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The fib factor

By David Wilson

There are alternatives to falsifying CVs and references.

Ever lied to get a job or promotion? If so, you are just one sinner among many, because 32 per cent of Australians believe honesty is not the best policy when it comes to climbing the career ladder, a survey conducted in May by the government training organisation Upskilled has found.

Exaggeration, inflation and lies about previous jobs, training and qualifications are rife in the workforce, the survey suggests.

Get-out clause

The website keys into the market for deception. The website promises to boost the prospects of job applicants dogged by wobbly credentials by assuming the identity of bogus, gushing employers, providing phone numbers, logos and more.

Once you outsource your references to CareerExcuse, when an employer calls the company about your past it fills the blanks, acting "as your very own human resources department". CareerExcuse claims to be staffed by former human resource managers working around the clock. For the basic service, you pay a $65 set-up fee, followed by a $20-a-month subscription.

Zero tolerance

"I think humans have hit an all-time low if they are paying someone else to lie for them," says a profiling expert, Louise Schultze, who doubts CareerExcuse's reliability.

"How do you trust a company to genuinely help you when you know they lie for a living?" Schultze says.

A copywriter, Jackie Behrend, who offers CV and cover letter services, is equally unimpressed.

"This notion is outright fraudulent!" she says.

Legal inroads

According to Behrend, CareerExcuse preys on the weak and lazy. "If you left your last job on bad terms, use another referee," she says. "If you don't have experience in that industry, work your way in like everyone else."

Alternatively, she says, highlight study, domestic duties or care of loved ones - any challenge that justifies a CV gap. If you are planning deception then you are unsuitable for the job, she says.

"There is never an excuse to lie on your CV. Just make it the best it can be."

Sudden death

A recruiter, Kathie Kelly, says she knows how hard finding good referees can be but also slams the idea of deception.

Nobody should "resort to what is effectively fraud to obtain a role", Kelly says. Most employment contracts, she says, state that should supplied information be false, immediate termination is an option. That's a "pretty big risk factor", Kelly says.

Cameo comeback

Instead of faking references, Kelly suggests, explain the predicament to the employer or recruiter and offer alternative references.

You could, for example, enlist "an indirect manager" familiar with your achievements.

A client or supplier willing to vouch for your skills and attitude might also do. Or you could try a relevant character referee - if you are applying for a job in community work, a church minister might fit.

"It is better to present yourself to a prospective employer as someone trustworthy, honest and with the right attitude than to obtain a role under false pretences," Kelly says.

Crunch time

Suspicion will surface eventually, she says. The likelihood of exposure is especially high in small industries with broad networks.

Consider the non-profit sector (in particular fund-raising) and healthcare and transport industries, among other areas. The introduction of business networking platforms including LinkedIn is fuelling accountability, it seems.

Cue checks on your payroll record or Australian Business Number (ABN).

Then you are stuffed.

Rogue ref

CareerExcuse contends that you might be stuffed if you play it straight. Suppose you "wing it", the website says, and your referees criticise you. What then?

You are better off filing fictional references, according to CareerExcuse, which claims to be US-based and states that a CV has no legal standing.

The law

In Australian law, the same applies. But, like Kelly, Nick Noonan - an employment lawyer at Sydney-based Kemp Strang - warns that a fabricator could still be found guilty of misconduct that justifies summary dismissal.

Creative licence

Still, who'd judge a candidate with children to feed or debts to pay who bends the truth? It can be understandable, if risky.

Polite lies

So you never lie? Well, you must be an angel or a liar. A growing body of research shows that deception is pervasive — people lie constantly. According to the psychologist Robert Feldman, in a widely cited 2001 ABC news report, people lie at least 25 times a day, mostly to boast, dodge difficulty or prevent causing upset.

When people blatantly lie, they typically become tense and fidgety. Their heart rate escalates. Their body temperature rises. In contrast, when telling white, or social, lies, they usually feel no anxiety, according to a 2008 research paper produced by Boston-based Northeastern University. So white lies must be near impossible to detect.

Published: 13 August 2011

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