What's Your Problem?

I left university a year ago to take up a graduate trainee position at an engineering firm. The thing is, I stretched the truth during my interview and said that I'd got a 2:1, when in fact I only achieved a third-class degree.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I got away with it, and have been doing well since. But the company has now been caught short by someone in this year's intake, and management have said that they are going to check the academic results of everybody hired in the past two years. What should I do? I'm worried I might lose my job.

A: Your chances of getting out of this with more than you deserve will be greatly helped if you learn one lesson. Stop talking to yourself in euphemisms. What do you mean, you 'stretched the truth'? Turning a third-class degree into a 2:1 isn't stretching anything; it's a lie. You haven't yet admitted that, even to yourself. Try saying it now, out loud: 'I lied.'

All will now depend on two things ...

First, on how well you've done. A university degree may help people get their first job but after that, for most, it has no value whatsoever.

After that, people are judged not on promise but on performance. This fact might just save you. If your performance has been as good as they hoped from someone with a 2:1, you have a chance.

Second, come clean. No weasel words, no wheedling attempts to mitigate your fib. Under no circumstances uses phrases such as 'stretching the truth'. You company will know that you lied to them.

Tell them you badly wanted the job - so badly that you lied about your degree. Tell them you were confident, given the opportunity, that you could prove your value very quickly - and you hope that you have.

Tell them you're mortified. And promise them that since you joined, you've told no other lie, big or small; and nor will you ever.

Volunteer all this right away - and if your record is good enough, you might just get away with it. If you do, I suspect your determination to prove yourself will be greater than ever. Your company might even reach the same conclusion - and that could work in your favour.

I'm not sure that you deserve it, but good luck, anyway.

Jeremy Bullmore has been creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London and a non-executive director of both the Guardian Media Group and WPP.

Address your problems to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@mtmagazine.co.uk. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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