Pop quiz: how inflated is your resume, on a 1-to-10 scale? That is, how far have you stretched
your credentials to get that job.
We’ve all experienced dodgy resumes or Curricula Vitae (CVs) in varying degrees. Perhaps a
previous job’s start date was fudged to improve employment history. Or a past job title was
boosted and you took more credit for work achievements than warranted.
Perhaps you included an unfinished degree, lied about your personal interests or lowered your
age because you were too senior for the role. Worse, you left out roles where you were fired
after six months and stretched dates of other jobs to cover the gap.
I thought about CVs after the Financial Services Royal Commission revelations that a financial
adviser included an uncompleted Master of Commerce in his CV. For all of technology’s benefits, too many overstated CVs in business still get through.
CV fraud is an under-appreciated issue. As technology disrupts industry, companies must be agile and able to change direction quickly. The ability to recruit good staff in a fast-moving business landscape is a critical competitive advantage.
The digital economy and growth in the “Gig Economy”, where staff are hired on a project basis,
implies people being hired and fired faster than ever. That means more CV and reference checks
– a skill that is lagging despite the regulatory focus in banking and other sectors.
CV checking services and technology that match staff to the jobs, help. But too much unverified
CV garbage is still fed into job-selection processes. Many companies do not have resources to
verify CVs, so outsource it to external providers who skim over the process.
I am always surprised at the flimsiness of referee checks. As a former editor, I am occasionally
asked by previous staff to be their CV referee. Typically, a young recruitment consultant will ask
a few leading questions that push the person into the role. That’s scant probing of the
candidate’s strengths, weakness or role suitability via a rushed three-minute phone call.
In my time in business, I cannot recall a CV for any employee being challenged or audited – until
something goes wrong. Similarly, I cannot think of a client or supplier verifying a CV before
providing work, or their auditor ever challenging the document’s detail. Or a recruitment firm
being penalised or sued for poor CV vetting or sloppy referee checking.
Look what happened in banking when dodgy mortgage applications were approved in the lead-
up to the 2008 GFC. Too many banks approved “liar loans” to boost their profits. They ignored
false information from loan applicants and almost destroyed the global economy.
My point is, too much information verification is reactive rather than proactive, or too rushed.
We only delve deeply into CVs when a serious problem emerges, exposing the organisation to
horrendous reputational and financial risks.
Three system shortcomings should be addressed. The first is the onus to validate CVs being too
weighted towards employers. The CV is essentially a marketing document, yet there’s not
enough requirement on job seekers to ensure the CV has no false or misleading claims.
In addition to companies checking resumes, job seekers should be required to verify their CV
independently, at least for important roles, before its submission.
A savvy entrepreneur should launch a start-up that charges job candidates a small fee to
validate their CV. Like an audit firm, the start-up will not authorise the CV, and put its name to it, until it has confirmed the information from source material (not though Google or quick phone
Although a cost, an employee-organised, audited CV would help them stand out in a crowded
labour market and signal their integrity. It would give employers extra comfort in the job-
selection process and help reduce their costs.
The second shortcoming is internal policy and processes for CV checking. Too often, CVs gather
dust in corporate files. Nobody remembers or revisits the CV when the job is filled, and the
employee has years of work history. Also, too many CVs are paper-based documents that have
poor functionality or comparability.
Firms concerned about CV verification could digitise all CVs in a standard format and require
staff to reconfirm their document annually. It could be as simple as employees confirming
online in January that their CV is up-to-date, accurate and that they are aware of the firm’s
policy on misleading CVs.
The firm could also do an annual random audit of CVs (some do) – partly as a signalling exercise
to let staff know that CVs are verified during the job-selection process and ongoing. Those with
fraudulent CVs know there is a higher chance of being caught.
The third shortcoming is incentives. There’s not enough personal risk for stretching the truth, or
including blatant lies, in CVs. When was the last time a colleague was sacked for an inflated CV?
My guess is your firm has never made an example of staff who lie on the CVs, particularly their
top performers who got the job through an overcooked resume.
Incentives are too skewed towards employees. An exaggerated CV might get you the job. The
chance of being caught is low and, should that happen, the worst outcome is a reprimand or job
loss. Consequences of CV fraud, in most cases, are insufficient.
We tend to blame companies if bad CVs get through and trivialise the fraud. The person’s crime
is not lying about themselves, getting an unfair advantage over other job-seekers or exposing
the organisation to risk – it’s getting caught for something that is commonplace. We might even
laugh about a little CV fudge here or there.
I’m not proposing a heavy-handed CV approach or police state on job selection. But if companies
want ethical organisation cultures, they need to hire good people who do the right thing. Relying
on a self-penned marketing documents, often barely checked, is outdated and risky.
The best solution might be companies publishing employee CVs online for all staff to see.
Knowing an entire organisation can view your CV online (not just a sanitised LinkedIn version)
would help weed out fraud. But that brings other internal-politics issues.
Tony Featherstone writes on Personal Finance specialising in Superannuation & SMSFs, Specialist Investments.