Why Some Candidates Lie


I’m a big fan of Mad Men, the American tv series about the New York advertising business in the 1960s. The central character, Don Draper, has stolen his identity from a man killed in the Vietnam war, yet uses his talent (and persistence) to honestly gain a position and work his way up in the company, eventually making partner.

In a storyline that echoes Draper’s, Bob Benson turns up in series 6. Like Don he is using a false name, but that is where the similarities end. Benson lacks Draper’s charm and instead tries to suck up to his superiors by hanging around their office, doing them favours and chipping in with advice from a management book he has read. In the end his strategy pays off and he’s rewarded with a lucrative contract.

Unfortunately these works of fiction are more true to life than we would like to believe. Fraud in the employment process is actually on the increase as candidates embellish their CVs, lie about their qualifications and provide fake references. Like in Mad Men, some of these individuals had been performing in high ranking positions, such as CEO and Board Member, before their deception was discovered. It’s pretty scary how the wealth of information available via the Internet means producing false documents is quick and easy for those minded to do so.

On the other hand, we would hope that the same technology assists HR with it’s pre employment checks, but hurdles such as data protection mean it’s a significant task to dig into someone’s past. Certainly we want to take our potential new employees at face value, photocopy their certificates and believe they’re genuine. Candidates want the same. The vast majority of people aren’t out to commit fraud and will not appreciate being treated as such from the start.

Maintaining our trust is partially based on the fact that, if a person decides to cross that line and commit fraud, they are harming themselves much more than the organisation. It’s rare in real life for such misdemeanours, once discovered, to be brushed under the carpet, like they were in Mad Men. Why would people lie, placing their jobs and future careers under significant risk if they get found out?

The examples above demonstrate that there is significant prestige and financial reward that can be gained, albeit based on a house of cards that could topple any moment. There’s no denying that some of these people are actually good at their jobs, once they’ve used an untruth or two to get their foot in the door. In a very small number of cases, the employee has been forgiven a bit of embellishment because their performance is outstanding. I find it more than a little annoying that open and honest candidates who’ve spent years climbing their career ladder are being trumped by this.

People say everyone exaggerates when applying for jobs, and that it’s all part of “selling yourself”. I don’t believe that is the case. Is there a difference between bending the truth and outright lying, where is the line? It’s best for both the candidates, and employers, if people just be themselves, and in HR we need to develop an employment process that facilitates this. And my message to those who still think it’s their right to tell a few lies on their application? It’s not worth it.

Image credit: still from Mad Men


One thought on “Why Some Candidates Lie

  1. Pingback: Best Blogs 23 May 2014 | ChristopherinHR

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