You're flicking through Computer Weekly's recruitment pages and there it is - your dream job. The employer is a fast-growing, dynamic e-commerce company, the salary is almost double what you earn now and the career opportunities are brilliant. The only snag is you don't quite meet the job requirements.
So what do you do? You rewrite your CV, of course, exaggerating your qualifications and boosting your experience. In other words, you lie. We're not just talking little white lies, but big juicy ones.
And why not? You wouldn't be the first job applicant to doctor your CV. In a survey of 1,500 HR managers conducted by supplier Experian, more than 70% of respondents said they frequently receive misrepresented CVs. The most common lies concern qualifications and previous experience, but applicants also lie about their age, salary, references and even their address - anything that may improve their chances of getting a job.
Experian's senior manager in charge of central sales, Steven Sayers, says the extent of the deception is unsurprising as competition for jobs remains fierce. "Employers can take just 15 seconds to scan a CV and more and more companies are replacing people with computer programmes that sift through CVs by picking out key words. Getting noticed is definitely getting harder," says Sayers.
"Most people don't even think they are lying. It's just a ploy to get them past the first barrier and they will tell the truth when they get to the interview," he adds.
Occasionally there are high profile stories about people who got where they are by lying. Jeffery Archer famously adjusted his CV so that his education and background sounded rather more impressive than it was. More recently the nutritionist at Newcastle United Football Club who advised Alan Shearer on his daily diet turned out to be a fraud with no relevant qualifications. But generally, lying to prospective employers has been child's play. Often employers have neither the time nor resources to conduct the checks necessary to uncover lies on CVs, and even those who do conduct checks, asking for a degree certificate for example, can be duped easily. "I can get myself a degree certificate from Oxford or Cambridge within minutes on the Internet," says Sayers.
So, what's the problem? Apart from the moral issues of lying, the risks of getting caught are growing as employers become more stringent in their recruitment processes. In Experian's survey, nearly 50% of HRmanagers said that lying on CVs was a serious problem for their organisation.
"The results were quite astonishing in terms of the companies which had employed people who had embellished their CVs," says Sayers.
It is not just the wasted recruitment costs, which are estimated to be at least £3,000 per person, but the potential damage to the business. If Nick Leeson's employers had done some pre-employment investigation they may have discovered the county court judgements against him and thought twice about taking him on.
Employers in the IT sector say they are confident that their screening processes are rigorous enough to sniff out inappropriate applicants. "If people have lied about their experience they will often get found out during the initial telephone screening. I recently asked a guy applying for a job on the support desk about his hardware experience. He said he had been using a laptop for two years. Needless to say he didn't get any further than the telephone interview," says UK recruitment manager at ICL, Graham Snuggs.
Robert Ingram, HR director at Cap Gemini, which last year received 40,000 CVs, agrees that it is rare for anyone to slip through the net. "If they were taken on and we found out they had lied it could be grounds for dismissal," says Ingram.
Sayers believes employers are often reluctant to admit they have taken on inappropriate candidates, but says the number of employers signing up to its new CV checking service, Candidate Verifier, is proof that employers are toughening up. Candidate Verifier checks various background details such as a candidate's current and previous addresses, county court judgements, bankruptcies and dates of employment and positions held and membership of professional bodies. Thanks to an alliance with the Higher Education Statistics Agency it can also provide employers with access to the agency's database of degrees and grades. "We are conducting about 400 checks a week and it is not just for senior positions. Employers are using it for all positions," says Sayers.
If, after reading this, you feel it's time you adjusted your CV to ensure it is a genuine representation of your skills and experience, it's worth bearing in mind this advice from Sayers. "Self-marketing is fine. You want to make sure your CV stands out in the pile and so it is a good idea to emphasise your strongest points and play down your weaknesses. But changing your degree qualification from a 2:2 to a 2:1 or claiming you have a computer skill which doesn't exist is another story.
"Lies come back to haunt you. They not only damage your immediate position but jeopardise your future too," Sayers adds.
If, on the other hand, you do choose to ignore the warnings and send in a semi-fictional CV, try to be a bit more convincing than the applicant who applied for a job with a financial software firm. She stated on her CV that she had the NT skills required for the job but when asked about her experience of NT replied, "Is that the one with the blue background?"
How to present a good CV without lying through your teeth: