Personal Misrepresentation

Personal misrepresentation is a form of misconduct in which an individual misrepresents his/her qualifications, technical skills, and/or professional or educational achievements. The issue arises most frequently on resumes or curriculum vitae (academic version of a resume). Examples of personal misrepresentation include:

  • Inflating one’s grade-point average (GPA), class rank, honors;
  • Claiming expertise in a technical skill when one has only a superficial acquaintance with the technique or instrument; and/or
  • Listing publications that have not yet even been written as “in preparation” or even more serious “submitted” or “in press.”

There are several important issues here. First, the fundamental problem with doing any of the above is that it is willful, considered, and dishonest as such it calls into question your moral character. Second, when an employer looks to hire someone with a specific skill, it is because they need someone with the expertise now to solve existing problems. If you don’t have the skills required, then you won’t be able to perform competently and most likely won’t have the job very long even if you were to be successful in getting hired. Consequently, the bottom line is that it is critical to accurately convey your qualifications. Don’t overstate your skills and/or accomplishments.

Perhaps no case is more gut-wrenching than the story told in 2000 by Joel Hardi in the Chronicle of Higher Education of Mr. Puneet Bhandari, a then Columbia University undergraduate, who in fall 1998 went to his anthropology professor Dr.Greg Downey with a story about why he was falling behind in his course. Mr. Bhandari told Dr. Downey that he and his twin brother, Parag, had been in a car accident and that his twin was on life support. Over the semester, as Mr. Bhandari fell behind, the story grew more grim with Parag eventually dying. Later, Mr. Bhandari asked Dr. Downey for a letter of recommendation for medical school in which Dr. Downey of course praised Mr. Bhandari’s courage in the face of his twin’s death. Apparently, Mr. Bhandari when asked about his brother in a medical school interviewer, told the interviewer his twin, an investment banker, was doing well. Confused, the interviewer contacted Columbia which initiated an investigation that revealed that Mr. Bhandari had told the same story in at least two other courses and which led to Mr. Bhandari’s dismissal from Columbia. Tragically one week after a story appeared in a local newspaper: Mr. Bhandari committed suicide by jumping in front of a train.


J. Hardi. (2000) Chronicle of Higher Education. April 14. “Student Who Was Suspended for Fabricating Twin’s Death Loses Suit Against Columbia U.”
J. Hardi. (2000) Chronicle of Higher Education. April 25. “Columbia U. Is Shaken by Suicide of Student Suspended for Fabricating Brother’s Death.”