BBC News

Can digital technology help stamp out CV fraud?

By Mark Ward
Technology correspondent, BBC News

image copyrightThinkstock
image captionLying on CVs is all too common but difficult for employers to spot

Honesty is the best policy. Unless we happen to be talking about CVs and resumes, it seems.

In 2014, 63% of all the confirmed employment frauds reported to Cifas, the UK's fraud prevention service, involved people lying about their education, former employment or qualifications.

This has serious consequences for employees and employers alike. But checking the veracity of all claims made on CVs is time-consuming, costly and difficult.

Can technology help?

Digital proof

There are piecemeal tools that help with some qualifications, but no over-arching system.

For instance, in the UK many universities subscribe to the Higher Education Degree Datacheck system that logs who got what at which university. It can also help unmask bogus universities and colleges.

Beyond that, firms have to interrogate search engines and social networks to test people's CV claims.

But education and training giant Pearson thinks it has come up with a way of removing some of this uncertainty.

High-profile CV cheats

image copyrightThinkstock
  • Alison Ryan, would-be PR manager for Manchester United, claimed to have a first class degree from Cambridge. In fact, she got a second and had been banned from practising law. She was sacked from the £125,000 a year job at the football club in 2000.
  • Radioshack boss David Edmondson went one better and claimed to have two degrees, in psychology and theology, that he did not possess. He left the company in 2006.
  • Upping the ante even further was Marilee Jones, former dean of admissions at MIT, who claimed to have three University qualifications, two degrees and a doctorate, she had not earned. It took 28 years for the falsehoods to be unearthed. Ms Jones resigned soon after.

If you want to avoid the mistakes these miscreants made, read How to write a successful CV.

Called Acclaim, its system involves digital badges that are awarded when people who enrol have completed a specific training course or project.

"Up to now most achievement certificates or college degrees are on paper," says Clarke Porter, head of the Acclaim scheme. "They are not very computer friendly and you cannot share your paper certificate you have hanging on your wall because it is not digitised.

"We want to bring about a transformation where proper credentials are digitised and can be shared on the internet," he says.

image copyrightThinkstock
image captionIf digital badges for qualifications become widespread, honesty will be compulsory

As its name implies, a digital badge is an electronic equivalent of that paper certificate, but it includes an online link back to an organisation that can verify that the person is really entitled to the qualification.

The badge is not just a pretty picture - metadata buried within it gives more detail about the qualification to potential employers, says Mr Porter. This kind of digitisation will start to help employers home in much more easily on the right candidates for positions, he says.

The skills do not have to be linked only to school or college qualifications, either. In the IT field a lot of people build up hands-on experience rather than learn it in the classroom, says Mr Porter, and this can be reflected in a digital certificate, too.

"These are not badges you get just for showing up," he says. "They are about career-worthy skills that you are proud of."

'Levelling the playing field'

The scheme began in 2014 and Pearson says it hopes to issue about one million badges this year. Almost every training course offered by the company will bestow a badge on those who complete the courses.

It also has the co-operation of career sites such as LinkedIn so people can display relevant badges on their profiles.

"It's all about levelling the playing field," says Mr Porter.

Acclaim signatories include software firm Adobe, Microsoft's Sales Academy, and IT consultancy Citrix. A variety of professional organisations, schools and colleges have also signed up to the scheme.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionIf job applicants lie about small things, they may lie about big things, too

Acclaim is part of a larger initiative called Open Badges, kicked off by technology community Mozilla, which aims to get digital badges extended to all kinds of skills, from basic coding to project management.

The UK's Open University is one institution among many others starting to experiment with badged courses.

Millions of people are expected to win the badges and start displaying them this year.

Little white lies

Turning Ds into Bs or As on your CV or claiming professional qualifications you never took, may seem innocuous in the grand scheme of things.

But it's a high risk strategy that can backfire badly. CV fraud is a crime.

Cifas reported that the number of people being prosecuted for CV and qualification fraud is on the rise. Some people have been jailed for claiming an education history they did not possess.

Companies can suffer, too.

Karen Carberry was finance director at recruitment firm Reed until she was caught stealing from the firm after working there for 11 years. She is now serving a four-year jail sentence for pilfering more than £300,000 from the company.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionAlthough it may be tempting to massage the truth on a CV, you could end up in jail

It turns out she wasn't even a qualified accountant when she was first hired.

The problem is, many companies don't have the time or the resources to do proper background checks.

'Manual job'

The BBC spoke to one HR director at a FTSE 100 company about her team's experiences checking qualifications. She declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.

"It's very difficult to do the checking at the moment," she said. "It's quite a manual job and there's a lot of administration involved."

As a result, her firm and many others only check CVs after someone has taken up a role. It simply would not be practical to do it for all applications, she said, even though she acknowledged that finding out about the embellishments and lies after someone has started work is not ideal.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionAs an employer, how do you know the interviewee sitting opposite you is telling the truth?

"We do take action against it when we find out," she said. "In our business we do have commercial teams out at clients so if they are working on particular jobs they should be who they say they are.

"We want to know that people are being transparent," she added.

The problems get particularly acute when dealing with jobs in fields such as finance and law that have a well-defined scheme of professional qualifications, she said.

With tough competition for jobs the final choice can rest on who has the best qualifications on paper.

Technology deficit

Until digital badge or other schemes achieve industry-wide acceptance, companies will have to rely on the due diligence of recruitment companies.

"Recruiters are required to make reasonable enquiries to ensure that the candidates they put forward are suitable for the roles they are intending to fill," says Kevin Green, chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation.

media captionL'Oreal has decided to do away with the conventional CV, says the BBC's John Sudworth

"This doesn't rule out the possibility that a candidate could lie on their CV and end up getting the job, but it does mean that recruiters will take practical steps to make sure you are right for the role," he added.

Honesty works best for both sides, he said.

"Trust is crucial to the relationship between an employer and employee. If you are breaking that trust from the start by lying on your CV it could be detrimental in the long run."

But once these qualifications are regularly digitised - and increasingly sophisticated linguistic analysis of covering letters reveals personality traits and false claims - honesty will be pretty much the only policy.

Related Topics

  • Employment