Does it really pay to lie on your CV?

It's been all over the news recently: politicians and other high-profile people putting a little extra gloss on their qualifications. Tom Ireland of StartupCVs investigates the extent of the problem - and how you can toy with the truth without feeling guilty.

Does it really pay to lie on your CV?
File photo: DPA

It's supposed to be the cardinal rule when it comes to CVs and job applications: don't lie! But in practice it's not so clear-cut. One study found that 63 percent of people admitted to lying or exaggerating on their CV.

Just recently, the story broke that Germany's Defence Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, fiddled her CV. Von der Leyen lists stints at the prestigious US university Stanford from 1992 to 1996, which the university itself said it could not confirm.

Coming on top of allegations of plagiarism in her dissertation, this doesn't exactly do wonders for the minister's reputation.

Von der Leyen isn’t even the first German defence minister to face accusations of plagiarism. In 2011, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg stepped down from the post after plagiarism was discovered in his doctoral dissertation.

Nor is this kind of CV wrangling limited to German politicians. Current US vice president Joe Biden had his 1988 bid for the top spot scuppered when it came out that he hadn't been entirely truthful on his resume.

And in the UK, famous fibber Jeffrey Archer added an unearned Oxford degree to his CV, which came to light when he ran for London mayor.

These inventions haven't exactly harmed the careers of those in question – especially in the case of Archer, who used his flexible relation to the truth to build a successful thriller-writing career.

But in discussions about every scandal with my friends, the indignant reactions of some were swiftly countered by the “Everybody does it” defences of others, which in turn led to more tales of CV chicanery.

In Germany, there is yet another famous example in Christian Eberhard. A banker who dreamed of being a surgeon, Eberhard decided to make his dream come true by forging a medical degree.

He managed to perform 190 operations at the University Clinic of Erlangen before his fraud was discovered. This was despite the fact he had written his “degree” with a fountain pen, even making spelling mistakes.

How to get creative – without lying

Closer to home, a friend of mine admitted that his own CV contained a little creativity. Quite legitimately, it lists that he won the silver medal in a drama competition at high school.

What it fails to mention is that his group came second out of two with an abysmal performance of a skit written just hours before.

While probably not the only reason he has his current job at a Berlin startup, the truth behind the story certainly presents him in a different light.

Another confessed that, while his CV was accurate, he completely invented a competing job offer to push a company into offering him more. And it worked.

The lesson: cheaters prosper? Rather, it may simply be time for a little editing.

What comes across when I speak to people is that there is a big difference between a bit of padding and outright lying. Of course, I would never recommend lying – but it's just common sense to present the experience you do have in the best possible way.

It's all about dressing up the truth in some fancy clothes. People will see straight through you if you claim to be the CEO when you were an intern. But changing “I made everyone coffee” to “managing company-wide beverage orders”? That'll fly.

This is especially true when it comes to gaps in your employment. No one wants to say they were unemployed, but rather than pretending you were at a company when you weren't (it's too easy to check up on), think about what you actually did in that time.

Were you working on improving or learning skills? Did you do voluntary work or help out a friend? These things, presented in the right way, can make a world of difference.

And if you're challenged about your extravagant claims, turn it back on them: “Well, did you win the East Midlands egg-and-spoon race six years running?” Chances are, they'll buckle under the pressure and give you the job on the spot rather than be shown up.

Tom Ireland works for StartupCVs, a Berlin-based recruiting platform for startups. Find him on Twitter to get in touch.

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Meet Evermood: The Berlin startup promoting mental well-being in the workplace

The office can be a difficult place to talk about mental health issues, but one Berlin-based startup is trying to change that.

Meet Evermood: The Berlin startup promoting mental well-being in the workplace
The team at Evermood. Photo provided courtesy of the company.

In early 2019, Lara von Petersdorff and Marvin Homburg founded Lytt, a digital platform for the safe and anonymous discussion of sensitive issues in the workplace.

READ ALSO: How a new app is fighting workplace discrimination in Germany

In January 2020, they took things a step further with the launch of Evermood, a platform which takes a preventative approach to stress in the workplace, by aiming to catch conflict situations early on and by promoting healthy routines and habits. The next pilot stage of the platform will be starting in March. 

Why the workplace?

Over the last forty years, there has been a significant increase in depression and anxiety in Germany and mental health issues are now the second biggest cause of workplace absenteeism. 

Although many diversity and health management departments in German companies are paying increasing attention to the subject of mental health, “many people feel that mental health is still seen as a taboo subject in the workplace,” said Hakan Housein, Communications Manager at Evermood.

READ ALSO: Do internationals face discrimination in the German workplace?

“Evermood gives its users an anonymous, safe space, where they can communicate their problems to their managers,” said Housein, a German business communication expert who has previously studied in Germany, Australia and the Netherlands.

The Evermood App encourages workers to follow healthy routines. Source: Evermood

Evermood not only provides a communication channel for sensitive issues between employers and employees, but also wants to make mental health awareness part of everyday work life and to “make mental well-being an integral part of corporate culture,” said Housein.

READ ALSO: Herbal tea and sick leave: An American's ode to the German attitude towards health

The platform encourages companies to take part in activities that involve the entire organisation, with initiatives such as a two-week meditation challenge.

Employees will also be able to do weekly, anonymised self-assessments and surveys, which will enable them to track and better understand the state of their mental health and to work on it. 

Employers will then receive anonymous reports on these assessments along with analysis data from Evermood, which they can then use to make the right decisions for their teams' mental well-being.

How will the platform help internationals?

Housein thinks that Evermood will be of particular benefit to internationals working in Germany. 

“When you are working for a company in a country you are not native to, it can be difficult to know how best to approach mental health issues,” he said.

“When you are feeling anxious, it can sometimes be hard to know who to turn to and to know how to deal with a specific crisis, so the individual support area and anonymity of Evermood can really help out there.”

READ ALSO: What are the main reasons internationals in Germany turn to therapy?

The product is also offered in German and English and the team is currently working on making many other languages available.

Evermood Communications Manager Hakan Housein. Source: Evermood

Who wants to use the platform?

“Interest in Evermood has been way beyond what we could have imagined,” explains Housein, “companies in areas where the workforce typically experiences high stress levels, such as law and finance, have been very keen to use the platform.”

However, introducing the platform into the public sector has presented more of a challenge, as “when it comes to integrating new solutions, there are a lot of guidelines and regulations which need to be followed”.

What happens next?

During the pilot stage, the Evermood team will be in constant contact with their customers and the beneficial impact of the platform will be measured by  customer feedback – with HR managers and decision makers giving insight on how the product is being received, so that the team can adjust it according to what works and what doesn’t work.  

Evermood will also track anonymised data, to see exactly how workers are engaging with the app.