Should You Lie on Your CV?

Feb 19, 2010 by

Does a little white lie on your CV matter if it bags you a dream job?

Lee McQueen (winner of The Apprentice in 2008) used his CV to bag – or rather blag – himself a place on the show.  And he won it, despite fibbing on his CV.  How many think a ‘slip of the pen’ or being ‘creative with the truth’ are acceptable if it helps you come first in the job race?

A CV is no longer just statement of fact; it is a very powerful marketing tool. So, the question people are asking is: if a CV is a marketing tool, and some 50-80% of all marketing material is said to contain inaccuracies, is it fair game to submit a CV that exaggerates or completely fabricates achievements to give you an edge over other CVs? The net is abound with confessions by people who did as Lee McQueen, but employers don’t buy into the same logic – and it’s their view that you should be mindful of.

This week, in one of the LinkedIn groups I follow, some professionals were chatting about the accuracy of CVs and the 007-esquese measures some recruiters will take to reveal untruths. How many candidates realise that firms with names like Serial Litigants and Security Watchdog are making millions supplying companies with legally gathered intelligence about potential recruits? Companies like them are hired to check out everything from ID to educational background, financial probity and even litigation history.

Such measures may seem a little extreme, but it is harder for employers to legally dismiss staff than at any other time. People want to recruit the right people first time around and will invest a great deal of time and money to do it.

My advice to candidates is to be completely honest on your CV.

Any competent interviewer will question you about your achievements and consult your referees to verify what you have said.  If they are on the ball, they will be look as well as listen during interviews to see if body language – something you cannot hide – accords with what you say.  Be prepared for interviewers to ask for extra referees, ask around your industry, check out your online profiles, and employ the services of specialist companies like those mentioned above.

Interviewees caught out by inaccuracies on their CV risk embarrassing themselves at best.  At worst, you risk the ire of interviewers who have taken valuable time out to meet with you, damaging your credibility and destroying any chance of getting interviews with the same company further down the line.  Untruths may even land you a criminal conviction if they amount to obtaining money under false pretences.

The case of Lee McQueen aside, potential employers will not thank you for wasting their time if you are called to interview on the basis of a CV that turns out to reflect inaccurately your skills and qualifications.  In such cases there’s a good chance you won’t get the job.

Our advice then would be to follow Mark Twain’s advice: Tell the truth on your CV, and then you won’t have to remember anything at interview.  You’re more likely to get an interview in the first place if your CV sets your achievements in context and explains how they came about. You’ll be far more comfortable talking and have far more credibility if you talk openly about any awkward issues than if you keep quiet have to explain yourself later.

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11 Comments

  1. Gabriel

    I usually abide to the transparency policy you are spearheading, however, there’s a slight problem: CV are filtered by Recruiting Agencies, very often. More often, the recruiter is not even reading the CV, it’s more a “document forwarder” after an approximative analysis of the resume. Even more often, the recruiter doesn’t know a lot about the matter – especially when it comes to pharma, or IT. Shortly, very often the natural layer of filtering, being the recruiters, is working AGAINST the companies just because of their way of filtering.

    Fact is that many people lie anyways on their CV, so, in your opinion, how could an ‘honest’ guy compete with them?

  2. Che

    I’m going to pitch in on another really challenging question. Of course, in an ideal world there would be easy answers… but the world is rarely ideal. These are, as ever, only my immediate musings.

    For me, my integrity is a big part of who I am. I wouldn’t lie on my CV because it would run counter to who I am. If folk out there view me as naive, and if that puts me at a disadvantage, then so be it. I want to be honest.

    Yet, let’s look at this from the point of view of the recruiter. If I have a CV filled with lies and I place someone with a client, and then these lies are exposed, how will I feel about that person? Will I represent them again, given that my own reputation has been tarnished by their actions?

    If I am the client and I discover that an agency has passed me a person sold under the flag of a false CV, will I want to do business with that agency again?

    The CV will often get you the interview, but you still have to come first – and a lie discovered is likely to cost you not only that interview, but also your reputation in the wider industry you work within. Hiring managers do talk to other hiring managers. You can get a bad name in the market.

    Then there is the separate question of how to best utilise recruiting agencies. One of the things that we will be asking is whether or not dependance on recruiting agencies is potentially a limiting strategy in the job race. You are, after all, placing your future into other people’s hands. It is absolutely true, however, to say that you do not need recruiting agencies to get a new job. In fact, the evidence suggests that just responding to ads and using agencies rank low in effectiveness in a jobsearch.

  3. Marc

    Your CV reflects you and your integrity and making stuff up tends to come back and bite you. However, I do believe it is ethical to change terminology to compliment the organisation / advert you are applying to. This can make the difference between CV’s being rejected or accepted at first review due to key word criteria.

  4. Marc

    Please can you add a blog topic on replying to agency advertised jobs.
    For example how many applicants think of the impact of applying to several jobs with the same agency in a day, especially when the jobs differ significantly?
    I’d like to know if I apply for an agency advertised job and receive no reply and then 2 weeks later see a different job advertised by that agency do I weaken my chances by applying for that second job?
    What is a suitable time period between applications with the same agency?
    Should we assume that agencies keep our CVs on file and check these for future vacancies?
    Thanks

  5. Che

    @Marc: More than happy to take up that challenge and see what we can come up with. Those are all excellent questions.

  6. I agree about the need to maintain integrity. Personal credibility is such a valuable asset to have, whether in your personal or professional relationships. Once lost, it is very difficult to regain. I would never jeopardize that by fibbing on my CV.

    I also agree with the observation on recruitment agencies: job seeking through some agencies can sometimes feel incredibly frustrating and unrewarding, although I would also qualify that by saying that not all agencies operate in the same way. I know that feeling of frustration so well, from my own experience and those of my friends. One friend in particular had an excellent academic background but for a blip caused by one set of disappointing exam results taken at the time of her mother’s death. Result? Despite emerging from a highly regarded university with a good degree in an academically rigorous subject, they got sifted at the early stage of lots of application processes because of arbitrary filters applied to exam results, used to narrow down the numbers. It may seem a touch inequitable, but there’s not much you can do about that.

    So how does the honest guy compete?

    Cut out the middle man. Recruitment agencies are one way of finding employment, but they are not the only way. Nor are they regarded as the most effective way of finding work. Use them, but don’t rely on them.

    One of the most successful ways of uncovering job opportunities is networking – in any form: online using Linked In, networking events, directly approaching companies where your skills will be in demand, or asking friends. People who found work without sending a CV or having a formal job interview aren’t simply lucky. Chances are, they didn’t need to because they were brought to the attention of a potential employer, whether by recommendation from somebody else or from approaching that employer themselves and building up a relationship. That’s how the honest person will get ahead of the rest.

  7. Simon Collins

    This is a very interesting initial blog.

    Perhaps i can add an employers perspective on the matter – one which is currently dealing with such an issue 3 years after an individual obtained a job and it now being alleged that the CV was fabricated/misrepresented by some margin.

    To me, if someone lies on the CV, then it breaches the very underlying and uspoken ‘contract’ between employee and employer, and that is of course one of trust, faith and confidence.

    Whilst it may appear a little harsh to judge someone as untrustworthy for falsifying a CV in order to get on – if that was the one of the main basis’s on which the employment relationship was based then i’m afraid in my opinion (and i’m sure many other employers too) then there is little coming back from that.

    Effectively the trust is complelety broken and once that has gone – then it doesn’t take a genius to work out the position the individual will end up in!

  8. Many thanks for taking the time to give us your input Simon.

    It’s very helpful to have an opinion direct from an employer – and you raised another very important point:

    It does not necessarily follow that people who falsify aspects of the CV and actually get a job offer have got away scot free: Fibs can be discovered at any point down the line and can come back and bite you when you least expect it.

    I heard talk the other day, also on LinkedIn, of an HR Director who was handed a criminal conviction for lying about their qualifications on an internal application form, although it was probably at the more extreme end of the spectrum.

    Food for thought indeed.

  9. Richard Andrews

    Some time ago I read a claim that the vast majority of CV’s contain significant untruths. How the writer had reached that conclusion and whether it is true is perhaps immaterial, but what I do believe is that not only does lying on your CV compromise your integrity and sincerity it can also, I believe, make the search for a new role more difficult.

    It is quite likely, perhaps even natural, for an individual who has lost their position to feel insecure and rejected. This can lead to a misdirected desire to make false claims on a CV or at the very least gild the lily.

    In reality the vast majority of people who have held a job down for a period of time have a series of achievement behind them that are likely to be attractive to a future employee. Perhaps before writing a CV it would pay to reflect a little and the list all the significant achievements you have had in each of the roles in your career history. It may also be useful to think which achievements would have been particularly significant to your manager.

    It may also be useful to look at each of those achievements and consider what competences and skills you have that have enabled you to achieve those things. This level of self-awareness is not only useful in putting your CV together but will also be helpful in any interviews you have. When this has been done you can then draft your CV choosing the 4 or 5 achievements which are most relevant for any role or position that you are for which you are applying.

    Using this method you will be able to speak confidently, fluently, and sincerely about those achievements at the interview stage. If your CV contains untruths you will find this much more difficult and believe me any experienced interviewer is likely to pick up if you are telling lies at interview about your background. Even if the words are convincing your body language may give the game away.

    In conclusion it seems to me that telling the truth on your CV not only maintains your integrity and thereby helps you to feel better about yourself it is also likely to be more fruitful in terms of searching for that new role.

  10. Just for the sake of devilment and to put a different twist on to the topic; how do we feel about employers/agencies that lie in their job specification?

    Firstly, let me state that I totally agree with the comments and sentiments that have already been posted!

    How do we feel about the over inflated salary packages that are sometimes quoted, the fabricated key requirements that never materialise and my personal favourite – the ‘there’s no real job at the end of it’ advert.

  11. Thanks for that interesting perspective Richard. My own view is that it is rarely employers that distort the truth or make up non-existent jobs, but rather the less scrupulous agencies.

    I do know of employers who have genuinely had to withdraw roles following a change in circumstances or some other reason that requires altered priorities but I certainly haven’t seen many examples where there has been a deliberate choice to mislead.

    When it comes to agencies, however, I could (and have been known) to go on at length! All I would suggest is that you challenge the agency very hard over any role and insist on knowing the identity of the client if your CV is to be sent to them. Occasionally, there are genuine reasons not to disclose the client (for example, if there is an incumbent presently in the role) but make sure you do as much research as possible on the agencies involved. Ask people about the credibility of agencies and their experiences, perhaps using job search websites and places such as LinkedIn.

    Good luck!

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