The CV fibbers who play the lying game
With a British health service executive facing jail for conning his way into a ?150,000-a-year job, Damian Corless asks how far would you go to get a dream job
In one of its past incarnations, Magill magazine was holding interviews for new writers. As one candidate made his bid to impress the panel, the publisher passed the young hopeful's CV and clippings portfolio along the desk to the magazine's newly installed editor. The editor perused the documents, picking out one article clipped from Hot Press.
"I can really relate to this piece," he told the interviewee.
"Really?" said the candidate, blushing slightly.
"Yes," said the editor. "I wrote it."
Sadly for the candidate, the ground didn't open up to swallow him and he was forced to beat a most excruciating retreat back the way he'd come in. However, as he slinked away in crushing shame, it's quite possible that, rather than beating up on himself for his foolish attempted deception, he was cursing his horrible luck at getting caught out by such a freak of circumstance.
A new study in Britain of 3,000 CVs submitted with job applications in 2004 showed that one in four contained at least one lie. One of the most common lies detected by the employee screening firm, Risk Advisory Group, related to candidates inflating the job title they'd held with a previous employer. An example familiar to fans of The Office would be where an 'assistant to the manager' might retrospectively promote themselves to 'assistant manager'.
Other areas prone to retrospective inflation include salaries, benefits, length of service and qualifications. At the extreme end of the scale, a significant number of job applicants claimed to have attended non-existent foreign universities, while the most daring even sent a doppelganger to sit their interview for them.
The statistics clearly show that many of us think it's perfectly okay to tell the odd white lie if it will help secure a job we feel we're capable of doing. However, a recent case in England has underlined the obvious dangers of employing people with bogus credentials in areas where their unfitness could cause serious damage, such as medicine, caring or working with children.
Neil Taylor is currently on bail and facing jail after a routine review of employees' qualifications found that he had lied his way into a ?150,000-a-year job as one of Britain's top health service executives. Taylor claimed to have a first-class degree and a postgraduate diploma in forensic medicine to secure the post of chief executive of Shrewsbury & Telford Hospitals NHS Trust, serving 500,000 patients. In fact, his only qualifications were "one or two A-levels".
In Ireland, four years ago, an equally high-profile CV cheat was allowed to quietly leave the country rather than face the rigour of the law. There were red faces at University College Dublin when it emerged that a senior lecturer with its Business School had been teaching there for four years on bogus qualifications.
To make matters worse, shortly before he was found out, American Gary Santry had been presented by UCD with an award for his outstanding service to the college. He'd contributed to the Business School being ranked the seventh best in Europe by the Financial Times, and his exposure raised fears that this prestige position might be downgraded, damaging the college's ability to attract high-paying foreign students.
Santry had landed the top post by claiming to hold a Masters in Business Administration from Notre Dame and a PhD from the Southern Methodist University in Texas. His exposure also raised fears that students paying large annual fees would sue UCD for failing to keep its end of the bargain to provide highly qualified lecturers. The Santry incident prompted reforms at UCD, ending a situation where senior academics were making appointments on the basis of unchecked CVs and without conducting any formal job interviews.
Even the man who holds the top job in the country has had his difficulties over inconsistencies in his CV. While there is no suggestion that the Taoiseach deliberately lied or misled the public about his qualifications, in November 2001 the Fianna Fail website listed Bertie Ahern's third-level education as: "Rathmines College of Commerce, University College Dublin and London School of Economics."
That same month the Taoiseach was quoted in a new book, My Best Advice, as saying: "I obtained my accountancy qualification (in the College of Commerce, Rathmines) and later completed further diploma courses through the London School of Economics in taxation and business administration."
Sharp-eyed observers noted that the Taoiseach failed to make any mention in the book of his time at UCD. When a spokesman for Mr Ahern was asked to explain the omission, he said: "He has never claimed to hold degrees from UCD or anywhere else. I don't know what he got (after Rathmines College). He remembers doing the courses, but not what they were."
Attempts by reporters to trace Mr Ahern's attendance record at UCD or the London School of Economics proved unsuccessful. The reference on the Fianna Fail website to his studies at the LSE was subsequently deleted.
A second new report in Britain, by the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development, concludes that a significant proportion of jobseekers will always be prone to enhance the truth as long as they feel they've a reasonable chance of getting away with it. The Institute blamed the "laxity" of employers for inviting this situation on themselves. It found that almost a quarter of the firms it surveyed admitted often not bothering to check candidates' references, qualifications or absenteeism records.
However, the outsourcing of the checking of CVs is a fast-growing practice both in Britain and Ireland. For between ?100 and ?400, depending on the seniority of the individual, a candidate's background as outlined on their form can be investigated. In Ireland, a number of private detective agencies are offering the same service. The vetting procedure can include financial integrity checks and, if necessary, using translators to get references in foreign languages.
Incredibly, even when candidates are given express warnings that their claims will be thoroughly vetted, one in four will still embellish the truth. Hedley Clarke, managing director of Kroll Background Worldwide, says: "We'll help a company devise an application 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 doesn't prevent a surprising proportion containing an error."
Serving to muddy the waters even further has been the huge growth in cyberspace colleges and universities, offering off-the-peg qualifications at a price you can afford.
An advert for one of the self-styled 'non-accredited universities' offers: "Diplomas based on your present knowledge and life experience. No required tests, classes, books or interviews. Bachelors, Masters, MBA and Doctorate (PhD) diplomas available in the field of your choice." In other words, you tell them what to put on the parchment and it's yours for a song. Most of the institutions selling these credentials operate within the law and insist that their degrees are completely legitimate.
As the blurb for one of these educational pound shops puts it: "No-one will ever know how you earned it unless you tell them!"
WHY AGENCIES ADD TO THE PROBLEM
* According to one Human Resources officer, many Irish recruitment agencies are part of the problem, rather than part of the solution, to finding the right employee. Kate, who's in charge of recruitment with a well-known firm, says: "The agencies are on commission, so they're often determined to place candidates whether they're suitable or not. Last week I was sent a girl for a data input post and the agency told me she had a typing speed of 80wpm. I mentioned to her: 'I believe you're a great typist?' 'No,' she said. That's a waste of her time as well as ours.
"I recently met with several agencies to try and sort the good from the bad. The sales pitch from every one of them was that their rivals never bother checking qualifications, but they do. Some even have disclaimers saying it's up to the employer to check, but in that case what are we paying them up to ?2,000 for? We might as well just stick the job ad in the paper and interview everyone.
"The agencies are also happy to pressurise jobseekers into going for jobs they don't want. We had a girl recently who had left her job in a bank because she wanted to switch to working with children. She told this to the agency but they pushed her into interviewing with us for a financial post. We took her on, trained her for six weeks, and she left because she should never have been sent here in the first place."