Short quadruped Bi-lingual Nobel Laureate seeks employment challenging role as house pet in dynamic organisation.

Lying on your CV, the short version:

If you have to lie to get your foot in the door, this isn’t the job for you.

Long version:

The papers on this side of the Atlantic are full of the topic of CV-fudging this week, because it transpires that the winner of this year’s The Apprentice on the BBC … told a big fat porkie pie on his CV. I’ve been contacted by three newspapers for background on this and conducted two radio interviews on the topic. Let me summarise my thoughts here.

The two arguments that this particular case has raised over and over in the media are:

  • The lie didn’t matter. The guy was going for a middle management job with Sir Alan Sugar. Who cares if he went to college for four days, four months or four years?
  • The lie didn’t matter. He won. He got the big job.

Do you remember the con artist Frank Abagnale? He was portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can. Abagnale was an audacious, often hilarious, con man and thief, racking up millions of dollars in bum and forged cheques back in the 1960s and at various times impersonating a lawyer, an airline pilot and a doctor. Spielberg made a bouncy film about this, with a morality tale ending. But there were a couple of “what ifs” that popped into my head as I watched it:

  • Frank posed as a pilot to get free flights [deadheading] all over the world. Ha ha. But what if the pilot on one of those flights keeled over with a heart attack and Frank was left to fly the plane with your family on board? Ha ha? And Frank then proceeded to plough said plane into a mountain. Ha ha?
  • Frank posed as a doctor for a couple of months, very carefully managing to avoid actually treating people in his role as a Supervisor for Interns. (“I concur!”) Ha ha. What about the actual situation when the newborn baby nearly died when Frank didn’t know what to do with a “blue baby?” Ha ha? What if all the interns had come down with food poisoning and Frank had to deal with your mother coming into the ER following a major road traffic accident? Ha ha?

Extreme examples I’ll grant you. Deliberately so, because I have a fairly black and white view on all of this – you’re either qualified or you’re not. You’re either capable according to the criteria set out in the advertisement and job description or you’re not. And if you’re not, don’t apply! And no, I don’t care that it’s “stupid” and “unnecessary” for applicants to have a post-graduate level qualification for a middle management position. Some experienced person has determined that that kind of trained mind is what is required to deal with the ongoing problems facing the incumbent in that role. Who are we to second-guess that?

Let’s posit another “what if?” here. What if we found out that Monsieur Kerviel, of Société Generale fame, had lied on his job application? Billions of dollars, global ripples, thousands of pensions and life savings critically affected. What if all of that had happened because some punk thought it was okay to fudge his qualifications on a job application, and the job needed a certain kind of mind and he just didn’t have it?

Let’s not kid ourselves here. This happens every day. And employers are just as guilty of veering from the truth as applicants are. My Occam’s Razor, black-and-white, analogy for this runs as follows:


An employer has triangular job vacancies. Triangular jobs are not particularly popular with talented people, so the employer dresses the job up to look more circular. Applicant A is circular, and gets the job. Applicant A quickly becomes unhappy in his work because the job does not feel circular and his fit is just not good. Applicant B is hexagonal, lies on her application and misrepresents herself in the interview and gets the job. Applicant B quickly becomes unhappy in her work because the job is neither circular nor hexagonal. Applicant C is triangular, but reads the job advertisement carefully and decides not to apply, because the job is just too round …

Please explain to me who is winning under this model.

A quick browse of the CV verification and reference checking companies online reveals that between 50% and 80% of applicants misrepresent themselves to some degree on their CVs. A quick scan of online and offline employee satisfaction and engagement surveys reveals that between 50% and 80% of people are not particularly happy in their work. Gee, I wonder if there’s any connection? There’s a sweet correlation – any causative link? Anyone? anyone?

I noted with interest that when the BBC devised a programme about fixing the British Health Service, they hired a gifted and erudite consultant called Sir Gerry Robinson – not Sir Alan Sugar. I think Sir Alan’s appointment of this liar says a whole lot more about Sir Alan than it does about the applicant. The Apprentice is an entertainment programme, and on the rare occasions that I watch it, I make the distinction between the fluffy nonsense on that programme and real-world selection processes. It’s a pity that this distinction has been blurred by the coverage of this deceiver apparently succeeding despite his lack of integrity.

People walk into my company all the time and yell, “Rowan, pimp my CV! There’s a circular job I want to apply for and I’m octagonal!” These people look very petulant and perplexed when I explain that we don’t do that because it’s a bad idea. I wrote about this in Where’s My Oasis?

Before applying for any job, you need to look at yourself in the cold light of day and ask, ‘Am I a Good Hire for this position?’ If you are not, don’t apply. Full stop. Save yourself time, effort and heartache and don’t apply.

Clients frequently take exception to my saying this and ask, ‘Oh come on! What’s the worst thing that could happen?’ Well, the worst thing that could happen is that they could HIRE YOU! They could hire you to do a job that you won’t enjoy, aren’t suited to and won’t be any good at. You could be looking over your shoulder for the (probably short) duration of your stay with this organisation, wondering when they are going to realise their mistake …

Quite aside from any ethical or moral considerations, quite aside from the extreme examples of crashing planes, killing babies or sinking banks, why would you invite that level of stress into your life? Square peg + square hole = good fit. How complicated do you want to make this? A major problem at the root of all of this is that most people don’t know what shape of a peg they actually are and, for whatever reason, don’t seem inclined to work that out for themselves.

But that’s for another day …