Is it Ever Acceptable to Lie on Your CV?

Published: 1 October 2014

I am of a mind that the answer to the title question is so obvious that the question really ought never need be answered. For the avoidance of doubt the answer is ‘No!’ Regrettably the whole world doesn’t agree…

Life as a Headhunter is endlessly fascinating. We have privileged access to people from every walk of life who have achieved all manner of successes in all corners of industry. With absolute certainty I can confirm that there is no one-size fits all ‘type’ that is prone to over-exuberant CV exaggeration, bending the truth, or plain bare faced lies!

As you might expect we unearth some staggering porkers. But the short term gains from applying too much creative ‘licence’ are soon outweighed by the cost of being found out. With this in mind you’d think that CV lies would be few and far between. In the main the great British public are a reliably modest lot who need to be pushed to show off a little, but there are a few areas that seem to be common areas of misleading / mischievous content:

  • Degrees, A-level’s & GCSE’s: Often passed off as awarded at ‘predicted’ grades when incomplete, or less often simply fictitiously claimed. Degrees (and equivalent) are eminently check-able, and are often material in hiring decisions – not one to attempt to fake. And at the lower end of GCSE’s, why bother? Their importance is rapidly eclipsed by even a modest amount of experience gained in relevant ‘work’.
  • Professional Qualifications & ‘Chartered’ status: The CPD commitments required to maintain chartered status are elastic across professions. For some this is professionally critical, for others it’s a nice to have differentiator.  If it’s important, put it right and maintain your chartered status. Or be frank that you have allowed it to lapse, but have a credible rationale.
  • Grand Career Claims: CV’s are all about putting yourself in the foreground, while shining a light on your contribution to the big picture. Put your best foot forward, but remember your CV must stand up to scrutiny, comparison with others, and ultimately  to referencing.
  • Career Moves:  Be candid. While some of the moves might not have been at your express wishes, don’t make an issue of it. Be clear and manage the messages around the key issue. We’re all allowed the odd career mistake.  Dress it up too much, and you invite attention. Try to hide it and any interviewer worth their salt will find it irresistible to pick at.
  • Accuracy: Little beats the example from a colleague who unearthed a fraudulent ten year senior career someone claimed to have at a leading management consulting firm. A simple informal request for someone to check the alumnus, and ask a colleague who ran relevant programmes etc. brought that one out pretty effortlessly in the rinse. But are your dates and places accurate? Don’t worry about too much or too little time in a role. It is what it is. How you manage it counts!

In simple terms lying in your CV constitutes fraud. Now that’s a statement that might dampen the ‘sales’ spirit of your personal pitch document. Think of your CV as a picture taken of your ‘best side’ - you on your best day. Hold this in mind when you write your CV. Push yourself to be marketing your skills and experiences effectively, accurately and with impact.

Matt Cockbill is a Partner leading the IT Leadership & Technology Practice for Berwick Partners.

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