For Andrea Stanfield, there's no such thing as a little white lie. In 1998, Stanfield exaggerated her resume to include a bachelor's degree from Akron University when she actually held only a high school diploma. The fact that the northeast Ohio school's real name is the University of Akron should have been a dead giveaway, but this detail slipped passed HR — and nearly everyone else in Stanfield's life. The fib led to jobs in the financial sectors of three Tampa Bay companies, where her salary with bonuses topped six figures.
To keep the lie going, the Coquina Key resident had to invent more falsehoods: funny stories about college, a fake diploma. She even deceived her husband and mother. By the time she was 33, a decade after she'd first lied, Stanfield was having anxiety attacks. She felt guilty for encouraging her subordinates and her daughter, now 11, to go to college when she hadn't. Figuring she'd get fired as soon as the truth came out, Stanfield resigned without saying why.
She recounts her tale, including whether her marriage survived, in Phony! How I Faked My Way Through Life, which the publisher assured us has been vetted.
Stanfield, now 35 and a professional dog trainer, spoke with the Times about the high price of exaggerating one's resume.
If I told you I was thinking of stretching the truth on my resume, what advice would you have for me?
Don't. I wouldn't even stretch it a little bit, because I feel like companies have an obligation to fire people based on those lies. And nowadays, background checks are very thorough. But even if they weren't, it was not worth it. All the financial gain I had — and I had a lot — I've since lost after leaving. . . . But so much more than what they think they're going to gain monetarily or respectwise or whatever they're making that lie for — they'll get a little bit better job — it's not worth it because they're never, ever going to get to be themselves. When I got the kudos and when they get the kudos for doing all the big stuff and the big things, it's never going to feel like theirs.
That's interesting because it was still you who did the work, and it's even more impressive that you did it without the training that some people might have had.
That's what everyone says, but I'll tell you when I was living it at the time, it was destroying me. I felt like everything I did right was a fluke, and I didn't deserve all the kudos. I was reviewing my employees and telling them to go back to school and do this and do that, and they would. They'd be like, "I went back to school just because of you." Oh, it'd eat me up.
Just playing devil's advocate, what's the big deal? If you say you have this piece of paper but you don't have it, and clearly you're capable of doing the job, what's the big deal?
I think they would have to fire me out of principle, especially the type of work I was doing was in the financial part of the company. . . . Maybe there would be people disappointed to do so, but I think they would have to.
What do you recommend for someone who wants to get their foot in the door at a company but doesn't meet the qualifications on paper?
Another reason for writing the book . . . was to show people that there are leaders out there. Maybe it will help someone get their foot in the door. Maybe the book will open up conversation with somebody . . . and everyone can realize that leadership isn't based on a piece of paper anymore.
Do you still tell little white lies?
No. You'll see toward the end of the book, I'm so honest with everybody, I think they're starting to get irritated with me. I'll just be like, "I'm just going to tell you the truth, and if you don't want to know the truth to a question, just don't ask me because I'm not even gonna try to not hurt your feelings." I can't do it anymore. I've known people, and still know people, that are good at telling white lies to make the story funnier or to not hurt someone's feelings. I don't even like that now. . . . I don't want to run into a me."
Phony! How I Faked My Way Through Life
By Andrea Stanfield
Prometheus, 218 pages $16.98