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Schafer: Lying to get a job is a sign of the times

  • Article by: LEE SCHAFER
  • Star Tribune
  • February 4, 2014 - 8:09 PM

Scroll through a discussion of long-term unemployment on the social news website Reddit and you’re likely to see a suggestion to lie to get a job.

Not little lies, either, such as a harmless rounding up of some prior job experience.

That big hole on the résumé for the year out of work? Fill it with a great job, just make it up. Then get a prepaid cellphone for your brother to give a great job reference.

“Do it,” wrote one Reddit poster. “Why not? Chances are they won’t get even a chance for that job if they are honest, so what do these people have to lose? It’s pathetic that it has come to this, but if it’s the difference between having a paycheck to pay your mortgage, or possibly losing your house … then it’s not even up for debate in my book.”

OK, so maybe lying to get a job is the kind of thing young people on Reddit think is just fine. It’s obvious from reading through Reddit that its long page of “reddiquette” says nothing about profanity, and its largest demographic segment is men younger than 30.

But it’s also possible to see the same advice offered in the comments under articles in the New York Times, read by the moms and dads of the young men posting on Reddit.

In one of the top “readers’ picks” comments in the Times last week, one writer said that “I tried being honest at first, but no one would even consider me. So then I found a job that I knew I could do and lied about my past in order to get it. That was four years ago and I’m now in a senior position at the company.”

You should treat potential employers, he added, “like prey.”

This kind of thing at first sounds disheartening. Standards of personal conduct appear to be sliding. Then again, everyone in my family is working, and what this advice seems to reflect more than anything else is how hard getting a job still is.

There would be much less reason to lie to get a job if there weren’t 2.6 million Americans who have been looking for work for at least a year.

The long-term unemployed are commonly defined as people who have been without a job and looking for more than 27 weeks. That group now makes up about 38 percent of the total number of jobless, a figure cited last week as President Obama announced a new effort with about 300 large employers to hire more people who haven’t had a job for a long time.

Unlike other post-World War II business cycles, this time long-term unemployment is the typical experience for people who lose their jobs.

People out of work have been so an average of 37.1 weeks. According to Bloomberg, of the recessions and recoveries of the recent past, the period with the next-highest average weeks of joblessness was in the early 1980s. The average peaked at just over 20 weeks then, and it didn’t stay there for long.

The common understanding among the online posters who write about lying is that discrimination against the long-term unemployed is so pervasive that lying has gone from unthinkable to maybe even necessary.

Much of their despair appears to be informed by their own unsuccessful job searches or the personal stories of friends or relatives long out of work. There is also academic research that confirms that those out of work for a longer period of time are having a difficult time finding new positions.

In one recent study, researchers sent 12,000 fictitious résumés to employers for consideration, and 7 percent of those supposedly out of work for a month got calls for interviews. It was just 4 percent of those who reported being out of work for eight months.

In conversations with several career advisers and job coaches this week, none could think of a single instance when somebody asked about the advisability of lying on a résumé.

Connie Hauer, a career adviser with offices west of St. Cloud in St. Joseph, sounded appalled at even being asked about the idea.

Her advice is to ask for help from members of your church, other school volunteers, gardening club members, friends, neighbors, former colleagues, and just about anybody you encounter. Volunteering to build skills and a network is also a fine approach, she said, and “using strategies like these vs. lying is a no-brainer.”

It’s worth noting that suggestions to lie also draw some objections on Reddit, with some posters cautioning about the risk of being found out and then fired. Others make the common-sense point that what’s wrong about lying is still wrong even when growing desperate for a paying job.

Some of the advocates for lying, on the other hand, don’t seem to be looking for approval. Just understanding.

One of the Times posters suggested that being unemployed for a long time was just another Kobayashi Maru situation, which “Star Trek” fans ought to recognize.

The Kobayashi Maru turned out to be a training simulation for officer cadets facing a no-win scenario, as depicted in two of the films of the classic TV and film series.

Here’s the choice. Rescue a ship in distress — the Kobayashi Maru — and ignite a war. Or do nothing and listen as its entire crew dies.

The only cadet to ever beat the simulation was the lead character of the series, the future Capt. James Kirk. He did it by hacking the computer beforehand and changing the rules.

He wasn’t expelled for cheating. He was commended for his ingenuity.

lee.schafer@startribune.com • 612-673-4302

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