Wednesday, August 1, 2012
I've been thinking about professional/intellectual fraud of late, particularly in the wake of the Jonah Lehrer kerfuffle. (http://www.npr.org/2012/07/31/157654005/the-lies-are-over-a-journalist-unravels) (It's really more of a scandal than a kerfuffle, but I just really like the word "kerfuffle.") This being the pre-job season when you are all perfecting your dossiers (you're doing that NOW, right?), it got me to thinking about embellishments in job applications.
One of the things I really needed help with when I was first on the market was constructing my CV. And I found that everyone who advised me had different opinions and preferences about constructing an ideal CV. But one bit of advice was universal:
Do not pad your CV. Don't even do anything that might look like padding.
Often this would come up in the context of things that I wasn't exactly sure how to list. Say, do I put the postdoc under Employment, under Awards, or under Education? (How about all three?) I was advised to be careful about how I listed pubs, distinguishing peer reviewed from non-PR'd, not listing WIPs that might not be very much in progress. That kind of thing.
It's not just the CV that can be padded, of course. The temptation is sore, oh so very sore, to embellish in your cover letter (unless you're the sort who writes the one-sentence cover letter), or teaching statement, or research statement. Pretty much any part of the dossier can be "enhanced" to try to convince the SC that you are indeed the ideal candidate, the one who's got everything they're looking for in one sparkly package.
So, last year, there was a search at my school (in another department). The department was looking for a candidate with very specific experience. They brought a couple of candidates to campus, and during the course of interviews, found one of them to be rather cagey about his experience. So cagey that the department chair pressed him harder on it. And he eventually fessed up, that he didn't actually have the experience they were seeking. Needless to say, the department was not pleased. Furious would be an apt description. They had wasted time and their limited search funds to bring this person to campus, which ultimately made it impossible to bring another, qualified candidate to campus.
So padding your dossier, perhaps not such a good thing. Unethical and imprudent. If you're caught in the lie, you'll make enemies of people in your discipline. You might cost another, legitimately qualified, deserving candidate a shot at a job. Yet some people obviously do it, on the chance that they can fake it well enough to get hired. I would think that SCs would be fairly good at spotting some kinds of padding, but it would probably be hard to spot the competent yet deceptively enhanced letter or TS or RS. I've never personally heard of anyone padding successfully, and getting hired, but that doesn't mean it has never happened. Has it?