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Herein lies the truth

Being dishonest on a CV can be a costly mistake for all concerned as Sarah Rushton explains.

‘INDUSTRIAL scale’ qualifications fraud is currently being investigated by the NHS after it was alleged more than 700 healthcare workers used proxies to pass tests in Nigeria allowing them to work in the UK. This revelation has led to a widespread investigation into CV fraud and misrepresentation across other industries too, with employers reassessing past applications.

It’s a situation that could spell trouble for many organisations, as they look to tighten security measures so they do not fall foul of deliberate fraud during the application process. With this in mind, what more can be done to prevent incidents and what are the potential ramifications of failing to sense-check CVs before job offers are made?

Is it illegal to lie on a CV?
Aside from the blatant fabrication of qualifications and experience, even a white lie that is designed to enhance a CV could amount to ‘fraud by false representation’. Misrepresenting details to gain a pecuniary advantage may mean the culprit is guilty of committing serious criminal conduct – a situation that is disruptive for both the employee and employer.

Even the act of altering grades, listing qualifications not yet obtained or rounding-up previous salaries could be considered fraudulent, despite many believing that such behaviour is not quite as serious as lying about professional experience. If detected, an employer is well within its rights to take drastic disciplinary and legal action, including the termination of employment.

Section 2 of The Fraud Act 2006 states that a person is in breach of this section if they dishonestly make a false representation, and intends, by making the representation to make a gain for themself or another, or to cause loss to another.

The severity of the situation may allow an employer to terminate a contract without giving notice, whilst extreme cases could be pursued in Court with a maximum of a 10-year custodial sentence being handed down if found guilty. The financial consequences can be just as severe too, with an employer given the option to recover falsely accrued salaries.

What are the potential consequences for employers?
For employers, the legal, financial and reputational damage that could be incurred through the recruitment of underqualified individuals is severe.

In some businesses, there are major health and safety risks attached to the employment of untrained candidates, as seen with the ongoing NHS case. If an employee has behaved in a way that is negligent, then there’s a strong possibility that the organisation will be liable too, especially if they have failed to undertake sufficient due diligence during the recruitment process.

Every organisation must uphold the high standards expected of them, which of course becomes difficult to guarantee if it has untrained or under qualified employees carrying out work. Whilst bad practice can lead to poor service, it can also be extremely dangerous in certain industries, opening the door to potential litigation and significant financial losses.

There is also the risk of incurring irreparable reputational damage, as high-profile incidents become subjected to widespread media scrutiny – a public relations nightmare that every organisation will want to avoid. Of course, this is worsened if bad practice has put members of the public in harm’s way, as seen with the NHS case.

What are the signs that someone is misrepresenting themselves on their CV?

Although sometimes difficult to detect, there are a few key giveaways that indicate an individual has been deceptive on their CV. One such sign is the use of vague descriptions, where ambiguous phrases such as ‘familiar with’ or ‘involved in’ are used in place of clear and confident language. In this case, claims should be challenged and candidates should be asked to provide examples of their previous work.

Another commonly used tactic is for candidates to oversell their expertise, perhaps boasting about their achievements as opposed to merely stating them. This can be done to display competence, so it’s important that employers are aware of this approach.

Falsehoods are typically accompanied by inconsistencies, such as job titles not proportionately reflecting the listed responsibilities. A CV should provide a portfolio of relevant work. If this is not the case, there are gaps in a candidate’s experience, or even conflicting evidence, then misrepresentation could be the reason.

Even still, employers should not immediately label candidates as deceptive if any of these situations occur as there could be a reasonable explanation. For example, gaps in a candidate’s experience could be due to personal circumstances and not misrepresentation.

What checks should be undertaken before offering someone a job?
Some employers fail to have appropriate screening measures in place to ensure that applications are fact-checked during the selection process. However, at the very least, screening should happen after any interview, which may well raise doubts over the veracity of the candidates CV.

What screening can be undertaken?
LinkedIn – CVs are often tailored based on the roles they are applying for. That being said, if dates, qualifications, experience or employment history are detailed differently to their LinkedIn, then it may be worth exploring the reasons why.

References – It is always best practice to contact references as a way of ensuring the candidate is legitimate and has the necessary experience. A genuine candidate should happily consent to contact being made. This is why it is important to make sure that any job offer is conditional upon receipt of satisfactory references and background checks.

Evidence – Where qualifications or exams are referenced, candidates should be able and willing to provide evidence demonstrating this. Using specialist companies, employers can check grades going back as far as A-levels and contact previous schools or universities if needed.

Competency – Use competency-based questions in the interview to test a candidate’s particular skillset or specific experience. This should help ascertain how much they really understand and highlight suspicious gaps in the knowledge claimed on their CV.

Gaps – Gaps in employment history without an explanation can be concerning. However, candidates should always be allowed the opportunity to explain any gaps in their employment history, either at interview, via email or by phone. If a reasonable explanation is not offered, they may be attempting to hide something more serious.

Data protection must be considered
When handling CVs, it’s important for organisations to be aware of the UK’s data protection regulations as these will apply to the ‘personal data’ contained within job applications. This means that the candidate’s information should only be shared with the relevant managers and used for the purpose in which there were collected.

An employer must be able to establish genuine concerns that ‘fraud by false representation’ has been committed by a candidate, before sharing the document with colleagues, or the organisation could be found in breach of data protection laws. If an organisation has concerns of this nature, they may wish to seek legal advice before sharing any information/allegations to ensure that they are not in breach.

In summary
All things considered, it is vital that employers are thorough during the recruitment process, leaving no stone unturned to ensure each candidate is legitimate and has the experience required to carry out the job for which they have applied. The reputational and financial damage caused by CV fraud can be significant, so shortcuts mustn’t be taken during the recruitment process.

Most individuals today have a considerable digital online footprint, making many claims on a CV easy to check, but if you don’t have the time to do so, employ the services of a background screening company to do the work, as hiring a fraud can have serious consequences.
Sarah Rushton is head of employment at Buckles Law

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