Your CV is one of the only opportunities you have to sell yourself to a prospective employer, but there’s a fine line between embellishment and outright lying.
Financial services professionals are attempting to stretch the boundaries of reality on their CV, however. Research by employment screening firm HireRight shows that nearly 60% of resumes it received in the first quarter of 2013 had at least one “discrepancy”.
Most career advisers we spoke to said that it would be “crazy” for anyone to lie on their CV, as you will be discovered eventually. However, this doesn’t discourage people from trying, and it’s only later in the process that the falsehood is actually discovered. Below are the most common, and the more audacious, attempts to pull the wool over employers’ eyes.
1. The fictitious degree
By far the most common discrepancy is candidates attempting to elaborate their educational achievements. This can mean bumping a 2.2 degree up to a 2.1, but more often than not it involves candidates stating that they have a qualification that they never actually attained. Embarking on an MBA at Harvard or London Business School does not give you a right to include it on your CV if you never complete it. Most people tend to put these under ‘education’, rather than ‘qualifications’ in the hope that prospective employers won’t check up.
“I always call the bursaries of universities to check degree status among candidates and it’s amazing how many firms take these qualifications at face value,” said Jeremy I’Anson, careers coach who works with investment bankers. “Half completed MBAs are surprisingly common.”
However, one more audacious attempt came from an investment banker who had managed to reach director level, said managing director of People Risk Solutions and a long-standing investment banking human resources professional. He had been telling employers that he had a 2.1 degree from a top university, but – after ten years – it finally emerged that he had a 2.2.
“He eventually explained that he had convinced a friend to mock up a degree certificate for him, and had been using this for many years without anyone questioning it,” he said.
2. Mind the gap
Candidates often lie about the gap between jobs in order to appear more desirable to potential employers. This is pointless, said, Victoria McLean, managing director of City CV – not only is this easily checked, but a combination of redundancies and a tough job market have left many people on the market for extended periods of time, so it’s best simply to be upfront.
However, those with an extended career break often feel the need to embellish how they spent their time. “People always say they’ve been consulting, when the reality is a lot less glamorous,” said Mclean. “One candidate had helped set up his friend’s eBay shop and maintained that they’d been running a business on a consultancy basis for 12 months.”
Recruiters point to the more amusing – candidates describing themselves as ‘head of gardening’ during a career break – to the more ridiculous.
Steve Girdler, managing director, EMEA at Hireright, said that one candidate had professed to working for a bank in South America for six months, but they could find no record of their employment. The reality was that they’d simply been on a trip to South America.
3. Disingenuous exit
The stigma of being laid off in the financial sector is no longer what it once was, when underperformers were typically those on the receiving end of cuts. Still, it pays to have a strategy in place when questions are asked about why you left your previous employer. Girdler cites the example of one candidate who claimed a boutique operation had gone out of business. When HireRight followed up with the company, which was still very much in operation, it discovered that the employee had been fired for theft and gross misconduct.
Less salubriously, one candidate got to the job offer stage before his reasons for exiting were questioned. His referee responded with “He walked out because he thought a rock concert was more important,” said Girdler.
4. Desperately trying to appear interesting
The ‘interests’ section of a CV surprisingly important to ensure a ‘cultural fit’ within the organisation. Banks are increasingly hiring elite athletes with little or no financial experience, for example. Simply saying that you enjoy reading and movies is unlikely to cut it. Employers won’t check up on this too diligently, but is still an area where candidates embellish in order to appear, well, interesting, said I’Anson.
“If you work in a risk taking role, there’s a tendency to put in extreme sports that suggest a sense of adventure, team work or stamina,” added McLean. “Motor sports, football, skiing, all of these things are common – if you lie, then this is usually exposed during interview or sometimes afterwards.”
One career consultant cites the example of someone who claimed to be a proficient skier, was signed up to represent the bank at a City skiing event, only to spectacularly fail to perform. This didn’t put their job in jeopardy, but ensured they were less revered by colleagues and management.
5. Key word splurge
In order to make it past both junior recruiters and the automated tracking systems (ATS) used by most banks, candidates are keen to include a large number of key words. For junior investment bankers, this means including a lot of deal information, but most people fall down by not providing enough colour on what their actual involvement was, suggests Pullman.
However, there’s one area where key words go into overdrive, said McLean – project management. “One candidate has Agile, Scrum, Waterfall, SixSigma all packed into her CV, but on closer examination it was clear she had little to no experience with most of them. Embellishing your skills will get you through the first round, but will be exposed later and be made to look foolish.”
6. Workie versus work experience
Getting your first break in investment banking is notoriously competitive. Any potential analyst needs at least one full summer internship, preferably two, and this needs to be combined with spectacular academics and the right blend of extra-curricular activities. No surprise then, that some students feel the need for embellishment on their CV, or at least framing their achievements in the right way to impress graduate recruiters.
One candidate took this to an extreme, however. Girdler told us how they reference checked an individual applying for a role as an associate, who claimed to have worked at an investment bank for three years. On closer investigation, they could get no confirmation of his employment from the bank however.
“He called us and was furious we had discussed this with his prospective employer. It transpired he was a family friend of the previous VP at the investment bank and had in fact only completed two days job shadowing with this person,” he said.