Lies, lies and more lies: Fact-checking CVs

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The issue of people lying on their CVs has been hitting the headlines lately. In July, CIFAS, the fraud prevention service, sent leaflets to all universities warning graduates of the consequences of lying on their CVs.

Last month, senior police officer, Mike Martin, was suspended from his job at Merseyside Police and eventually jailed after lying about his qualifications and experience on his CV.

These are not isolated examples – a survey in June from the Government's Higher Education Degree Datacheck (HEDD), found that 40% of students and graduates had exaggerated their grades. It said that 31% lied about how much of the course they'd completed and 11% even claimed to have a degree when they didn't.

So where does this leave an HR department looking to assess the true skills of candidates? How does a company sort through the hyperbole or spot lies when recruiting?

The first thing to remember is that while a CV is a useful screening tool, it is just a guide. It’s easy to ask candidates to provide written evidence of their qualifications and grades. It’s only by interviewing them that you can qualify the claims made on their CV.

Firstly, ensure all interviewers have ample time to assess the CV beforehand so they can identify any areas that require further explanation or investigation. If your company doesn't do this, you need to look at your recruitment practices.

Once the candidate is in front of you, discuss if there's any gaps or inconsistencies in the CV (e.g. dates) – there could be a perfectly good reason, such as sickness or redundancy. If there have been previous redundancies then open up an honest discussion – nine times out of 10 their explanation will be reasonable.

Use deep questioning techniques such as competency-based questioning to explore claims and to really understand their true ability and experience. If you are recruiting for a sales role, for example, you will want someone with excellent communications skills. Ask them to give you examples of where they have used these skills to influence certain outcomes or people and then follow through by checking with references or previous employers.

In some professions it’s easier than others – engineering firms often present candidates with a machine and ask them to 'fault test' it. This is a hard and fast way of checking claims on a CV. But it is still possible to apply a quantitative approach to other roles. You might ask someone claiming to be a 'top sales person' to state their targets, the number of calls they made and their conversion rates. If it's team management skills that you are after in the role, then ask them to explain certain projects and their role within them.

Listen out for key words. Candidates often talk either as “we” or “I". If it’s the former, it’s your job to find out exactly what they personally contributed to the project. Again, direct questioning is your best route here.

An increasing number of companies are using assessment centres, particularly in the service industry, to measure up candidates.

This is another way of gauging how a person will interact in a team, how they cope with different situations and what their communication skills are like. Other companies use neuro-linguistic programming to understand a candidate’s character, although this should be seen as a useful tool and not the only method of assessment.

Finally, don’t get waylaid by job titles. The truth is that they often have nothing to do with the competency of the person in front of you. It’s only by interviewing someone that you can understand whether the claims on their CV really stack up, and whether, in fact, you have a gem that no-one else has discovered. 

Shaun Simmons is director of Cordant Recruitment 

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