CVs which 'sell' applicants may gloss over some of the facts.
The downsizing habit in big organisations is breeding insecurity among white-collar professionals; it is also creating fertile ground for liars and cheats in the jobs market.
The typical human resources director can be overwhelmed with applications when some attractive middle-manager position is on offer. 'That makes it tougher than ever to check out the rose-tinted gloss put on some CVs,' says Doug Gummery, information manager at the Institute of Personnel Directors. 'More often than not the redundant middle manager has been to outplacement consultants who are, of course, masters of the art of writing an appealing CV.'
At the other end of the spectrum in growth hot spots such as information technology, highly qualified software engineers are as valuable as gold dust. Gummery believes any manager desperate to find the right candidate may easily be conned into employing the applicant who has skilfully embellished his qualifications.
He is somewhat disturbed by the now widespread use of the CV as a selling document rather than as the basis of a contract between future employer and employee. It doesn't, in his opinion, make it any easier for personnel departments faced with the task of weeding out the wrong 'uns among applicants.
But what do hard-pressed managers do if they discover a miscreant in their midst after they have put them on the payroll? Barry Hine, personnel director at Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, has no doubts about the action to take: 'I have been employed in the personnel role in a number of companies, mostly in financial services, and frankly, as far as I am concerned, there is simply no decision to take. The need for honesty is paramount.' Hine claims that the need to sack a dishonest recruit does not often arise. 'We can usually catch the problem at the recruitment stage,' he says.
Gummery believes that the uncompromising stance which the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank takes is widespread in the public sector and among major multinationals. But he concedes that a pragmatic approach is more likely lower down the private-sector league table. 'If the person who has been found out can do the job, the tendency is often to turn a blind eye,' he says.
Companies often rely too much on the applicant's CV, he adds. He recalls the days when, as a matter of routine, everyone had to fill in a detailed application form and then sign it at the bottom. 'It is much more difficult to paper over the cracks in an application form,' he says.
In his previous job in the personnel department at Ford, Gummery took a highly principled line: 'There were occasions when the issue came up and the person involved was told either to leave quickly or they would be fired.'
A more flexible approach is admitted by the personnel director of one large manufacturing organisation. 'Gone are the days when you had to turn up for a job interview with your O level certificates under your arm,' he admits. 'The further up the management ladder we go then the more rigorous the checks we make, but in routine clerical jobs we tend to bother less.'
Even so his organisation insists on the use of application forms which state quite clearly that the firm has the right to terminate the contract if employees are later shown to have lied. 'We take the view that however competent the recruit may be, if the trust between us has broken down, it is not going to work. It happened in the case of one man we recruited through headhunters. He had not told the truth about the reasons for leaving his previous appointment. We could not understand why he did it. But as far as we were concerned that was the end of it.'.