June 30, 2010
Lying about careers is common. Two years ago, I did a blog entry looking at how more people were now lying on the CVs, making up stories about their academic background and achievements.
But then, embellishing the truth a little might be part of human nature, something I examined here. That suggests there are plenty around who bend the truth about their career. How far do people go? When do white lies become a problem?
According to Forbes, the most common porkies on people’s CVs are about academic qualifications, playing with dates, inflating your previous salary, making up job titles you never had, lying about technical abilities, claiming language fluency, providing a fake address and inflating your academic performance.
Of course, there are many who say you shouldn’t do it. For example, this piece from The Wall Street Journal warns that honesty is the best policy and you’ll be found out anyway.
Similarly, academics from the Wharton Business School in the United States warn that it’s dangerous. “Embellishment is part of human nature, experts say, and almost everyone is guilty of it at one time or another. Left unchecked, however, exaggerations that seemed innocuous at first could result in serious, potentially career-ending consequences … In today’s work environment, where no one comes in for a job interview without being Googled first — and where small talk in the elevator or comments made at a staff meeting are just a Twitter post away from reaching a global audience — it’s easier than ever to get caught in an exaggeration”
But others take a more nuanced view. Kelly Magowan in the Six Figures blog asks, for example, whether it’s actually lying if we gild the lily a little to make the CV look more interesting. “A bit of embellishment and ‘white lying’ make it far more interesting for the reader and more likely to get you the job. Let’s face it – we all lie. Albeit, the frequency and degree to which we all lie may vary.”
Writing in the Financial Times, columnist Lucy Kellaway says embellishing the truth comes naturally for many. “Lying is surely caused as much by pragmatism as fear. In my experience, it can be jolly useful. And tests have shown that it doesn’t always catch up with you at al.” Kellaway says comoulsive truth tellers don’t last very long in any office. Sooner or later, they are forced out because no one can work with them. “Offices are glued together with lies. We pretend to like people we work with. We must pretend to be satisfied with our jobs. We must pretend to think our company is better than the competition. By accepting a place in any hierarchy, you are bending yourself out of shape.”
At the same time, you would have to say that that in today’s work environment where there is so much pressure to perform, the temptation to bend the truth has never been greater.
So what would you do if there is an inconvenient truth in your past? Do you gloss over it, make something up or come clean? What do you think about bending the truth on a CV? Is it ok, or unacceptable? Do you know of anyone who has? Or have you done it? What did you say?