Whos' Who: Is There Any Virtue in Vanity Publishing?

By Nanci Lamborn, SPHR, and BrightMove Recruiting Software and Employment Software

Last week I received a resume from a candidate who listed in the “Accomplishments” section of his resume that he had been named in the 2009 Who’s Who in America’s Colleges and Universities. Upon reading this line, I had a flashback to my own baccalaureate transition and a similar “honor” that I once also claimed. I recalled the inflated pride as this lofty commendation with which I had been bestowed came to life within the hallowed pages of this renowned volume, pride which was smashed to smithereens when I realized that my twenty-five hard earned bucks had purchased me my own memoriam of a teensy line amongst thousands of other teensy lines and a photo one-sixth the size of a postage stamp. File that lesson under “G” for Gullible.

The last few times I remembered seeing the “Who’s Who in (fill in the lofty blank here)” it was without fail a request for money. “You are wonderful,” the congratulatory letters said. “Give us money and you can buy a leather-bound reserve and a plaque that says that we say you are wonderful.”  These letters barely saw the light of day before hitting the trash can.

But back to this eager, hopeful candidate. What does the inclusion of this dubious honor on his credentials tell me about him as an individual?

To see if perhaps things had changed, or the Better Business Bureau or the Attorney General had perhaps caught up with these scams, known technically as Vanity Publishers, I went looking for some redeeming information. What I found was entertaining to say the least, and sadly it did not bode well for our candidate. Apparently the Who’s Who in Whatever scams are not only alive and well, but flourishing.

Victoria Strauss, writer for Writer Beware, a publishing industry watchdog group published this great article in 2007 about her run-in with one organization http://tinyurl.com/5hqy3o. And the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers own web page, although aimed mostly towards the writing industry, has an entire segment dedicated to “Vanity Publishers in sheep’s clothing” http://tinyurl.com/25aq93j.
And what does the Better Business Bureau have to say? Plenty, in fact an entire page dedicated solely to the Who’s Who style scams.http://tinyurl.com/25dt5lv.
Even Forbes referred to ten years ago to the industry as a “Hall of Lame”
http://tinyurl.com/cdotpl. And CXO Media’s CSOonline post from last year titled “What’s What with Who’s Who” follows one author as he decides to take one scammer up on their offered “honor”, with completely expected consequences http://tinyurl.com/3x329qv.
One fact did surface in more than a few stories, namely that the Marquis brand publication of Who’s Who is supposed to be the only “legitimate” version. Interestingly enough, it appears that despite their claims that only the most prestigious individuals are nominated by certain careful means, anyone at all can submit their own biographical data information on their “submittals” page. And it really is hard to swallow what Marquis claims about its publication, which reads, “For over a century, Marquis Who’s Who has proudly supported the library and research communities with the most trusted biographical information of its kind. Nearly every public and academic library in the United States – as well as corporate and research libraries around the world – use Marquis Who’s Who biographies in print or online.  This is why Marquis Who’s Who has been invaluable to the reference community for over 100 years and will be for decades to come!” Whoa.

I suppose it would be easy for high school or college students to fall for such bait. After all, according to themselves as they claim on their website, “Who’s Who Among Students – Each year, a select group of students is called forward to accept one of the most prestigious awards the academic community can bestow — selection to Who’s Who Among Students. This exclusive honor is conferred by more than 1,900 schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Through our years of serving higher education, Who’s Who Among Students has become one of the most highly regarded and long-standing honors programs in the nation, having earned the overwhelming respect of college faculties and administrations.” Whoa indeed. And today only, there are special sales on commemorative items your family will treasure including the Who’s Who Book – Deluxe and Honor Cord; the ID Holder and CD Case; the Tie/Lapel Pin; and Leatherette Certificate Portfolio.”  Ooooh, leatherette!

But I digress. My initial quandary was the candidate at hand. Should I be more concerned with the gullibility displayed by this candidate for including this on his resume, or by the ego which is so typically stroked and thereby inflated by participating in vanity publishing manuals? Is one of these worse than the other?
For other more job-specific reasons I decided not to consider this gentleman. I do hope that his dubious honor serves him well. But in this research I had to also share what was by far the very best story provided in another writer’s blog post comment from a reader named Bill Reid who shares this story. “A few years ago, I got a letter notifying me that I was ‘chosen’ to be in ‘Notable Americans of the Bicentennial Era’ and asking if I would like to nominate someone else of similar, lofty stature. After thinking carefully about it, I nominated my dog. I didn’t lie on the application, giving his actual parents and listing his profession as something like ‘Trusted Companion to Dr. William Reid.’ In due time, a really official letter arrived, addressed to my dog. He had been accepted — nay, found worthy — as a Notable American of the Bicentennial Era.
I know it was a scam, but I just had to buy the book to prove that I had a very special dog.” http://tinyurl.com/28ynpwf.
Now that is a collector’s edition I would buy.

Nanci Lamborn, SPHR, is a senior human resources generalist and a freelance writer based in Atlanta, GA. She also has a very special dog.

 

3 Comments

  1. mbrandt Mary Wright on August 3, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Thank you for this entertaining, illuminating and well-written article! How do we get it into the hands of the people who need it most — the college students and recent grads? Maybe we would have better candidates if they had a clue about how detrimental some of the silly claims are.

  2. mbrandt sandyh sánchez on August 3, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    are you claiming that the yearly university nominations and selections for who’s who and the ceremonies that follow are shams?

  3. mbrandt mbrandt on August 3, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    Sandyh, I don’t think this article is discrediting those accolades out there that are true and real awards. However, I would argue there are a few shams out there to say the least. I received an email just today that said I have been nominated as the Who’s Who is some random group. It was nothing more that an advertisement program.

    Mike Brandt
    BrightMove

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