The CV detectives

24-08-2005

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. 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."

Offenders fired

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.

By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Magazine
BBC News

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