A few white lies and exaggerations on a CV are viewed by many as par for the course. After all, who is going to know whether you got a B or a D for your maths GCSE?
Unfortunately for serial CV blaggers, US-style vetting procedures are catching on in this country, and those little discrepancies could land you in big trouble. "It has always been a risk that a company will check up on you, and employers are now getting more savvy," says Imogen Daniels, adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.
"They can hire CV detectives and there is even talk of establishing a higher education database that will make all exam grades readily available. It is not worth lying. Even if it is not a sackable offence, it ruins the psychological contract between you and your employer as it destroys any trust you have."
However, this has not stopped a growing number of jobseekers lying on their CVs about their academic qualifications or previous employment history.
Lies or inaccuracies on CVs rose by more than 20% during the last quarter of 2001 and this trend looks set to continue as the market remains competitive and candidates struggle to stand out from the crowd.
Research carried out by the Risk Advisory Group (Trag), a provider of employee screening services, shows that 54% of CVs screened during the last quarter have some form of discrepancy. Men in their early thirties are the group most likely to offend, with almost 70% of CVs from this age group containing some form of discrepancy.
Some organisations are targeting IT professionals' CVs in particular. "IT professionals generally go to the heart of the organisation, they have access to all the organisation's sensitive data," says Bill Waite, Trag's chief executive. "This makes ITers potentially one of the greatest threats to a company, and for some institutions we screen every IT employee."
Waite's organisation screens candidates specifically for skills and experience as well as for issues that might suggest a lack of integrity, such as county court judgements. Between 4% and 7% of applicants are rejected as a direct result of CV screenings.
Banks are legally obliged to check applicants for financial soundness, but many people do not realise that an unpaid utility bill is all that is needed to gain a county court judgement. "It is most common to find exaggerators, not criminals, but it helps employers make recruitment decisions and judge people's true competencies," says Waite.
Publicity surrounding rogue trader Nick Leeson at Barings Bank and, more recently, Manchester United PR guru Alison Ryan, who said she had a first-class degree from Cambridge University when it was in fact second-class, has made companies more inclined to check the facts.
"We uncovered one gang of organised professionals masquerading as Y2K experts," says Waite. "Employers were desperate for people with those skills at the time, but when one of our clients was going to take them on we discovered that they weren't IT professionals at all and in fact had very basic skills."
If you are breathing a sigh of relief because you think you have got away with it, think again - some companies are routinely rescreening employees who are established in their jobs.
"It is a criminal offence to lie on your CV and misrepresent yourself but it is up to the company how to deal with it," says Waite. "They are unlikely to prosecute but you will probably have your contract terminated."
One IT department got wind that it was about to be checked and there were 12 resignations in one week.
So the message is to be honest. You might get less interviews but at least you get to keep your job.