What people lie about most on their CVs

With résumé fraud making headlines more and more, executive search firm Odgers Berndtson has listed some of the most common lies told on CVs, and has advised on how to avoid getting caught blind by lying candidates.

In recent months, a number of South African businesses and institutions have been struck with scandals involving senior executives who lied about their education and qualifications levels to get a job.

Most recently, Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) suspended its chief engineer – who subsequently resigned because of the furor – amid allegations that he falsified his qualifications.

Daniel Mtimkulu headed the engineering team that designed new Afro 4000 locomotives delivered to South Africa in January, at a cost of R600 million.

He reportedly claimed to have an engineering degree from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), before studying in Germany to get his doctorate. Wits, however, said it did not have any record of Mtimkulu attending the university.

Other notable examples include Pallo Jordan, a former South African cabinet minister, who claimed to have a doctorate from the London School of Economics, when he did not; Hlaudi Motsoeneng, SABC COO, claimed to have a matric certificate, which was untrue; and Ellen Tshabalala, former SABC chairperson, who claimed to have postgraduate degrees from UNISA, which remain elusive.

Read: CV fraud in South Africa at record high

Odgers Berndtson noted that the days where poor behaviour would be disregarded if you were a high performer are long gone – and from an organisation’s point of view, false résumé claims “not only waste time and money in selecting the right candidate, but can also result in embarrassing publicity and unwanted reputation issues”.

According to the firm, the most common résumé lies it found were:

  • Misrepresentations about education and qualifications
  • Past job titles
  • Salary history
  • Gaps in employment
  • Age
  • References (who may not even exist)
  • Credit and criminal records
  • Past relationships

“It’s not just on CVs that people bend the truth – in our experience, more than half of the information on LinkedIn about a candidate is completely unreliable: it is either out of date, inaccurate, or exaggerated,” the firm said.

“The problem is that people don’t realise just how career limiting résumé fraud is – the information age we live in makes it highly unlikely that embellishment of skills or experience will remain undetected for very long.”

“The more senior the position, the more important the level of honesty and integrity of the candidate.”

Odgers said that instances of resume fraud are on the rise, and the only way to make sure you’re not being duped is to do proper homework on executives.

  • Eliminate as much risk from the appointment process as possible, by investigating proper references, doing criminal and credit checks, and obtaining evidence of tertiary qualifications from the institutions themselves.
  • Contact previous employers and confirm dates and salaries, and enquire about any disciplinary actions or grievances during the candidate’s tenure. Confirm claimed promotions.
  • Use a reputable search firm, which will have all the necessary contacts to put together a well-rounded view of an executive candidate, including monitoring online activity on social platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

“In short, you can never do enough homework before appointing a top executive in your organisation. Never rush it because you are eager to fill the position – check everything, however unimportant it may seem,” it said.

More on CV fraud

Suspended Prasa chief engineer resigns amid fraud allegations

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CV fraud in South Africa at record high

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What people lie about most on their CVs