By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Magazine
It might seem like the only way to secure that dream job, but with one in four people lying on their CVs, employers are wising up, and have identified the typical fibs people tell.
So, you founded your university debating society, did you? And what was your greatest challenge in that role?
However unlikely, it's a job interview question some people would dread, if they are one of the many people to have faked parts of their curriculum vitae.
A quarter of 3,000 CVs submitted with job applications in 2004 had a lie in them, says employee screening firm Risk Advisory Group. And while the section headed "personal interests and achievements" may seem like a legitimate area for exaggeration, some of the lies are far more serious than fibs about undergraduate life.
Neil Taylor produced a bogus degree certificate to land the position as head of the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals NHS Trust in 2003. But after admitting the offence of obtaining a pecuniary advantage through deception, he now faces the possibility of prison.
So what sort of things are people lying about?
Inflated job titles, increased salaries and benefits, length of service and qualifications are the most common areas, says Marcia Roberts of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation.
"You'd be surprised to know how common it is to lie about qualifications and how stupid it is because it's easy to check," she says. "Recruiters should never accept that someone has lost their certificates. You'd be surprised how many claim to have been to foreign universities when they don't even exist."
In an extreme case of faking it, people have even been known to send someone else to undertake an interview for them, she says.
Combating the lies
The personal achievements are harder to check and few employers bother. But a skilled interviewer can pick apart any holes in a CV, adds Ms Roberts.
While some people may view the odd lie as acceptable to get the job they think they are fully capable of doing, in areas such as social services or education, there are obvious dangers to employing a bogus carer or teacher. And a criminal records check, which is statutory in some industries, will not pick up lies concerning experience.
But some employers have had enough and are fighting back. London and Quadrant Housing Trust, which provides rented homes to low-income families, says checks on prospective employees reveal so many to have lied that about one in 15 provisional job offers the housing association makes has to be withdrawn.
The interview should get to the truth
This is due to the references not standing up or there being errors on the application form such as falsified sick leave. To rectify this, London and Quadrant is among an increasing number of employers turning to outside help.
Checking CVs and application forms is a growing industry, and one that Risk Advisory Group and Kroll Background Worldwide are working within.
Hedley Clark, Kroll's managing director, says: "Companies in the past have done reference checking themselves and just asked people to bring in their qualification certificates when they start.
"What's changing is that people are taking it more seriously and seeing more public instances where a CV fabrication has gone on."
The extreme examples include people saying they have qualifications they don't have or covering up a period where they were in jail, he says.
Kroll helps the company to devise an application form which is designed to get to the truth in areas like employer history, professional qualifications and directorships. Applicants are warned the forms will be vetted, but that still doesn't prevent nearly one in three containing an error, says Mr Clark.
For between £75 and £300, depending on the seniority of the individual, the person's background as outlined on the form is investigated. This includes financial integrity checks and could mean getting references in different languages.
The penalties vary from being refused the job to being fired if the offender has already started work. Or as Mr Taylor's case demonstrates, the punishment can be even stronger.
Have you embellished, faked or tweaked your CV? Add your comments to this story using the form below:
It's a case of lie and be lied to. I lie shamelessly on my CV just as prospective employers have lied to me about job content, responsibilities and in one case salary. I've even been sacked and covered myself with ease by gaining employment through an agency for a short period then using them as a referee. Oh yeah, and I sleep soundly at night.
Alan Rutherford, UK
A CV is an advert; it is not a legal document, and as such it is not illegal to embellish it. I have also heard about plenty of companies (if not all!) where the job advertised is not quite as it was described. They would argue that they want the best candidates to apply, so they make the job sound good. If they then get a number of people lying to make themselves sound better, then how can the business justify complaining.
Yes, I have, I have epilepsy, and find it very hard to get interviews,so I leave it out in the CV, but tell them at the interview, if it is a concern or a health risk.I believe interviewees filter CV's out by seeing who the "weak link" is and not granting them an interview.
Jude Bradley, Ireland
My experience in a very brief stint as a recruitment consultant is that even if a CV comes in completely truthful, the consultant will tweak it, often without the candidate's knowledge. It's only candidates who pay the price and it's all too often not their fault.
My whole CV has been "tweaked" and I see nothing wrong in that, I would call it enhancing. The facts, such as qualifications and previous employers are correct, but I have added or extended my soft skills, but have always made sure that these were areas where that fell within my remit and that I was capabable of doing. At the end of the day, no employer I have worked for has ever been 100% truthful with me.
Steven , United Kingdom
I have never fabricated anything on any CV. But if, as so many reports suggest, a majority of people DO inflate their qualifications or experience, to the extent that prospective employers will down grade anything they read by 25%, then the temptation to upgrade your own experience by the same amount must be hard to resist.
Mark Headey, UK
I needed to get some temporary work and was quite desperate so I cut out my degree qualifications and over 20 years of IT expertise on my CV and on the application form. My wife who had experience in the position and was quite good at it also applied for the job. I got the interview and the job my wife didn't even get the interview.
While I wouldn't condone lying about experience, qualifications, or ability to do the job, inflating previous salaries is another thing altogether. Wage negotiations are like many other financial transactions, a game of bluffing, and the salary you end up with should relate to whether you can do the job and the market rate, not what you previously earned.
SP, London, UK
I would never dream of embellishing my CV
Lord Stephen Buxton, Holbrooks Manor, Coventry
One method of checking people's cvs:
As interview draws to conclusion, ask the candidate to imagine they have got the job and ask them to write a 100 word appointment press release for use on office noticeboards and in local/professional press (without reference to the cv they previously supplied). Then sit back and watch all those qualifications drop, that experience fade and all those personal achievements disappear!
A method I've used when interviewing for positions at various publications and p r agencies with great success!
Jonathan Wheeler, Great Britain
The spurious debating society is a good example - I claimed to have founded the school debating society on my application to Oxford. There are some crucial points to remember, though. Always be strictly truthful (I was one of several founders, and it wasn't my fault the society never met for a debate) and always prepare in advance (the first question the tutor asked was about the debating society, but I had answers ready). Within these restrictions, anything is fair game!
Anne O' Nimmus, London, UK
I'm in my early twenties, and as such many of my friends are applying for post-University jobs. It really annoys me to know that the overwhelming majority of them lie on application forms and on their CVs. These deceptions range from academic marks, through to "I was captain of a squash team", that never existed. It is irritating to know that those of us who are honest are being beaten to jobs by outright liars. Companies really should check!
The trouble is that, while it's foolish to lie about 'hard' facts (like qualifications, length of experience etc), employers these days are more interested in 'soft skills' where its much harder to disprove what people are saying. Unsurprisingly, when asked, most job applicants are great team players, respect diversity, enjoy challenges and always put customers first!
Personally I don't believe I've embellished or faked a CV. However, I certainly have 'tweaked' my CV using the most powerful words possible to describe roles or actions. I believe the value of a CV is very finite anyway, so to spend £75-£300 on a background check would be a waste of money. Having just spent the past 12 months involved in the recruiting process from my company, I view a CV as merely a possible door opener. I think the bigger problem is for larger companies where the people interviewing are from a HR department who work to a 'check list'. It's not that HR staff are bad at their role, that's far from the truth, but it's much more powerful and pertinent to involve someone in a similar or the same role in the interview process. They will be able to ask questions with depth that will soon show if the person being interview was a complete charlatan.
Jon Hutson, Product Manager, East Sussex, UK
Having been unemployed for quite some time in the past, I have been sent on various courses by the jobcentres etc, on which my CV has been "revised", and on each occasion - at the direction of those leading the course - it has become more of a work of fiction:
"you don't need to say it was part-time", "...then you were a MANAGER, weren't you...", "oh, just round it up to a year." and so on.
No lies on my CV, but having recently had to recruit a team of IT specialists its almost comical how many people do lie, I had CV's that stated 10 years experience in application version x, that has only been around for 5 years. I even had an internal applicant who said they had 2 years experience in the package while in his current role, when a simple check of the systems found he wasn't even setup as a user.
andrew baker, England
A few years ago I went to a professional CV writing company, I filled in their 10 page questionnaire, added copies of qualifications and references this was followed up by a telephone interview where I was told what I should have said. The CV they produced bore so little resemblance to me that I felt too embarrassed to use it. Is it any wonder so many people are getting caught when recruitment professionals are telling us to lie.
Well, in the future there will less need to lie on CVs since everyone now has 3 As at A-level.
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