At its broadest, sales is a chain of relationships based on trust. A company places trust in its salespeople to sell its goods or services persuasively and professionally, with relevant departments meeting orders accurately. In turn, salespeople need to trust their company: that the orders they’ve sold will be fulfilled according to what they presented; that they will be paid their salary and any commission due. Both salesperson and employer need to trust that the customer will honour payment on time. Meanwhile, customers will have based their buying decision on information and/or technical data given by the salesperson; they will trust that any promises, special requirements or other expectations are fully met.
Last month, HR Review published an article – ‘The 7 Most Common CV Lies’ – and it struck me just what a breach of trust it is when someone applies for a sales vacancy on a false basis; the sales function is too important to be put into the hands of deceivers. There cannot be many employers who would knowingly allow their product to be sold by someone who fabricated their qualifications or experience. After all, if someone has already lied about themselves, undetected, to a new employer, what kind of standards are they going to apply when dealing with prospects and customers?
These are the seven most common lies – according to employers – which HR Review listed:
1. Embellished skills set (57%)
2. Embellished responsibilities (57%)
3. Dates of employment (40%)
4. Job title (36%)
5. Companies worked for (32%)
6. Academic degree (27%)
7. Awards/recognitions (15%)
To any employer who never thought about questioning the veracity of a CV claim before, this list will make sobering reading. For the more experienced, it’s a reminder not be too complacent when assessing candidates.
Although I did raise an eyebrow at number 5 (of which more later), I wasn’t surprised by the list. There has always been a minority who embellish their credentials and/or who are economical with the truth. However, recent years have seen a tough job market and while sales jobs are usually plentiful, good sales jobs have been scarce. There’s a generation of young people who have never known a buoyant job market and in order to stand out, some are falling to the temptation to exaggerate. At the opposite end of the experience scale, some senior applicants will ‘reinvent’ aspects of their history in an attempt to improve their chances in a market which seems to favour the young and cheap.
HR Review’s survey also found that 41% of employers would automatically dismiss a candidate caught lying on a CV, while 52% said this would depend on what the actual lie was about. Having thought carefully about this, there may be circumstances where a slip in ‘employment dates’ (at number 3 – 40%) could be excused, but to my mind the last three are indisputable grounds for rejection, with number 5 – ‘companies worked for’ (one in three have lied) an absolute no-no. By extension, somebody making up a company name is also likely to lie about their job title and the responsibilities they held there. And what about timescale and dates? Whether a salesperson is working in an entry-level role, or is responsible for hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of business they are expected to act honestly and professionally. Unfortunately, all too often I hear of dismissals for falsifying orders or because extreme claims were made in sales pitches. I used to say that it’s the 99% dishonest salespeople who give the rest of us a bad name, but then we had disgraced bankers and I thought it wise to drop the joke. As I’ve written before, working in sales is nothing to be ashamed of; it’s an essential role. In the words of the great Richard Denny: “Nothing happens anywhere in the world until a sale takes place. And salespeople bring in the money that everyone else can eventually live off.”
So what can we do?
In the next part I will be offering some suggestions for how to minimise the risk of hiring people who are less than honest.