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5 Executives Who Lied on Their Resume (and Got Caught)

Wal-Mart’s top spokesman has resigned over a two-decade-old resume lie. David Tovar claimed he had a bachelor’s degree from the University of Delaware, when in fact he never finished the required coursework to get a diploma, Bloomberg reported this week; the fib was exposed during a background check while Tovar was being considered for a promotion.

Tovar’s case is part of a long tradition: His is just the latest in a string of high-profile cases in which prominent figures in business and education got caught in an embarrassing resume lie—often years later.

The background check company HireRight says it finds discrepancies in 35% of screenings that include college education, says Catherine Aldrich, its vice president of operations. “It’s not uncommon for a person to misrepresent their education initially and then just continue that misrepresentation over the course of their entire career,” she says.

It’s not just the big shots who lie, of course: 88% of employers who use the company’s screening services said they discovered job candidates who had lied on their applications and resumes. But here are five particularly memorable examples of lying leaders:

1. Scott Thompson

Ex-Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson claimed he had computer science and accounting degrees from Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts. In fact, he only had the accounting degree. Thompson, who was hired in January 2012, agreed to resign from Yahoo that May after an activist investor brought the lie to light.

2. Marilee Jones

Jones, who was dean of admissions from 1997 to 2007 at the ultra-prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, perpetuated for 28 years the lie that she had three degrees. In reality, she had none.

As the head of admissions, ironically, Jones cut the amount of space candidates would have to describe extracurriculars on applications, saying more space would mean more fluff. The school learned through an anonymous tip in 2007 that Jones had puffed up her own credentials, and she was forced to quit.

3. Ronald Zarrella

Eye health product-maker Bausch & Lomb’s now-retired CEO Ronald Zarrella told people that he had an MBA from New York University. He took classes at NYU but never received a degree. The company didn’t mind much: When it found out in 2002, it rescinded his $1.1 million bonus for the year, and let Zarrella keep his job; he stayed in the post until retiring in 2008.

4. George O’Leary

The University of Notre Dame hired George O’Leary to be its new head football coach in 2001. O’Leary said he earned varsity letters playing football at the University of New Hampshire from 1966 to 1968. It turned out he never played any games there at all (though some players remembered him “working out, lifting weights, the whole thing,” the New York Times reported.)

He also falsely claimed to have a master’s degree from New York University. O’Leary’s lies surfaced and his Notre Dame career lasted five days. The fibbing didn’t end his career, though: In 2004, he took the helm of the University of Central Florida football team, where he is still head coach.

5. David Edmondson

Edmondson became RadioShack’s CEO in 2005, but he resigned in 2006, after admitting that he falsely claimed to have two degrees when he had zero degrees. He insisted he had a theology degree that the Heartland Baptist Bible College awarded to people after three years of studying. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported then that Edmondson only attended the school for two semesters.

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