CV dishonesty: the lying game

A recent analysis by The Risk Advisory Group of 3,000 screens of potential
financial services employees, demonstrated that 25% of all CVs contained
material irregularities.

These included academic qualifications, previous employment history
(duration, responsibilities and salaries were all common grounds for
embellishment), County Court judgments, directorships and in the worst case a
criminal conviction (fertile ground for omission).

The results were surprising for three reasons. Firstly, in every case the
candidate filled in a 15-page disclosure document that asked detailed questions.
Secondly, unlike previous years, each CV contained not one but on average three
material discrepancies.

Thirdly, the candidates had already been interviewed by professionals and in
many cases more than once before the job offer had been extended ‘subject to
satisfactory CV verification’. Their untruths had not, therefore, been
discovered by human resource professionals and their business counterparts
during the interview process.

In each case, the candidate had given their express consent for the data they
provided to be checked. There should then have been no doubt in the candidate’s
mind that checks were going to take place.

One assumes, therefore, that either they thought they were going to get away
with it or, as many of the website chat rooms indicated after the results of our
study were published, they thought they had either a right, or that it was
acceptable practice, to embellish the truth or even lie.

These results are backed by previous studies. A 2002 Mori poll found that one
third of respondents admitted to fabricating elements of their CVs, and a survey
conducted in 2004 by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found
that 25% of employers in the UK had job offers withdrawn in 2003 after
discovering CV fabrication.

It would appear that lying about one’s past history is reaching epidemic pro

Some commentators, including Professor Mike Levi of Cardiff University, have
said that really, if one puts aside the question of integrity – a difficult
concept in itself – what matters is competence and not qualification. But
Professor Levi, and all those that advocate this position, miss the point.

Employees are the biggest single asset, and potentially the biggest single
liability, of every organisation in both commercial and public sectors. In the
past 15 years, hundreds of millions, if not billions, of pounds have been spent
investigating corporate failure, prosecuting it, regulating to try and avoid it,
legislating against it and by corporates building ever more tortuous and
expensive compliance structures to deal with it.

In the UK we have had Cadbury, Hemple, Turnbull and others. In the US there
has been the dreaded Sarbanes-Oxley. But in every single major corporate
failure, individuals have been responsible either as a result of incompetence or
through dishonesty. No-one on the board of Barings Bank apparently understood
how Nick Leeson was making money – or not as the case was.

It is individuals who circumvent internal control mechanisms, who leak price
sensitive information and who establish nominee companies to provide
non-arms-length services to the companies for whom they work.

But the issue is wider than dishonesty. The employment of people with
integrity, who have the necessary skills and competence to do the job, goes to
the very fabric of a successful business enterprise.

If people who do not have appropriate skills are hired, they demotivate their
colleagues, make bad and costly business decisions, adversely affect client
relationships and can attract litigation.

If they profess an expertise that they do not have as an accountant, a
treasury specialist, a lawyer or an IT specialist – all examples that we have
seen – they can do far more damage far more quickly.

Employee screening should not therefore be regarded as a discretional expens
e. It is fundamental to the successful running of any enterprise and should take
precedence over many other risk management mechanisms that currently hold

If the employee screening process is to be effective, it needs to be
integrated into the recruitment process. All potential recruits should be told
at the earliest opportunity that it is the company’s policy to verify all
information supplied to them by the candidate.

They should be told that this is done as part of the company’s culture,
specifically its commitment to providing the best-qualified employees to fulfil
the role that it requires.

Disclosure forms should be used to ensure the candidate provides precise data
in a manner which is more easily verified. Ambiguity is easy on a non-standard
professionalised CV. Specific questions should be asked about qualifications,
institutions, dates and grades.

Addresses are important in the context of County Court judgements, names or
variations of names for directorships.

References must be asked for and must be checked. In appropriate
circumstances, criminal record disclosure must also be sought.

None of the above will stop all crime in companies, nor will it achieve
immediate and comprehensive risk management compliance. But it will, in the
short term at least, save management time and expense, improve competence and
capability and, ultimately, should lead to a much more competitive and
successful business.

Bill Waite is chief executive of the Risk Advisory Group

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