Working Life

When CVs tell more than they should

ST ILLUSTRATION: CHNG CHOON HIONG

Practice of padding resumes getting more prevalent, especially with online versions

Polishing your resume with some impressive "extras" to get that elusive job can come back and bite you, as the office-humour comic strip Dilbert shows all too well.

The character of the pointy-haired boss is interviewing Dogbert, the super intelligent dog, for a marketing position: "Your resume says you've won the Nobel Prize in marketing, and five Olympic gold medals in Marketing Biathlon... What's a marketing Biathlon?"

Dogbert replies: "You ski up to people who won't buy your c*** and shoot them."

The joke highlights the tendency by many job seekers to embellish their resume in order to get that extra edge over competition in the cut-throat employment arena.

Although not new, experts say, the practice has only grown in scale and imagination in the Internet age where job-seekers pad their online persona with puffed-up "achievements" or a carefully scripted online profile that exaggerates their credibility.

Veteran reporters recall finding their names in the contacts list of unfamiliar profiles in LinkedIn - an attempt by the candidates to add weight to their reputation in the industry.

Employers who turn to social media for faster access to credible candidates may tend to miss these nuances while head-hunting.

"There are tons of people who (inflate their CVs)," said Mr Ayyaz Ahmad, founder of recruitment firm Funds Partnership. "The trick is to know what is true (in the resume) and what is not."

With many job seekers airbrushing their resumes with clever words and colour, Mr Ahmad said it takes the sharp eye of an experienced recruiter to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Ms Jacqui Barratt, director at font talent agency, said: "Sometimes people assume that because a candidate has been endorsed or recommended on LinkedIn this is a good sign, but you need to look deeper and uncover the reasons behind the endorsement," .

Recruitment firm Kelly Services has found that 47 per cent of hiring managers use social media in the recruiting process, a number that is expected to increase.

In Singapore alone, 53 per cent of candidates are more inclined to search for jobs via social media than through traditional methods such as newspapers and online job portals.

Research shows that, among the top 10 lies job hunters resort to, inflating accomplishments and skills ranks the highest, followed by enhancing titles and responsibilities or fabricating degrees.

Hiring experts say exaggeration can be best spotted through face-to-face interviews.

"The interview acts as a chemistry check and enables candidates to better understand the culture and expectations of their prospective employers," said Mr See Yang Foo, acting country general manager of Kelly Services Singapore.

Monster.com chief Sanjay Modi agreed: "In today's age, candidates are evaluated not just on their intelligence quotient, but also on their emotional and spiritual quotient. Traditional channels (like interviews) will remain central while others complement the process."

At times, job seekers also give fake references.

Fans of the hit sitcom Friends may remember how Monica Geller, one of the six protagonists, included the name of her friend Chandler Bing, as her "previous employer" in her reference list.

Said Ms Barratt: "While we are in a time when people seek referrals from friends or family online, this doesn't mean we have the same standards or needs. There are a number of pieces that go into the recruitment jigsaw to make it work."

So how do recruitment firms deal with such white lies?

"Never replace the intermediary," said Mr Ahmad, referring to recruitment agencies that are adept at spotting discrepancies.

Ms Barratt said a good interview process will uncover a lot if the interviewer knows what he is doing and uses steps such as practical and cognitive assessments as well as competency-based reference checking.

Mr See said some employers also tend to engage in extensive background verification to authenticate the information given by the candidate in selected cases.

However, some experts tend to think of exaggeration tactics by candidates as a way of "selling themselves" to impress potential employers.

The British charity Brathay Trust released a study earlier this year where experts called on work seekers to do more to celebrate their capabilities by, for instance, including soft skills such as volunteering, coaching or mentoring in their CVs.

"There is nothing wrong with shouting about achievements if it helps land that dream job," Brathay's Mr Matt Seel told the Daily Mail.

"Ultimately, employers want well-rounded individuals who have a good work-life balance," he said.

That said, he also warned against exposing too much information online. Recruiter Workopolis gave an example of a candidate who fared well at every level but was ultimately rejected because in practically every picture of him online, he was seen smoking.

Some hiring experts have an interesting take on eliminating errors while looking for that perfect candidate online.

"The best candidates are those who are not actively looking for a job," says Mr Sam Randall, technology manager at Robert Walters, Singapore. "More often than not, the in-demand professionals companies desire are busy working in jobs they like. They rarely invest time in updating their professional online profile or pursuing job advertisements."

Spotting and approaching them with an attractive offer requires niche skills or high-level experience, he said.

This may have worked in the case of Ms Anuprita Bhomick, marketing director at Dell, Singapore, who got her first job - at Yahoo! - after the company spotted her online profile and approached her.

Ms Bhomick, a Singapore permanent resident who also teaches at the business school of the National University of Singapore, has been approached by other business schools with more teaching offers - all because her students recommend her highly on social media.

She, in turn, has opted for a search on social media to fill open positions in her company.

"I rely a lot on the online recommendations and the number of shared connections," she says. "It's so much easier."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2015, with the headline 'When CVs tell more than they should'. Print Edition | Subscribe