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‘What would happen if my CV lies were exposed?’

The question:

I've been successful in my line of work for several years but gained my first job in the sector by pretending to have a degree I never completed and by embellishing jobs that I've held to make them sound better. Although I'm competent and well regarded, is there any chance that I could be caught out? I am feeling worried, given the attention surrounding a former chief executive officer who allegedly lied on his CV.

The responses:

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Jamie Anderson, specialist employment barrister, Trinity Chambers in London

Although considered by many as "little white lies," untruths in a CV are a very serious matter and, if caught, your job will almost certainly be at risk. Should you come clean, your managers and colleagues might doubt your honesty and view you with suspicion.

In some circumstances, lying on a CV will amount to fraud and be a criminal offence. While you might not hear of many prosecutions for this kind of offence, if it was taken seriously, it would be hard to explain how you obtained a job partly on the basis of having a qualification that you do not have, as the evidence will be there in black and white. It will be an aggravating factor if you are in a profession in which a particular qualification is a regulatory prerequisite for a job.

You are right to be concerned about being caught out. It is possible that one of your former university classmates might one day mention to their friend, now one of your colleagues, that you did not graduate.

With regard to embellishing your previous jobs, you have again made things difficult for yourself. People gossip and one day something might be said to someone that leads to difficult questions for you. A colleague or manager might ask you about your "extensive experience" for a project and this is when you need to decide whether to come clean or dig a deeper hole.

Despite the fact that many people do it and that the jobs market is perhaps more challenging than ever, lying or exaggerating on a CV is never a good idea. Whether you come clean or not depends on how well you sleep at night.

In the long run, I would advise that you go for a new job with an honest CV that accurately reflects your skills, qualifications and experience.

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Sheila Fahy, senior counsel at law firm Allen & Overy, London

It is never a good idea to lie on your CV about important issues such as qualifications and previous jobs.

In brutal terms, you are obtaining employment by deception. You do not say whether the degree and experience gained in those jobs are a requirement of the post, as would be the case for regulated jobs such as a doctor, lawyer or financially regulated person.

If they are, the news is not good. You need to inform your employer as soon as possible about the deception. The original lie on the CV and the continuing lie while in the post would almost certainly amount to gross misconduct, justifying your immediate dismissal without any notice pay. Your regulating body is likely to take action, too.

The situation might be different, as is often the case, if job candidates embellish their CVs to make themselves more interesting. So imagine a teacher listing "jogging" as an interest, whereas in reality she wouldn't be seen dead in anything less than three-inch heels. This would hardly justify dismissing the person should the truth be known – it is what you call a "white lie," with no real harm done. If the same candidate were applying for a sports teacher's post, the decision would be less straightforward.

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If, as you say, you are competent and well regarded, and the CV lies have no direct impact or relevance to your current job, you might decide to cross your fingers and keep quiet. This is a choice for you.

The alternative is to own up and hope you have an understanding employer. If I was advising an employer in these circumstances, I would want to make sure that a thorough investigation was carried out, which would include asking you for an explanation of your conduct. Your history with the employer would also be taken into account.

However, lies about something as important as a degree and previous job history are likely to tip the balance in favour of a severe sanction such as final written warning or dismissal.

Whatever you do, next time you apply for a job, come clean. I am sure there are very good reasons why you didn't complete your degree, and you have already proved that you can be a valuable employee.

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