Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lies, damned lies and CVs

From today's Irish Independent:

Honesty is the best policy for job-seekers when it comes to selling yourself, says Susan Daly

It’s an employers’ market out there: too few jobs and too many applicants. In these competitive times, when everyone is looking to get that edge over the next man or woman, is the humble CV worth the paper it is written on?

Some embellishments are not so immediately transparent — who will really notice if a candidate rounds up a 2:2 degree result to a 2:1, or glosses over a brief spell of unemployment with tales of backpacking around Europe?

Former Green Party senator Deirdre de Burca discovered last week, however, that subtlety is everything. It emerged that when she applied to join European Commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn’s new cabinet last December, some of the work experience she listed was incredibly impressive.

Her application read: “Networked extensively with delegations and dignitaries from EU institutions and national parliaments of member states (David Milliband, Nicolas Sarkozy, Javier Solana, etc)” Despite this, she didn’t secure the job.

When asked about the namedropping of major European figures into her job application, she said: “I wasn’t trying to suggest that I have them on speed dial. Of course not. They wouldn’t know me if I knocked on their door.”

She said she was simply showing that she was comfortable with the type of high-level networking that a job in the Cabinet would entail.

And who could blame her for making sure she showed off her experience in the best possible light? After all, so many people go an awful lot further when it comes to their CVs.

Paul Mullan, of career and HR services company Measurability, says that most recruiters would expect CVs to be “highimpact” documents.

“A CV is a self-promoting document, let’s not forget,” he says. “I would never advise people to lie on a CV because they are invariably found out when it gets to interview stage and stumble over elaborating on some exaggeration on it. Some have lost jobs when it is found out they had lied, even if they are actually managing to do well in the post.”

A National Health Service worker in England was jailed for six months at the end of last month when it was discovered that she had falsified references and her A-level qualifications to secure her £23,000 admin job. Rhiannon Mackay (29) was prosecuted for fraud by making false representation.

Overstating your experience won’t necessarily get you thrown in prison but it can be deeply humiliating to be quizzed and found lacking. Hillary Clinton faced a barrage of criticism on the US presidential campaign trail two years ago when she “misspoke” (her word) about a trip to Bosnia in 1996.

She described dashing from her plane with daughter Chelsea as they were fired on by snipers. News footage from the time showed that when they arrived, they were greeted by a young girl in a small, unhurried ceremony on the runway.

Most job applicants will not, like Hillary Clinton or Deirdre de Burca, have the press scrutinising their CVs but in America and the UK there are companies whose business it is to check that the basic qualifications and work experience tally.

“We don’t have these ‘CV detectives’ in Ireland,” says Fergal Brosnan, director of the Berkley Recruitment Group. “In America, they go to town, carrying out standard criminal and financial record checks, checking beyond the written references and so on.”

However, Brosnan feels that Irish applicants are quite truthful, partly because there is such a small degree of separation in Ireland’s workforce. “A lot of our clients would ask internally if someone is familiar with the applicant. Ireland is really small, so it’s pretty easy to find someone who worked in, say, Microsoft, at the time they say they did.”

Drew Douglas, lead CV specialist at careers advice company, feels that Irish people are overly conscious of the ‘tall poppy syndrome’.

As such, they are wary of intimidating a potential employer and often undersell themselves.

“It is only when you sit down with some people that you realise they have all these accomplishments and achievements in terms of the actual work they have carried out, which they don’t include on their document,” he says.

Paul Mullan has also found that some Irish jobseekers are wary of “juicing up” their CV.

“When I put their achievements together and present them properly, I often get the comment: ‘I don’t recognise myself ’,” he says.

“I will turn to the individual and ask them if there is one thing that they can’t stand behind on the CV. Everything I have included is factual — it’s just how you present it and word it.”

At the same time, there are frequent CV truth-stretchers that many of us try to get away with and frequently do.

These would include sexing up a job title, rounding up the time spent at a company, expanding the duties a particular role entailed.

Something like exaggerating the remuneration at your last job is a foolish chance to take, however — the lie will out as soon as the new employer gets your P60.

“I think the gaps on CVs are actually the bits that are tinkered with most frequently,” says Fergal Brosnan. “It’s more the element of what is not being said.” These sins of omission might involve not giving the reason why one’s last job terminated.

If it’s the case that you were made redundant, be honest about that. People think it makes them sound like they were the weakest of the pack, but all employers know that in this climate, that is just not the case.”

There is always the occasional chancer, though, who will abandon honesty for a total work of fiction.

“The guy who says he’s been travelling around Australia for 12 months when in fact he’s been in Wheatfield,” says Brosnan.

Or the technically truthful statement that just sounds silly. “You might have someone telling you that they were vicepresident of a company. A company with three people in it. That never sounds right.”

LIAR, LIAR – Embellishing a CV detail or two can be risky enough for your average worker bee. Consider the chutzpah of these people who embroidered their paths into high-flying jobs – and were then caught out:
• The Apprentice contestant Lee McQueen was called out early on in the 2008 show on his claim that he had spent two years at Thames Valley University. He had in fact quit college four months into his course. Alan Sugar, self-confessed fan of the "school of life", crowned him the winning Apprentice anyway.
• Marilee Jones, dean of admissions at Massachussetts Institute of Technology, faked qualifications on her own CV when she first joined the Institute in 1979. "I misrepresented my academic degrees when I first applied to MIT 28 years ago," she stated in 2007, "and did not have the courage to correct my resume when I applied for my current job or at any time since."
• The director of communications at Manchester United is a huge job, and Alison Ryan called it a "dream come true" when she landed the position in 2000. She left Old Trafford after just 13 days when it emerged that she had lied about her education and career history.
• The American film director and actor Orson Welles made his stage debut in Dublin’s Gate Theatre while visiting Ireland as a young man in 1931. He claimed to Hilton Edwards, then director of the Gate, that he was a big Broadway star. Edwards didn’t believe him but gave him the job, impressed by his passionate audition and his ‘creativity’.
• David Edmondson resigned as CEO of major US electronics retailer The Radio Shack in 2006 after "misstatments" that he had degrees in Theology and Psychology were uncovered.

Some embroidered CVs give themselves away in the most blatant way possible, or else are marred by the simplest of errors.

Drew Douglas of lists the following catastrophic real-life CV gaffes on his company's website. “The kind of mistakes people can make on what is a very important first presentation of themselves is astounding,” he says.

● A great lover of languages, I speak intermediate German, highlevel Russian, and fluent Spinach.

● Third Level Establishment: Trinity College. Location: Dublin. Attendance Period: September 1880 to June 1984.

● My duties included greeting laundrette customers, removing their clothes, and washing them.

● Seeking a high-paying job that offers significant perks and bonuses (i.e. company car, extended holidays etc).

● The company made a scapegoat of me-just like all of my other employers. I’m hoping you can do better.

● Managing Director of a small distribution company, by which I mean it consisted of only one employee: myself.

● I was both surprised and humbled to receive not one, but two separate plagues in recognition of my work.

● Have covered whole body in Inca tattoos, but these are not visible when wearing a suit

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