A headline in a recent New York Times Magazine The Ethicists column asked: "Can I Hire Someone to Write My Resume and Cover Letter?" What followed was an interesting debate about the legitimacy of paying for this kind of service.
To me, the most illuminating comment came from Jack Shafer, a media writer at Politico, who weighed in: "Is it unethical for you to help your child with their homework? Yes, of course, it’s ethical to help them. It’s not ethical — it’s not actually helpful — for you to complete your children’s homework. The letter writer has enlisted a sort of surrogate parent to help them complete their homework, and I’m not comfortable with it. I don’t think that behavior is ethical or representational of the skills of the applicant."
I agree. If the first thing a potential employer sees from you was written and edited by someone else, then they have no insight into many crucial skills you should possess. Many of these services work by asking clients to fill out online surveys about their professional and academic backgrounds along with details about the job they are applying for. That is often followed by a phone interview with the writer chosen to work with them, and resumes and cover letters are created using that information. But if I am hiring someone, I want to see how well they can organize information. I want to know if they have problems with spelling and grammar. And in their cover letter I definitely want a sense of how compelling and descriptive they can be in advocating for themselves for the position. And if the applicant hasn't written and edited their own resume and cover letter, I would have no idea if they possess any of those abilities.
One could argue that these kinds of services are less ethically questionable if they are being used by an applicant who is not applying for a job that requires a significant amount of writing or editing. I would counter that by saying that almost all jobs these days require people to be able to communicate professionally and properly – whether you are applying to be a nurse or a car salesperson. And if someone else’s work is the first example a prospective employer sees of your ability to communicate, then they are being misled.
In his response, Shafer touches on an issue that is significantly more ethically troubling than resume and cover letter writing services – having a third party do your homework for you. Many of us knew people in high school or college who were happy to do your assignments – for a fee. But the digital revolution has taken that concept and expanded it exponentially.
Granted, there are many legitimate online tutoring services where students can get the help they need when they are struggling in certain areas. Tutoring someone is certainly ethical – even commendable – and a number of big-city public libraries offer free online tutoring. But do a Google search with the phrase "homework for hire" and you'll see some businesses that are very up front about their seemingly unethical services.
Some of the website names are anything but subtle and make bold claims about what they can accomplish. One such site is paymetodoyourhomework.com. On the front page of their site they boast: "Our experts test on average 92% better then nationwide averages on SAT I & II, AP, GRE & LSAT, Exams, Finals." What's hilarious about that statement is that the word "then" is used incorrectly – it should be "than."
I found almost the exact same situation on NoNeedToStudy.com. This business boldly, and again, ungrammatically, states: "Your Homework Gets Completed By Our Genius. Or Moneyback!" One assumes their resident genius didn't proofread their Web page.
Why isn't anyone doing anything to stamp out these services? Actually, at least 16 states have laws against this kind of practice. A post on the popular crowdsourcing website Fiverr.com, details some of the legislation, including New York's legal stance on the issue: "Section 213-B of the New York Education Law criminalizes the unlawful sale of 'a dissertation, thesis, term paper, essay, report or other written assignment' as a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by incarceration of up to three months."
However, given the huge number of these businesses, even the threat of jail time seems to be doing very little to stop the proliferation of this kind of academic fraud.
But those digital homework services are not the worst ethical offenders. The most suspect and disturbing sites are the ones that will take your entire online classes for you. And with more and more people getting educated over the Internet, the fact that you could get an A in a course you never attended is frightening.
One such site is WeTakeYourClass.com, whose homepage states: "We take your online college classes for you and you get an 'A.'"
So when you combine all three of these services – resume/cover letter writing, homework completion and online class taking – the end result could be someone with great grades and a flawless resume whose actual knowledge and skills are anything but what they appear to be on paper. I agree that someone who uses an online resume/cover letter writing service is not as deceptive as someone who has their homework completed for them or has their online classes taken for them. But they are all part of a trend in which people are using the Internet to buy work that is not theirs and then pass it off as their own. They all might not be as ethically suspect, but when taken together they represent a very troubling trend.
I doubt these kinds of businesses are going away anytime soon. Actually, I can see them getting more and more sophisticated about avoiding detection as they become scrutinized more closely. So some of the onus for detecting this kind of fraud will fall on people who are interviewing job applicants. Personally, now that I know the extent of this industry, I will be much more vigilant about asking extremely detailed questions about people's purported education and skills.