Years ago, when I was at business school and applying for a summer internship, I came across the CV of a fellow student. It read: “X advised the chief executive of a consumer goods multinational on large-scale transformation. He developed from scratch the company’s risk management strategy, organisation and processes. He put together and led a team of 30 consultants.”
So far, so good, as this is what you expect from a partner in a top management consultancy. Except that the individual in question was a junior associate with three years’ experience. As all I had done in my pre-MBA job was follow instructions, encountering this super-hero among my peers gave me a massive inferiority complex. Until I finally realised that his CV was, to put it mildly, exaggerated.
What frustrated me in this situation was not so much that my colleague had lied (let’s name it), but that he got away with it. When Conservative leadership candidate Andrea Leadsom’s CV came to the fore a few days ago – with some of her experience obviously overstated – I wondered why, in her seven years as an MP, no one had once questioned it.
And the warning signs were there. Leadsom had stated that Brexit would have “no impact” on the economy, for example. Surely, a hot-shot City financier would know that there would be some impact, at least a short-term one. Why did her former City colleagues – the ones who now say that she had misrepresented her job – not step forward before? Do you have to wait until someone runs for PM to spot the obvious inconsistencies in his or her biography?
University degrees are another area of abuse. Not a day goes by that I do not meet another Harvard or Oxford graduate – even though, upon inspection, the “graduation” process involved taking an online course. I once had to ask a particularly innumerate colleague to remove a reference to my business school from her CV (she attended a weekend seminar), as she was giving it a bad name. But now that I am no longer there to police her, I am sure that she is at it again.
And then there is this whole City high-flyer thing. An acquaintance of mine recently wrote a chick flick about the City. Reviewers quickly dubbed her a high-flyer, and no one bothered to check that she had worked in the City only briefly and in junior roles. In one interview, she said that she was a trader and worked every day and at weekends until 11pm. No one asked her what she was trading on a Saturday, given that the stock exchange is closed.
From time to time, I go to a small village outside Paris to visit my landlady from university days. She is cultured and intelligent, but well removed from the business world. For her, anyone who has had a brush with finance is a high-flyer. So whatever stories about my non-existent successes I were to tell her, she would bow to the halo of a business degree and a stint in the City and take everything on trust.
But the rest of us should know better and be more discerning. If we did just that and questioned the various claims put to us a bit more, the number of high-flyers, super-heroes and people with Oxford degrees would go down – but instead, we would be surrounded by competent professionals doing meaningful, necessary jobs. This would not be as glamorous, but certainly more sustainable.