Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

Mon, 21/05/2012 - 14:49 -- nick

This is another in Richmond Solutions' series of blogs on CV writing and making applications. It points out the importance of being truthful on your CV, as you never know when you could be found out. Telling a deliberate lie on your CV could see you get sacked years after starting the job if someone finds out about it.

'One of the stories that rocked the business world in the week commencing 14th May was the resignation of Yahoo's Chief Executive, Scott Thompson. Though there is undoubtedly more to it, the main feature of the story was that he had lied on his résumé, checks showing that he did not have a joint degree in accounting and computer science as stated but merely a degree in accounting.

The FT reported that this had been uncovered by "dissident investor" Third Point who decided to check up on the Chief Executive's credentials. It went on to say that this hedge fund, which owns 5.8% of Yahoo, was looking to get a third seat on the company's board.

So we have plot and motive. All you need for a good scandal.

Views vary as to how serious this omission was. Some commentators make the point that Scott Thompson had been hired to shake up Yahoo and turn around what was becoming a somnolent (by the standards of Silicon Valley) business. As such, it was his previous track record in achieving successful turnarounds which counted, not whether he had a degree in accounting or in computer science and accounting.

However, there is an issue of trust. It is hard for anyone to believe that someone would get something such as the name of their degree (which is, after all, written down somewhere) wrong. This kind of information is also relatively easy to check out, should an employer or, indeed, an investor wish to do so. Trust is important to most of us and I think we would find it hard to continue to trust someone who lied to us so blatantly in the attempt to advantage themselves.

The legal situation when it comes to these matters seems (in the UK at least) to depend on what the lie is and how relevant it is to the job. Writing for Telegraph Jobs on 14th May, Sheila Fahy of Allen and Overy opined:

Can an employer dismiss workers who lie on their CVs? Not always. If a job candidate lies about professional qualifications, which are a requirement for a job, then the lie on the CV and the continuing lie while in the post would amount to gross misconduct, justifying dismissal. The situation might be different, as is often the case, if job candidates embellish their CVs to make themselves more interesting.

On this basis, Louisa Peacock, the Jobs Editor of Telegraph Jobs suggested that much of the embellishment on CVs is "not lying, just being clever with words". We will each of us have our own moral compass which will direct us in this regard. However, it is clear: if it is a key requirement of your job and/or is verifiable (or may be tested either at interview or as you take the new position) don’t lie. It will catch up with you in the end.'

Heidi Nicholson (with apologies to Mark Twain or Benjamin Disraeli, depending whom you believe)