by Arthur Bernstein

There are numerous research studies that suggest, perhaps unsurprisingly, that a significant number of people are not totally honest with the information they include on the CVs and resumes. The obvious objective of this practice is an image enhancement exercise designed to persuade the reader that the individual in question possesses levels and types of experience that are either overstated or don’t exist at all. This Cosmetic CV Surgery process involves techniques that range from the use of inferences designed to elicit deductions that are inaccurate, embellishment / exaggeration of actual events and experiences, misstating of birth dates, outright lies, collusion involving third parties and falsification of supporting documents.  The seriousness of these practices range from somewhat inconsequential “white lies” to quite significant misrepresentations of actual academic credentials and professional experiences with quite considerable consequences.

Examples of individuals whose CVs are at some point revealed to be somewhat less than honest can be found  around the world and at all levels in private and public sector professions and government. Some of the more recent high profile examples include: 

  1. It was revealed by numerous sources in May 2018 that the CV of Giuseppe Conte, Italian Prime Minister from the 5 Star party, contained serious fabrications, exaggerations and the use of inferences designed to mislead the Italian electorate regarding his appropriateness to be PM. Chief among these inferences was a suggestion that he had attended New York University  (NYU) to “update his studies”. When asked for corroboration the university stated, ”  …a person by this name does not show up in any of our records as either a student or faculty member.”  It emerged that the reality of his involvement with NYU resided in the fact that he was granted permission to use the NYU law library between 2008 and 2014. Library access was thus re-imagined to intentionally suggest that the Prime Minister had undertaken formal studies at NYU.  According to a CNN investigation Mr. Conte also claimed he taught at the University of Malta in the summer of 1997 for the “international course of study entitled: European Contract and Banking Law.” The University of Malta told CNN that it “has no record of Giuseppe Conte ever forming part of the resident academic staff.  As you might expect, some Italians are questioning not only his suitability to serve as Prime Minister but, adding insult  to injury, also his party’s collusion in ignoring his honesty in the interest of prioritising political expediency over ethics.
  2. Then we have the 2011 case of Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (PhD) the flamboyant German politician and Defence Minister whose academic and other credentials had helped him to achieve celebrity rock star status – he typically took the stage at political and official events to a heavy metal soundtrack of AC/DC songs. His high flying political career was eventually brought back to earth when some alert individual or perhaps an opposition party member discovered that he had plagiarised important parts of his doctoral thesis. He was stripped of doctorate by University of Bayreuth leading to his resignation and the associated disgrace to Angela Merkel’s CDU party. The song Highway to Hell comes to mind here.
  3. We are not leaving Germany just yet. In 2016 Social Democratic MP Petra Hinz resigned after 11 years in office after it was revealed that she had lied about quite significant parts of her CV. On her website the discredited 54 year old MP admitted that, contrary to the information contained in her published CV, that she had never acquired a higher education entrance qualification nor has she completed university studies in law and, in fact, had never taken any legal exams whatsoever. Asking for forgiveness from all who had trusted her she duly resigned to her personal and the Social Democratic Party’s humiliation.
  4. Although politicians maintain a high profile in the CV Cosmetic Surgery game they are far from being able to claim the exclusive.  Turning to the business world we find the 2012 case of Scott Thompson CEO of tech giant Yahoo. On his CV Mr. Thompson’s credentials included degrees in Computer Science and Accounting. An interested shareholder from a prominent hedge fund took an interest in Mr. Thompson’s background and discovered the only degree he possessed was in accounting. Just four months into his tenure Mr. Thompson’s CV enhancement led to his resignation as CEO. Although this was probably covered in the Computer Science degree that he didn’t do, Mr. Thompson clearly overlooked a central tech truth: What goes on the internet stays on the internet.
  5. The sports world is not immune to CV Cosmetic Surgery and as this instance is related to American football it focuses on a case that is bit more radical. In 2001 Mr. George O’Leary was named as Head Coach of the iconic Notre Dame University football team known as “the fighting Irish”. This very high profile appointment took just 4 days to fall apart.  On his CV O’Leary had included credentials including a Masters Degree in Education from New York University and extensive experience as a football player as a student at the University of New Hampshire. Corroboration of these assertions revealed that, while he had attended NYU, he never graduated and had, in fact, never played even one game of football while at the University of New Hampshire. The “luck of the Irish” failing him on this occasion he resigned before the end of his first week in post to his personal discredit as well as that of the venerable American university.
  6. Our little CV Nip and Tuck tour would not be complete without mentioning Spain where a proliferation of academic fraud cases has recently emerged. This, perhaps unsurprisingly,  brings us back to politics. While too varied to mention in range and detail here, there are a few cases involving high profile politicians that are emblematic of the wider Iberian problem. Both Pablo Casado (Popular Party leader) and Cristina Cifuentes (Leader of the regional government in Madrid and also a Popular Party member) claimed on their CV’s that they had earned a Masters Degree from the Institute of Public Law at the King Juan Carlos University in Madrid. The astonishing thing was not so much that they claimed to have earned the qualifications in question but that they had managed to do so without apparently attending any classes, taking any exams or even writing a Master’s thesis. Eventually, and possibly encouraged by a separate shoplifting charge, Mrs. Cifuentes grudgingly resigned and in Spain will have her name eternally associated as a synonym for a fraudulent degree. Mr. Casado is under investigation and questions have been raised concerning the King Juan Carlos University’s quality assurance procedures and collusion has been mentioned as a possibility. The Royal family has not commented but the association of the former King’s name with the university potentially forms part of the collateral damage.

What were all of these relatively intelligent people thinking? Clearly at one point they must have considered that they wouldn’t or couldn’t be discovered and they would sail through life with total impunity.  Social media have now made it so much more difficult to conceal misrepresentations and universities, employers, investors and business / political competitors and rivals routinely fact-check a wide range of data including CVs, Linked In, Facebook, etc. Many universities routinely employ plagiarism detection software such as Turn It In to detect academic misconduct.  Human Resource departments now regularly employ external agencies to conduct thorough background checks on job applicants including CV content and social media. So, the chances that a CV which contains inaccuracies will escape scrutiny forever are clearly diminishing.

All of the cases mentioned above had quite drastic individual post-operative consequences for the people involved. But it doesn’t end there. The collateral damage produced across these cases went well beyond the individual and exerted their impact on 3rd parties including family members, careers, work colleagues, public and private institutions, political parties, public trust in government, investors, shareholders, and factors such as stock market valuations of companies.

As the late American Senator from New York Patrick Moynihan astutely observed, “You are entitled to your own opinions but not to your own facts.” In light of the demonstrated consequences associated with Cosmetic CV Surgery it would seem that the age old aphorism still rings true: Honesty surely is the best policy.



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