Q: Earlier in my career, I was given some bad advice about my resume. I attended four years of college but never earned an undergraduate degree. About 10 years ago, I changed my resume stating that I had an undergraduate degree. I was 99% there with my degree but never completed all of the requirements and thus never received a degree. I was told that my four years of college was the equivalent so I changed it on my resume. Now, 10 years later, my colleagues and manager assume that I graduated with a four-year degree, which I know I haven’t. There has been some talk about putting our personal work history and educational accomplishments on the website. Now I am getting really nervous. What should I do?
A: This is certainly a stressful position for you. Your situation illustrates how one error in judgment can haunt you years later. Four years of college does not equate to a degree, no ifs, ands or buts.
Here is what I would do. First, find out how far are you from the degree. One course that could be taken online or one course that could be taken over the summer? So get the facts. Maybe it is reasonable for you to complete the degree in a short amount of time.
Your employer may never find out. But if they find out, the outcome could be disastrous. You could be terminated on the spot, especially if you completed an application and stated that you held an undergraduate degree, or if you submitted a resume claiming that you earned an undergraduate degree.
I would ask for a one-on-one meeting with your manager. After researching what you need to do to complete your degree, own up to the fact that you have not completed the requirements. Explain that you received some bad advice many years ago but you are trying to complete the requirements in order to attain your degree. Now…. the big risk is that you could be terminated! Your manager may feel like you have mislead the company and you have. However, hopefully your manager will understand that you are taking steps to complete your degree. Disclosing this information is a risk.
There have been several high profile professionals who have not been completely candid either. The former CEO of RadioShack, David Edmondson, claimed he had two undergraduate degrees, when actually he didn’t have a degree at all. Edmondson resigned in 2006. Marilee Jones was the former dean of admissions at MIT for over 25 years. Jones had attended college for one year but never completed the bachelor’s or master’s degrees that she claimed. In 2007, Jones resigned after MIT discovered the discrepancy. MIT said an anonymous tip was the source of inquiry regarding Jones’ credentials.
This issue is no doubt causing you tremendous anxiety. However, hopefully others will read this and learn from your mistake.