With around a third of jobseekers embellishing qualifications to land a role, we look at whether graduates should take the risk
• Four CV templates for every stage of your career
• How to write an outstanding CV profile
Every summer, the Higher Education Degree Datacheck (HEDD) surveys students and graduates about degree fraud. The annual results are pretty consistent – about a third of people embellish or exaggerate their academic qualifications when applying for jobs. It’s also consistent when matched with other surveys in the UK and in other countries.
This is old news, you say. But when you really think about it, one third is a shocking figure. Look around your office. Can you pick out that third from the colleagues around you? Let’s not beat about the bush: it’s lying, it’s fraud – and what’s more, it’s illegal.
Recently in Manchester, Wade Jordan was jailed for three years for fraud and perverting the course of justice. Jordan landed an HR role at biotechnology firm, Qiagen’s, Manchester office by claiming he had an MA in human resource management from Manchester Metropolitan University. He went on to swindle almost £50,000 in fraudulent expense claims between 2010 and 2013. This is no honest candidate, just trying to get ahead.
The prevailing view seems to be that it’s OK to get a little creative with your CV if you can actually do the job. Why should you be discounted because your skills and qualifications are from the University of Life? Jordan is a worst-case scenario. In our survey, only 11% falsely claimed to hold a degree, whereas 40% had inflated their grade. In my day, a Desmond (2:2) was the majority degree result. These days it’s in the minority, with two-thirds of graduates getting a 2:1 or above. As you rise the corporate ladder, is that certificate gathering dust in a drawer rather than being proudly displayed on your office wall?
Barrister Dennis O’ Riordan was dismissed from his top city firm last October and barred from practice after falsely claiming degrees from Harvard and Oxford. In truth, he was a qualified barrister with a degree from the University of East Anglia, but in his mind that didn’t fit with his senior position. His exposure came about by pure chance, not as a result of a routine HR check. Clients and colleagues had nothing but praise for his abilities, but his vanity was his downfall.
The lengths people go to to cover their tracks are becoming much more sophisticated than tweaking a CV. HEDD has uncovered candidates who have supported their claims with fake degree certificates and official-looking letters of reference. They have even fabricated breakdowns of course modules, all of which appear legitimate. For as little as £30, you can purchase a novelty degree certificate online. Pick your university, course and qualification and within 48 hours it’s yours, complete with seals and crests. The purveyors of these documents often offer a verification service, where their provenance can be confirmed online, by email or phone, if employers choose to check.
Unfortunately, chancers rely on the fact that most employers don’t check qualifications with the issuing university, taking CVs and certificates at face value. This becomes even more prevalent the further away from graduation you get. Recruiters assume previous employers would have made the checks and that experience and skills, as demonstrated by an exemplary work track record, carry more weight. Figures from HEDD verification checks show many more fraudulent claims from candidates who graduated more than 10 years ago, than from recent graduates.
There’s no getting away from the fact that people are applying for and getting jobs that they aren’t qualified for, at the expense of those who are. I would urge businesses to dig a little deeper and not take CVs at face value. Make it part of standard HR policy, regardless of the seniority or credibility of the applicant. High-profile cases like those of O’Riordan and Jordan should help to achieve that. The fact that Jordan was recruited into an HR role only adds insult to injury, although it could teach Alanis Morrisette a thing or two about irony.
Jayne Rowley is a director of Graduate Prospects and leads the government-backed Higher Education Degree Datacheck (HEDD) service. HEDD is a secure online portal that enables enquirers to verify the degree qualifications of UK graduates.