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Lessons on the dark art of CV manipulation from former Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson

Here’s a career lesson that you can take from Scott Thompson, Yahoo’s former chief executive of less than six months – never lie on your CV. It’s unethical and could spell career suicide if you get found out.Unfortunately, Thompson learnt this the hard way.

First, he claimed to be unaware of a non-existent computer science degree that had been on his CV for over seven years. Then he played the blame game, claiming that Heidrick & Struggles inserted the erroneous detail. As we all know by now, that didn’t work out well. Thompson resigned after the headhunting firm showed Yahoo the documents it received from him containing the inaccurate information.

Excuse me, which university did you go to?

Here in Asia, headhunters we spoke to say CVs with made-up details do crop up from time to time. However as Eunice Ng, director, Avanza Consulting, notes: “I wouldn’t say this is a common phenomenon in the financial services sector, neither would I say that it’s more prevalent than before.”

Singapore-based Sherry Yeoh, consultant, Hire Alliance, agrees. “Most candidates don’t blatantly provide false information, but some have a tendency to skew information to their advantage.” For instance, some professionals who obtain their degree qualifications via distance learning would convey the impression that they studied overseas at the affiliated foreign institution, even though the qualifications were obtained locally.

A little maths wizardry

Salaries are another area where job seekers tend to stretch the truth, says Yeoh. When certain candidates are asked about their base package, they provide a rounded-up figure that is their entire compensation, including bonuses and allowances.

Results and targets for frontline people are another area where Yeoh has seen discrepancies. Nevertheless, she says there are always ways of checking on these claims, for example by looking at pay slips. “If the candidate claims to be a top performer in the firm, we can always check on commissions and bonuses. It’s not possible that they are doing very well, yet pay remains static.”

So in short, it doesn’t pay to lie

If you’re ever tempted to massage the facts, be mindful that headhunters are likely to ring up your former employers as part of their reference inspections. Ng says: “We do thorough checking and questioning and remind candidates that we need to see the actual reference or documents related to their academic and professional qualifications, and work history. If candidates respond in a strange way or overreact, we will follow up and tell them to rectify the facts which are misstated or are misleading.”

Ultimately deception can also cost you the job. Yeoh says: “It depends on the severity of the lie; if it’s very clear that the information is false and that it’s not an honest mistake, it’s possible that the candidate will be pulled out of the interview process.”

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  1. I also find employment dates quite amusing, especially when people use 2010-2011, when they worked somewhere from December 2010 to January 2011.

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