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When ‘Winging It’ Went Wrong: Big-Shots Who Lost It All To CV Lies

Published: Monday 16th March 2020

The art of ‘winging it’

It often feels as though the most successful people we’ve heard of, have meticulously planned and mapped out their entire lives. Everything they do seems premeditated, appearing so calm and collected all of the time. But although this is true to a certain extent, don’t be fooled… Most of the time they’re just winging it. A question we’ve all heard before is, “Are there ever times when a lie is not a lie?” There are times when honesty can even be a matter of degree. However, stretching the truth is one thing; yet deceiving someone is entirely different. In the professional world, the art of stretching the truth is common and often linked to the blurred lines of telling CV lies.

Man looking straight and text "Everybody lies". Telling lies concept.

Deception is rampant

It’s not just the big-shots who lie, of course. According to a study of UK-based job seekers and employees, 88% of applicants have lied at some point about their skills, experience, academic degrees or certifications. Whether it’s a little white lie, a slight exaggeration or a big fat whopper. To all appearances, they also seem to be getting away with it. But how far can a lie go until you get caught? Here are three particularly memorable, high-profile cases of prominent figures in business who got caught in embarrassing CV lies.

The high cost of CV lies

Scott Thomson – CEO at Yahoo

Lying on your CV can come at a very high career cost. Whilst some people’s CV embellishments will go undetected, Yahoo’s CEO Scott Thomson was less fortunate when he got caught misrepresenting his credentials. After an activist investor brought the case to the public eye, it was revealed that Thompson had puffed up his own academic credentials. Although he had falsely claimed he had computer science and accounting degrees from Stonehill College, in fact he only had a degree in accounting.

Marilee Jones – Dean of Admission at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The dean of admission at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology perpetuated her CV lie for more than 25 years before getting caught. The padded CV supported Jones had three degrees, whereas in reality she had one. After an anonymous tip bringing the dean’s lie to light, she was forced to quit.

David Tovar – Communications VP at Walmart

During a background check triggered by Tovar’s upcoming planned promotion, his lie caught eventually up with him. The Comms Vice President of Walmart was forced to resign after his CV lies were brought to the public eye. Despite claiming he held a degree from the University of Delaware, it emerged that he had only in fact attended classes but never graduated.

CV close-up. Lies and deceit concept. CV lies

When push comes to shove…

It may sound insane that high-ranking executives would lie about experience and education in the age of Google searches and high-tech, but it happens more often than you may think. From white lies about time spent at a certain company to big fat whoopers about earning a BA degree, CV lying occurs regularly. So, why do we do it? Most often, you don’t need a lie to get ahead. As in Thompson’s case, he probably didn’t even need that degree to climb the ladder and become Yahoo’s CEO. His prior job experience as the Head of PayPal’s Unit along with his accounting degree, would have almost certainly been enough to get the job.

But maybe people wish their record had a little more sparkle, yearning for a status symbol they would have liked to have had. It’s the same feeling that drives job seekers to embellish their past work experience, fudge their class ranks and suggest they graduated from universities, they never did. In a highly competitive job market, job seekers inflate their class standing out of fear they may otherwise lose out to candidates who were just better test-takers. In an effort to grab the hiring managers’ attention, employees inflate their credentials or tell tales to separate themselves from the pack.

Business man shaking hand with lie sign Represents the betrayal

Nonetheless, in light of all you have achieved, it really shouldn’t matter. When push comes to shove, it’s better to rather experience the sinking feeling of losing an opportunity by telling the truth than the sick feeling from being caught in a lie.

How to deal with CV lies

Lying on your CV is never a good idea. It might work in your favour in the short term but never for the long run. Lying on your CV can severely damage your career before it even begins. So, rather than falsifying information, here’s what you need to do:

Be honest – Even if you feel you may lack the experience and qualifications, stick to honesty. Your CV is the best tool for introducing yourself to potential employers, so it’s important to get it right.  

Research the company – Take the time to thoroughly research the company, its employees and the job description.

Make the most out of your hobbies and transferable/soft skills – Bring your hobbies and interests into the mix and come up with ways to relate them to the job role. You can also include them in your cover letter to show the employer how these are directly relevant to the role.

Consider withdrawing your application – If you have already lied on your CV and submitted your application, choosing to withdraw out of the process will allow you to maintain your reputation, rather than damaging it further down the line.

Invest in yourself and your professional development – Instead of spending time conjuring up false statements, invest in gaining more relevant experience and improving your skills.

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