Faking it on your CV

Richard Li, the Hong Kong tycoon, has had a spot of bother with investors recently. They are claming they invested with a man they believed to have a degree from ivy-league university Stanford. Mr Li has admitted having no such qualification, and now faces a potential suit over allegations of misrepresentation. It seems strange that a man with such a track record of commercial success should be deemed any less capable for the lack of a certificate, but goes to show that a dodgy CV can catch up with you at any stage in your career.

There may appear to be a widespread acceptance of ’embellishment’ and ‘polishing’ in the average CV (resume). It’s true, after all, that a CV needs to put the candidate in the best light, and as such, some judicious editing is no crime. However, many HR professionals believe that in the competitive job market applicants feel under pressure to play up their achievements, even to the extent of creating entirely new ones; the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development describes it as ‘the winner-takes-all market’. Psychologists Liz Walley and Mike Smith, co-authors of Deception in Selection, write that CV fraud is growing because ‘people believe everyone else is doing it’. And they are not far wrong – most figures suggest that one in four CVs now contain some sort of lie, from enhancing job titles to hiding dismissals.

Of course an extra qualification here or there has helped more than a few people along their careers. Jeffrey Archer left school with three O-levels but a couple of misunderstandings led to the widely held assumption that he had attended a well-known public school and had a degree from Oxford University. The implications of lying to obtain a job, however, are severe. One recruiter points out that it is ‘a particularly foolish way…to behave as it can result in the person getting a job [they cannot] perform successfully’. Quite apart from this, however, is the threat of instant dismissal should their ‘minor adjustments’ be discovered.

Alison Ryan not only lost her job but irredeemably damaged her reputation when her CV was exposed as a fabrication. Only two weeks after her appointment as Manchester United’s head of PR she was fired, having falsely claimed a first class Cambridge degree, a distinction in her law qualification and having forged a reference. Astonishingly, Ryan had in fact been banned from practising law after charges of professional misconduct the previous year.

There are also possible financial consequences to CV abuse. A golden hello or other starting bonus would have to be returned, and may even be considered fraud. Employers may also be able to sue for recruitment and training costs. With 70% of fraud being carried out by insiders, hiring the wrong person can be a costly business. As a result, employers are keeping closer checks on applications – aided in large part by new facilities from companies such as Experian, CV Check and the Control Risks Group. Experian, for instance, allows employers access to their comprehensive database of exam results; other groups screen for criminal records, check references and make sure all the dates add up.

However, most employers are canny enough to spot lies at the interview stage, and will quickly recognise if a candidate has exaggerated his or her previous job experience. One famous case was that of the would-be Virgin pilot whose ‘cockpit experience’ was actually driving a bus; he didn’t get the job. Smaller slip-ups include glossing over (or lying about) periods of unemployment, embellishing language skills (which can easily be tested) and exaggerating your current salary (a definite no-no as your tax returns will quickly out you). The general rule of thumb is this: never put anything on you CV that you will have difficulty explaining at interview. And if you are worried about your age working against you, rather than modifying your birthdate, leave it out altogether.

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