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I was given a job offer, I signed the offer and was given a start date. This position, I never applied for it, instead I was contacted by a recruiter. The recruiter asked on the first call if I had a BA I told her yes, but really the truth is I ran out of money during my senior year of college and couldn't afford to finish. My mother was ill and I ended up relocating to help her out and never finished. This was nearly 12 years ago. Not finishing school has always bothered me however I've always felt like I had a degree because I had got so far in my education. Fast forward to this opportunity, I completed everything and then HR asked me the verify my degree. I don't know what I should do, they will be checking my education. Should I just tell them the circumstance surrounding not finishing or just decline the offer. I feel terrible that I wasn't 100 percent honest. Please help!

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    Do you claim a BA on your resume/application, or did you only mention it verbally to your recruiter? Unless a degree is specifically required, you might try sending your transcript and hoping for the best. Perhaps they only need to see partial attendance.
    – mcknz
    Jun 11, 2018 at 22:10
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    Related: workplace.stackexchange.com/q/111648/16724 Probably a dupe, in my opinion.
    – jpmc26
    Jun 12, 2018 at 3:13
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Masked Man
    Jun 12, 2018 at 13:46

6 Answers 6

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Should I just tell them the circumstance surrounding not finishing or just decline the offer.

Tell them the circumstances. Maybe it will help, maybe not. You have nothing to lose in this situation.

The next time, just start with the truth and you won't have to feel terrible.

Not finishing school has always bothered me however I've always felt like I had a degree because I had got so far in my education.

Feeling like you had a degree and claiming that you have one aren't the same thing. After 12 years, it's perfectly reasonable to feel that you have the equivalent experience+studies. That's something you could call out in your cover letter or discuss proudly in your interview. But claiming a degree you haven't actually earned is improper.

Instead, just list the years you attended and don't claim the degree you haven't earned. If it comes up in the interview (and it probably will), then you can explain the circumstances that prevented you from completing your studies and actually attaining your degree.

And remember, it's never too late to complete a degree program. You might consider going nights and finally earning that degree. That kind of drive goes over well in an interview.

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    Never lie. It almost always ends badly at some point....
    – Neo
    Jun 11, 2018 at 23:29
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    Equivalent experience: Absolutely. These days, all the jobs I look at ask for a Masters in Computer Science. I actually have a Bachelors in Metallurgy, but nobody seems to care (but I think they would care rather a lot if I said I had a masters in CS). Jun 12, 2018 at 7:25
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    @BenMz: Point is, she's already at risk of that. This action is about reducing the risk of that reputation being affected, by declaring early. There's nothing to lose by coming clean because everything is already at risk, and it'll be fifty times worse if the truth comes out later. Jun 12, 2018 at 14:34
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit The least risky thing to do is to decline the offer without mentioning the non existent degree.
    – Ben Mz
    Jun 12, 2018 at 14:46
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    Huge +1 for the last paragraph.
    – Fiksdal
    Jun 12, 2018 at 18:06
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Did you tell HR you had a BA, either verbally, or by stating so in your CV, or in any forms they asked you to fill out?

If you never actually said such a thing to HR, i.e. if you only told so to the recruiter and it was the recruiter the one who told HR you had a BA, you can try to make it seem like a simple misunderstanding:

Hey, I see here that you're asking me for proof of my BA but there must have been some kind of misunderstanding!
I did complete X years of formal education towards a BA in Whatever, but because of this and that [up to you how deep you want to go about the reasons] I was forced to pause my progress towards obtaining my degree, and I've been working and getting real world experience since then.
Anyways... Maybe this wasn't understood well enough on the phone when the recruiter asked me about it. I can get a certificate of hours and courses I passed, would that be OK?

  • Do not mention the words "dropped out", "failed to obtain", "true", "false", nor (of course) "lied". Use "put on hold" or "pause" instead of "stop", since it implies that you might still get the degree... some day.
  • Do not put the blame on the recruiter, just state that it was misunderstood on the phone. It happens.
  • If you mention the reasons behind your "pausing", be sure to make them look like a once-in-a-lifetime event. You don't want HR to think that you'll be taking time off because of your sick mother or that you'll be asking for raises time and again because you don't have money.
  • Do not make it seem like you think this is a problem or look like you got "caught". Smile. You know you don't have a degree, duh, why would you lie about that? So it must've been a simple misunderstanding, and surely not a problem given all your other skills that made you get the job. You understand that this is all just necessary paperwork and just want to make it easy for HR to be done with it.

Of course, this won't work if there's even the slightest trace of you actually saying "I have a BA". Which can happen if you wrote it somewhere or told so to HR themselves or if the recruiter recorded your conversation. However, you can also try to talk with the recruiter so they don't call you out: recruiters lie all the time about their candidates's skills and it's in their interest that you get the job (bonuses and such), so they might be inclined to help you out.

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    In addition, OP will probably be able to ask the college to send a verified transcript showing exactly the modules completed, and possibly the grades awarded and transferable credits (there will be a fee for this.)
    – Qsigma
    Jun 12, 2018 at 9:50
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    @Qsigma Yes, that's what I meant by "certificate of hours and courses passed". But just providing one wouldn't solve anything. Making it clear that it was a misunderstanding is necessary for OP to keep their employer's trust (and the job).
    – walen
    Jun 12, 2018 at 9:51
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    "Halt" doesn't mean "pause" to me. "Put on hold" would better convey that sense. Jun 12, 2018 at 15:38
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    @walen There was no misunderstanding. OP just plainly lied about a degree that doesn't exist.
    – gnasher729
    Jun 12, 2018 at 21:52
  • @gnasher729 Hence the "try to make it seem like one» part.
    – walen
    Jun 12, 2018 at 22:04
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Phone the manager of your new position. Explain to him/her exactly what's happened. Don't make excuses - he/she probably won't care that your mother was sick 12 years ago. Just tell him/her that you don't have the degree, and that it appeared on your CV as the result of a misunderstanding with the recruiter.

It's possible that the manager doesn't care whether you have a degree. It's also possible that the company will help you finish your degree - they might give you time off to study, and they might even subsidise your tuition. Or it's possible that the manager won't want you to work for him/her - either because of the lie, or because he/she needs you to have the degree. But you won't know until you talk to him/her.

If the manager endorses your employment despite your not having the degree, then HR will accept this.

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    "as the result of a misunderstanding with the recruiter". No! You need to stop lying not add to it. This wasn't a misunderstanding, you said you had a degree you didn't.
    – Daniel
    Jun 12, 2018 at 8:14
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    As in, "the recruiter didn't understand that I was lying". Look, "misunderstanding" is a common enough euphemism for "somebody lied". The manager will know what is meant by it. Jun 12, 2018 at 8:57
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    That's still trying to cover a lie building even more mistrust. Definitely not the right approach in any case, and specifically not those circumstances.
    – Ister
    Jun 12, 2018 at 9:00
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    This is a throwing the recruiter under the bus a bit. I'd take this to mean "The recruiter edited my CV to add lie". If I believed you i'd probably drop the recruiter Jun 12, 2018 at 11:41
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    '"misunderstanding" is a common enough euphemism for "somebody lied"' - In what countries is that true!? Misunderstanding to me should never mean 'Im lying about a previous lie' Jun 12, 2018 at 19:22
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Slightly tangential, but I feel it's still relevant...

You need to tell the truth. There's no way you're getting out of it. However, if you left during senior year, you won't be far off graduating. If having a degree is crucial, you could offer to complete the degree part-time.

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    After 12 years OP's credits are probably expired. Jun 12, 2018 at 12:37
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    @Adonalsium where is that the case? (asking as someone who returned to university about 10 years after I originally dropped out) I didn't have any significant issues with the new school accepting what little I did finish at the original school other than mapping the original's quarter system to equivalent credit in the new school's semester system, resulting in some requirements being partially satisfied, and some 'basket weaving' type courses that didn't map well to anything at the new school.
    – Mr.Mindor
    Jun 12, 2018 at 22:58
  • @mr mindor it varies from school to school. I went to school on and off for a decade and gave up the third time I was faced with a new set of graduation requirements; at this point almost none of the classes I took count for anything but electives.
    – arp
    Jun 13, 2018 at 4:01
  • @Mr.Mindor Sorry, I was mistaken in thinking that expiring credits was a thing outside of STEM courses - it makes sense for a security course's credits to expire after 10 or so years... less so for English. Moby Dick is Moby Dick, after all. Jun 13, 2018 at 12:37
  • Actually mutating graduation requirements may well mean that a senior can find that the last class they need to take to graduate is the current incarnation of Freshman English. When I was forced to go back and take English 101 there were three students in the class who had already gotten As in the higher level mandatory writing class.
    – arp
    Jun 15, 2018 at 9:29
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Decline the offer and don’t tell anyone why. Almost every town and industry is too small to have a recruiter discover you lie about having a degree.

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    Almost every town and industry is too small to have a recruiter discover you lie about having a degree. So true!
    – closetnoc
    Jun 12, 2018 at 16:27
  • Walking away from a reference check might do more to damage your reputation than coming clean.
    – arp
    Jun 13, 2018 at 4:02
  • @arp. Maybe, however if she said, “I got a dream offer from someone else that I can’t turn down”, she could probably get away with it because not many people would suspect someone would lie about having a degree.
    – Ben Mz
    Jun 13, 2018 at 4:09
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An important note: If the university discovers you have misrepresented your academics, you may face an academic tribunal the result of which could prevent you from continuing your education in the future.

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  • The exam was not taken twelve years ago. I find it unlikely that the OP is interested in continuing their education today, twelve years later.
    – gnasher729
    Jun 12, 2018 at 21:50
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    @gnasher729 Many people return to education after a long gap when education is necessary for their career or personal goals and their finical and time demands allow it. The questioner may want to do this sometime in the future.
    – Ben Mz
    Jun 12, 2018 at 23:49
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    @gnasher729 The OP said "My mother was ill and I ended up relocating to help her out and never finished." and "Not finishing school has always bothered me". How do you find it unlikely that OP is interested in continuing their education today, twelve years later.?
    – Nobody
    Jun 13, 2018 at 3:55

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