You learnt early in life that lying was bad. But despite such conditioning, adulthood has probably taught you to view issues in greyer tones.
Did you know that according to the Society of Human Resource Managers more than 53 per cent of all job applicants lie to some extent on their resumes?
Recently a national daily reported that Wipro had fired some employees for faking their CVs and also filed police complaints against head hunting agencies helping them. Such incidents have also been reported in technology majors like IBM.
And if you think that this is only prevalent at the lower levels, think again. David Edmondson who was the CEO of Radio Shack (a US based electronics retail giant) for 11 years admitted to lying about his educational credentials on his resume and was recently asked to leave by the board of directors.
"This trend is seen across sectors but is more rampant in the technology companies (IT and IT enabled services) as they are always on a hiring spree and pressures to ramp up lead to compromises on the quality front," says Kapil Murdia, who works with a global executive search firm.
Besides the moral or ethical implications, chances are that you'll get caught when you lie.
How employers cross-check a resume
~ Your current employer can easily call your previous employers. It may be just to get information for transferring your insurance policy or your provident fund, but if you have lied about your previous job profile or work experience, you'll get busted.
~ Even though you're changing jobs, you're probably not changing industries. Companies in the same industry often have common forums. Employers often belong to the same professional associations or have common networks. An offhand mention that you were the sales executive, not the sales manager, and you'll be cleaning out your desk.
~ If you lied about your degree, your company may check your college's alumni list. Or someone at your new company will really be an alumnus, and they're going to bust you.
~ If you think you are smart and really creative and invent previous experience or employers, modern day information networks, investigation firms and reference checks make humiliating you quick, easy, and cost effective.
Why people lie in resumes
Those who don't lie on their resumes stand to lose jobs to those who do. That's why many candidates are tempted to give in to peer pressure or exploitation at the hands of a headhunter.
"I know many people who have faked work experience that they don't really have in order to join at a senior level or to be able to negotiate a higher package. It's no big deal in our sector, " says Lakshmi Bonata, 24, a business process executive with Bangalore based Honeywell Technologies.
"My friend got away with it, so can I" is another starting point when candidates start thinking of tampering with their resumes says Ravdeep Manchanda, recruitment manager with a BPO which hires candidates for telephone sales and customer service.
The recruitment cycle
The demand supply equation in the ITES and IT sectors has resulted in companies relying heavily on recruitment consultants. These consultants stand to earn anywhere between Rs 4,000 for placing a front line associate in a call center to over Rs 50,000 for an executive with five to eight years of experience.
"We usually conduct telephonic interviews for call centre associates. Hiring candidates is quite tough as the numbers required are large and there are pressures to ramp up from the client. We were shocked to learn that some consultants were actually providing scripts and FAQ guides to candidates to crack these telephonic rounds," says Ruchika Malhotra, a telephone recruiter with a US-based BPO which operates call centres in India.
"There's nothing wrong with putting the best possible shine on your actual experience, but fabrications will eventually come back to haunt you," says Malancha Barua, a senior HR manager with a transaction processing BPO.
When 'lying' is okay
There are a lot of "little white lies" on resumes and applications. A whole lot have to do with reasons for dismissal and covering up gaps in employment.
Most large companies use a third party to do background checks. Most do degree confirmations and employment checks.
Minor things are usually overlooked for example: some employers will choose to overlook if you have stated that you possess advanced computer skills as long that does not become a handicap in your job. But a fake degree or phony job history will definitely get you busted.
Are there any alternate ways of polishing one's resume while remaining truthful? You should be honest but present your accomplishments in the most positive way. Here's how:
~ Choose certified professionals and pay well.
~ Avoid consultants and recruiters who promise a job without multiple interview rounds. Ad campaigns like "Get a job offer instantly, only one HR round" are very common. Tread with caution when you see such offers being doled out.
~ Do not sign any documents without reading them thoroughly; a lot of manpower consultants may even fake the written assessments on your behalf in order to get you the offer letter. The short term approach may land you in big trouble later.
~ Don't rely just on recruiters and ad responses as your primary job search strategy. Use networks and referrals to make contacts at your target companies. Do more than the typical "job applicant" and take some initiative, it will surely get you noticed.
~ Have confidence in your actual credentials. Most people who lack confidence feel that their perceived shortcoming is screamingly obvious to everyone, because they themselves are so focused on it. Usually it's not that noticeable or is a small blip. Lead with your strengths and be ready to discuss why you don't have a degree or a skill, if asked
~ Be sure your resume focuses on what you have accomplished and what you're capable of doing. The verbiage that you use could make a huge difference. Focus on accomplishments. "Supervised ten people on a project that finished three weeks before deadline and saved a large amount for the company "sounds a lot better than saying "I was leading a team of 10 employees".
~ In a job, you do not have "duties." You have "responsibilities" and "accomplishments." Anyway, no hiring manager cares about what you were supposed to do. They want to know what you contributed. So make sure that you highlight your value and contribution to the organisation.
~ Personal interests can indicate a skill or area or knowledge that is related to the goal, such as photography for someone in public relations, or carpentry and wood-working for someone in construction management.
This section can show well-roundedness, good physical health, or knowledge of a subject related to the goal. It can also create common ground or spark conversation in an interview. If you have been published in any trade magazines, it can establish you as a subject matter expert in your domain.
~ If you have any education, or work experience, you can present yourself in a way that employer's will find your resume attractive without having to fabricate anything. You could list educational qualifications ie degrees first, followed by certificates and advanced training.
Set degrees apart so they are easily seen. Put in boldface whatever will be most impressive. Don't include any details about college except your major and distinctions or awards you have won, unless you are still in college or just recently graduated. List selected course work if this will help convince the reader of your qualifications for the targeted job
The last word
Lying on your resume can come back to haunt you -- sometimes even many years down the road. Don't fall into that trap.
Instead, reduce the issue by creatively marketing yourself. So cheers to all those honest people out there who are sticking to facts and demonstrate integrity when it comes to applying for jobs.
Sunder works with a leading BPO and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed are personal.
Job-hunting? Scout here