Roy Duncan

25th July 2016

CV Lies

Following on from my earlier blog about the issues surrounding CV lies and exaggerations, I am now going to consider CV lies in more detail.  In particular, how to identify dubious claims and exaggerations on CVs.

By way of a recap, according to a UK Higher Education Degree Datacheck (HEDD) survey on graduate data fraud, around 33% of graduates or job seekers falsify important information on their CV every year. Amongst the culprits, 40% exaggerate their academic record, while 11% make up a degree all together.

HEDD also identified other aspects of candidate behaviour and it is not just tweaking their CV. For example, obtaining fake degree certificates from their university of choice, and exaggerating grades (40% of applicants) are common.  The research also identified that that the instances of fraud were higher from candidates who had graduated more than 10 years ago, than from recent graduates.

A recent high profile cases have included Dennis O’ Riordan who was dismissed from his top city firm  after it was discovered that despite claiming to have degrees from Oxford and Harvard he had a degree from the University of East Anglia.

In another case, Wade Jordan  was jailed for three years  for fraud after claiming that he had an MA in Human Resources from Manchester Metropolitan University.  His CV lies were that he did not have a degree at all and went on to swindle £50,000 on fraudulent expense claims.

Of course most CV lies are not so consequential for the applicant.  They are usually about tweaking and exaggerating and often never found out.  Never the less, the practice is pervasive and has the potential to damage your business and cost you money.    According to research by Career Builder (see table below), embellishing career skill set and responsibilities are the most common CV lies.

CV lies Percentage
Embellished skill set 57
Embellished responsibilities 57
Dates of employment 40
Job title 36
Companies worked for 32
Academic degree 27
Awards/recognitions 15


Candidate References and Checks

So how do you avoid hiring someone who has lied on their CV?  If you are an employer and want to protect your business from the consequences of CV lies, an offer of employment will always be subject to satisfactory references and checks.

The extent of the checks will depend on the industry or sector, statutory requirements, seniority of the role and your own resources.  However a thorough checking and referencing process will enable you to verify key facts and uncover any anomalies or discrepancies, substantially reducing the risks of discovering a lie later.

However, you may find that some employers are only prepared to provide basic information, such as job title, dates employed. Whilst, essential and valuable you will not be able to get a full insight into how the employee actually performed in the role and whether that correlates with their CV.

You should ask the applicant to provide copies of relevant key qualifications and certificates.  Carrying out a CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) Check will identify any criminal convictions.  When recruiting for financial roles you should ask the applicant to provide evidence of their credit score.

Unfortunately, these checks are not usually carried out until the offer to the applicant has been made and accepted.  It is much better if you can gather as much evidence as you can at the earliest possible stage.  For example, you can check qualifications and potentially take up references from earlier roles providing the applicant agrees.

Before you do that, there are two earlier opportunities to filter out potential lies and exaggerations.  You can review the CV in detail, before you decide whether to meet an applicant and you can arrange a telephone screening interview.  That will greatly increase your chance of identifying CV lies thus saving you time and pain later in the process.


CV Review

Here are my suggestions on what to look for on the CV if you are to identify suspicious claims and ambiguities.

You need to see the whole picture: A to Z; start to-date.  So no gaps!

If there are, then the applicant should be asked to explain them.  There may be a simple explanation or they may not. You must question applicants about extended time/year-out or travelling.  Make sure you find out what they actually did and whether that makes sense.

Another issue that can arise is the tendency for people to provide a shortened version of their CV omitting several earlier years‘ work-life activity.    This is usually because candidates have been advised by an agency or they may have read on-line that there is no need to include their early work life.  However it may hide a job where they had underperformed or indeed had been sacked. Completeness is always better.

The traditional way to produce a CV is to prepare it in reverse chronological order.   However, where someone has had a fragmented career, they may have prepared a skills based CV which dispenses with dates.  Other versions include hybrid CV s where jobs are listed under a long inclusive period, with no possibility of discerning the chronology or how their career unfolded. These sorts of CVs tend to be used legitimately by people in portfolio careers; however they can also be a very effective way of hiding or misrepresenting the applicant’s career.  Caveat emptor here!

As the research [above] shows, embellishing skills and responsibilities along with changing the job title are top of the list for misrepresentation.   Each one is related to the other and you should consider whether the duties and responsibilities match, are they realistic and congruent with the job title.

For example an accounts assistant is unlikely to have prepared the management accounts for a large business.   However we would not expect the finance director to be carrying out the bank reconciliation.

You must always keep in mind that the perception of what is stated on the CV may differ between the writer and the reader.  Although not really a lie, it has the same consequence. For example you hire a management accountant who has stated on their CV that they can prepare accounts, however in practice they just printed them off and had no experience of preparing month-end journals and adjustments.

You must also be careful to dig deeper into achievements and claims of outstanding performance.   Claims of financial successes should be supported with facts and figures which will need to be evaluated against the business size and turnover.

What about the financial controller who claims to have effected an increase in gross profit of 10%?  First of all you need to make sure that you both agree and understand what you mean by gross profit. Then you need to consider whether they mean 10 percentage points ie from 40% GP to 50% GP or 10% of 40% which is in fact 4 percentage points?   If you ask the question you will know by the answer if it is a truthful statement.  In fact all measurable achievements and successes have to be supported by figures, or they are meaningless; even when they are supported by figures they also require verification.

Another factor is the chronology of career progression which may be: accounts junior, accounts assistant, assistant accountant, management accountant, finance manager, financial controller, finance director and CFO.  Significant deviations or unusual career paths should be enquired into.

You should also take into account current salary and salary expectation.  If the salary seems to low or too high for the role, something is not quite right!


Other CV issues

What about scripted CVS?  By scripted, I mean that the owner of the CV has cut and pasted their job description to create their CV.  It may not even be their job description!  These are easy to spot because the CV will read like a job description; not like a CV!   It is a typical ruse to exaggerate experience and misrepresent responsibilities.

Over the past few years, there has been an explosion in companies and individuals offering a service to create the perfect CV.  Whilst a useful service for senior manager or “C” suite candidate, when prepared by a professional, there remains the risk of ‘lost in translation” which may lead to   ambiguities, inconsistencies and exaggeration.

What I mean by that is the CV writer will take the applicant’s CV and restructure it into a document that no longer resembles or represents the original owner of the CV.  A major give away is when you read through the CV, you are likely to come across incongruent or unconnected statements which you cannot understand.  If you come across such a CV ask for the applicant for their original CV.

You should also watch out for dubious Profiles on CVs.   “Jane/John is a resourceful, enthusiastic, team player who has a track record of delivery in challenging environments…”  You get the picture. As a result the CV is full of clichés and appears bland and impersonal thus not enabling you to evaluate the person behind it.

Another issue is the template CV which is often copied verbatim and also likely to be bland and impersonal.

Providing you understand the finance function, suspicious claims ought to be easily identified.  If not I strongly recommend that you get an accountant to carry out a review on your behalf.

A good quality candidate will have put in many hours of their own time to create a high quality document that will look and read well.  It is likely that the information will be complete, valid and congruent.

Someone who has lied or exaggerated their CV will quickly come unstuck, because it is unlikely that they will be able to back it up.  What they claim on it is likely to have ‘holes’.   Remember the old adage; if it looks too good to be true, then it probably is!

If you found this article to be useful please pass it on to someone who may benefit from it!


Contact details

Roy Duncan FCCA

RGDuncan – Senior Finance Recruitment Specialists, 2nd Floor, 1-2 Broadgate, London EC2M 2QS

T:         020 7930 4401      W:



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