Accountancy & Management: Reading between the lines: Roger Trapp on the dangers of over-egging the pudding when compiling a CV

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The Independent Online
IF YOU are spending this Christmas deciding whether the new year will bring a new job, consider carefully how you go about it.

It seems that the days of getting away with the imaginative curriculum vitae are numbered.

Not everybody goes as far as the applicant for a top financial position who had an unexplained career gap that turned out to be a spell in prison for robbery.

But the case of James Gulliver, the chairman of Argyll, the foods group, Argyll who admitted during the acrimonious bid battle with Guinness over Distillers that an entry in Who's Who, indicating he had attended Harvard University, was not correct, serves as a salutary lesson.

Many must have come close to matching his entry, in which a few weeks at Harvard while studying for an engineering and business degree at the Georgia institute of Technology was expanded into a full course.

Indeed, there is a widespread view that a little economy with the truth - or embellishment - goes a long way.

And the notion that there is a technique to writing CVs, much as there is to doing examinations or attending interviews, has given rise to a whole industry offering advice in this regard.

Not surprisingly, then, a survey by Robert Half, financial recruitment specialists, reveals great scepticism among UK managers about resumes. Just under a third believe that at least half the candidates they see provide false CVs - either lying, or intentionally omitting relevant information.

The report also shows that 45 per cent of managers across the country believe references give an inaccurate view of a candidate's performance and ability.

Those in London were particularly sceptical, with 49 per cent being unconvinced of their validity. This compares with 44 per cent in Manchester and 35 per cent in Birmingham.

When it comes to fictional CVs, finance managers are even more suspicious than the average.

Thirty per cent say that nearly three quarters of all candidates cannot claim to be 'whiter than white' in this respect.

But embellishment of the CV - or an element of fantasy - is not the only aspect that comes under scrutiny by prospective employers.

Twenty-six per cent criticise bad spelling, 21 per cent are critical of poor presentation while 15 per cent are put off by forms that are too long.

In particular, candidates are accused of listing too much irrelevant information. This might include detailed descriptions of their hobbies, political views or religion. A potted history of their father's career to date is sometimes included.

Some employers report that they are put off by CVs that contain too much 'waffle', while others draw attention to those that leave out such important details as the applicant's address.

Even more worrying are the unexplained gaps. Jeff Grout, managing director of Robert Half, says that holes in the career history should start alarm bells ringing. Careful questioning will not always uncover the convicted robber applying for a senior financial post, but it is worthwhile for employers to take steps to expose falsifications.

Among the things employers should look out for are qualifying statements such as 'involved in', 'knowledge of' and 'exposure to'; dates missing from the start and end of individual positions, and 'gimmicky' presentations that aim to grab attention and make up for less-than-impressive records, he says.

Untruths can also be found out in face-to-face interviews, he adds. 'Ask candidates to substantiate achievements and double-check when the candidate seems less than enthusiastic about delivering it.

'Probe as much as you can to discover the depth of the candidate's experience.

'Also, do not accept candidates' claims of occupying authoritative positions without getting a description of the responsibilities of superiors and juniors. By elimination, you may find the candidate was actually responsible for very little.'

However, he does point out the need for a certain perspective. A CV containing a few 'white lies' should not be condemned in the same way as significant discrepancies in academic and professional qualifications and experience.

(Photograph omitted)