CV Lies: don’t!

A senior City barrister has been caught telling gargantuan whoppers about his CV. He did not have a Masters from Harvard, he was not at Balliol College as an undergraduate, he did not get a 1st class honours degree from UEA, nor had he been a member of the New York or Irish Bars. Oh, and he did not go to school at Radley.

Dennis O’Riordan is only the latest of a long line of apparently successful people to be found out inventing backgrounds they do not have. The only odd thing about Mr O’Riordan is that he held a number of senior roles, for instance at Nomura and the National Bank of New York without being found out.

But for every well known person who gives in to this temptation there are thousands of others who believe it is worth taking this risk in order to boost their chances of getting a job. In my work as a coach, especially when the client has come for career coaching, I have sometimes unwittingly discovered that a senior executive client has lied in some significant way about their qualifications or experience. In the first session I usually ask the client to talk me through their educational and career history with an emphasis on what attracted them to each job and what led to their decision to move on. Many years of listening to these stories have alerted me to subtle but unmistakeable signs that, in very rare cases, aspects of the story do not ring true. When respectfully challenged, initial bluster can quickly change to confession. More frequently I have worked with executives who have discovered to their horror, after a new hire has performed with puzzling lack of competence, that they have appointed someone who did not have any of the qualifications they claimed.

Less gross lies include: raising the class of a genuinely-held degree, changing the name of a previous job to sound more important, increasing salary level, adding to the length of time the person was in a job.

It is never, repeat never, worth inflating anything on your CV. The bigger the lie, the higher the chances that someone will guess the truth. We don’t know how Mr O’Riordan was unmasked but my guess is that his flamboyant style created enemies, one of whom became suspicious. A few simple phone calls would have been enough to confirm that his early CV was a fiction.

Lying is so common that most employers have wised up to the desirability of checking qualifications and previous jobs, including job titles, salary and length of stay. Finding out that you have improved on the truth on any of these facts will be enough to lead to the withdrawal of a job offer or to instant dismissal if it is uncovered after you have started work. The logic is brutal but unarguable: if you will lie about your past history then maybe your moral compass is generally adrift and most employers will not want to take the chance.

Lying about qualifications is particularly unwise because qualifications are so easily checked. Also, although possessing a first class degree can help in very early career, qualifications become less and less important after that first job: track record, achievement and emotional intelligence begin to matter more and more.

Maintaining a lie is exhausting: it needs constant vigilance. It is stressful, underpinned by perpetual fear of being found out. When a client has confessed to me that this is what they have done, after their initial sheepishness and self-reproach, all have said that there is a feeling of relief. Then the work of the coach is to look at what the temptation was about. The answer is usually some deep sense of shame and inadequacy which began in childhood. Facing up to this, looking at what validity it has now, considering how to trust people to judge you on the basis on your real self: this is where the hard work for coach and client begins.