exercise in nihilism. just accept it and you'll be fine."

    It's interesting, "to make teachers look more successful" ... this is true, this is what the higher education institutions here think, even though the failure of the students is in no way our fault - it is theirs entirely - but good luck getting anyone, least of all the students, to see it that way ...

    Thus, I would conclude that it is not even so much of an issue that a person has a fake degree - what's the difference when the, let's call them "REAL", degrees are about just as valid as the fake ones, and the "student" went through actually more work and effort to buy one than they do to actually earn one???

    All in all, I know the value of the degree I earned through my own hard work, I don't need anyone else, least of all a Sand Landian, to acknowledge its worth! If they did, their study-ethic being what it is, it would mean I did something wrong along the way.

  21. Confused: Just an observation. I agree with Suburban, if you want my stance on how to deal with the practice.

    I don't have a fake degree. In fact, I did not finish my degree, and got my job by working to where I am, and, because of other people recognizing that. But I am continuing my studies:). I was told once to buy a fake degree. But I have not. I happen to take my religion quite serriously (I'm Muslim) and think cheating and lying are CONTRARY to the teachings of my religion.

    Cultural Muslims won't necessarily feel the same way.

    I am saying, I have had legit and good management bosses who condone the practice as an excuse to give promotions and pay raises (albeit, to deserving individuals, or to meet a demand an Omani worker could not meet).

  22. Hiya everyone, sorry I've been awol. It's been a busy few days. Thanks for taking the time to give your thoughts on how to handle the issue of fake degrees in the workplace. Alot of good observations and suggestions. I think this string will be helpful for people stuck in this situation in that it will give them several angles to consider.

    Steve, feel free to email me. I'll be glad to share my thoughts on job hunting in Sand Land, although I'll again add the disclaimer that I'm not a professional recruiter...so take what I say with a large grain of salt! It's just my personal observations. :)

  23. This is not all. Many people get a fake degree made just to hang it on their office or house wall. It helps them in boosting about them to have a better impression on their clients.

    diploma world