Lying on CVs: Lies, Damn Lies
It seems not a year goes by without a media storm about lying on CVs and job applications. High profile cases such as those seen on TVs ‘The Apprentice’ do little to help. The public is at once outraged and seemingly accepting the “everyone is at it, so a little tweak here and there isn’t so bad.”
Indeed a recent survey found that as many as 27% of people admit they have lied or exaggerated on their CVs.
Do That Many People Really Lie On Their CV?
Typically there are 2 main categories of falsehood.
Dates of employment will be extended to cover periods of unemployment, or worse still, hide other jobs which were short-lived. On the one hand, candidates will seek to avoid the stigma of long periods of unemployment and at the other end of the scale perhaps hide one or more jobs. Short-lived appointments may give the impression the candidate failed and was fired, whilst multiple short term roles could compound this by indicating lack stability or perseverance, so you can see they may wish to hide it.
Qualifications, job titles and responsibility are most often exaggerated; often quite imaginatively. Phrases like “I did an MBA” or when I studied for…” are designed to hide the fact they didn’t complete the course and don’t have the qualification. Candidates sometimes believe that their role was far wider than the title they had and give themselves the title they feel they should have had. Others will claim sole responsibility for something when in fact they were part of a team and not even leading it.
Less common, but not unheard of, is glossing over-eligibility to work. There has been an assumption that citizens of all EU nations are automatically eligible to work in the UK. This is not the case and citizens of the so-called accession states (broadly speaking Eastern Europe) have additional requirements in terms of registration to be eligible to work so it is worth checking passports and confirming the rules via the immigration service website.
I’ve read that because people tend to lie on applications and CVs, that employers assume that everyone is lying to an extent and therefore that candidates need to lie or exaggerate in order to avoid being disadvantaged. It brings to mind the scene from The Life of Brian where he says ‘I’m not the messiah’ and one of the followers says ‘only the true messiah would deny it’; so Brian says ‘what sort of chance does that give me? Alright, I am the Messiah!’
I don’t believe employers, as a rule, are that cynical and realistically they do have a chance of getting to the truth: so candidates should very circumspect when considering any kind of embellishment.
Structure interviews, document verification and reference checking are the surest ways of verifying candidate credentials. Far too many interviews are still conducted without adequate structure.
Drawing on competency-based interviewing techniques employers can ask candidates about specific skills, responsibilities and achievements, pushing the candidate to describe how they achieved things or how numbers were made up. For example, how did you achieve X? What was the process? Who did what? What problems did you encounter? How did you make that decision? Why? What was your reasoning? You achieved a total of X sales growth, how was that broken down? How did you break into that client? Etc.
If specific qualifications are relevant and required for a role ask to see the original certificates.
Whilst reference checking is really the final and ultimate option to verify the candidate’s claims they are not without problems. A disgruntled former employer may have nothing good to say about the candidate and clearly they will not divulge anything that they consider commercially sensitive. It’s important, therefore, to take a balanced view and perhaps give the candidate the opportunity of answering doubts raised.
Always call; don’t write for a reference as you are likely to get a standard template that tells you little more than the dates employed the jobs title and absenteeism figures. Use the reference to verify information given by the candidate during the interview. Of course, if you launch straight into probing questions the conversation is likely to be a short one. It’s wise to start off with simple inoffensive questions such as confirming dates of employment, job title etc before moving slowly onto more specific questions, perhaps relating to responsibility, achievements; always respecting commercial sensitivities.
As an employer, even a “little white lie” must cause you to question the candidate’s integrity.
If you are a candidate reading this, you should by now realise that if you are lying on CVs, you will be found out sooner or later. If you don’t think you’ll get caught here is another sobering thought: you’ve only to look at the numerous industry gatherings, how well people across many organisations know each other and the connections on networks, such as LinkedIn, to see this is a small incestuous industry. People talk and the amount and speed of information going around the industry means you can’t get away with it forever. Getting caught lying will trash your reputation and everyone will know it. See more resources for candidates here.