x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

There is a difference between embellishment and a lie

As prospective Lebanese prime minister Najib Miqati found out last week, embellishing your CV is never a good idea.

Once, I applied for a job and one of the interviewers asked me to explain a gap in my work experience. I was in school, I said. (I didn't bother telling him to look under "education" on my CV and do the maths himself.) Was he trying to catch me in a lie? Or did he think I took my "gap year" midcareer? Don't know. Didn't get the job.

Never have I actually lied on a resume. It's self-evident why one wouldn't. To me, at least. A curriculum vitae can be verified. A prospective employer can call a former employer, can check references, can Google you. With so much available online, a search can unearth a missing earring, I would think, not just a missing year in work experience.

Lying on a resume is serious. In the United States it is now a crime to indicate false military service on a CV. Last week, a Maryland man who lectured law enforcement agencies about terrorism and human trafficking was arrested. According to the FBI, the man had for years posed as a retired army colonel.

A 2008 investigation by the Chicago Tribune revealed that 333 people in the online edition of Who's Who, a major source of biographical information worldwide, reported earning medals of valour for military service. At least one third of those 333 people lied.

The second and third editions of Who's Who in Africa indicated that Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe, had received an honorary degree from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. No such degree had ever been bestowed, the university says.

Back when he was US president, Ronald Reagan told Yitzhak Shamir, who was prime minister of Israel at the time, and Simon Wiesenthal, the Nazi hunter, that he'd photographed death camps at the end of the Second World War. Reagan, almost everyone knows, never left the US during the war: his entire military service was spent in the First Motion Picture Unit of the Army Air Corps in Culver City, California.

Last week, a study of Australian university graduates showed that 38 per cent admitted lying on their CVs when applying for work.

I suppose lying is understandable, even if wrong. A university grad, desperate to find work upon leaving school, might fudge the truth a bit to give themselves an edge.

And how many quacks are out there? People who profess to hold medical degrees they don't in fact possess? We don't have to look far. It happens in the UAE and when found out, the prognosis turned out to be dire for a bogus plastic surgeon.

Lying should not be confused with embellishing, however. Embellishment is adornment, a bit of patching, not a whole new facade. And that's where Najib Miqati finds himself this week.

The man pegged to be the next prime minister of Lebanon has listed on his website that he attended "Harvard for management studies" after university in Beirut. News websites have taken this to mean he was a Harvard graduate or Harvard educated.

He's not. He attended a short-term training course at the Harvard Business School and one at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Did he lie? Did he embellish? Or was he just vague enough that others made a wrong assumption?

It would be easy enough to blame the BBC and Associated Press for assuming more than Mr Miqati professed. Yes, the news agencies should have double-checked. Heck, they could have looked at Wikipedia and verified the nature of Mr Miqati's attendance at Harvard. But it is tiring - it certainly tires me - to see the media blamed for spreading falsehoods.

How much would it have hurt Mr Miqati to be more exact about his relationship with Harvard? He didn't write "Harvard" when in fact he'd gone to Fitchburg State College. That would have been a lie. But he actually did attend courses at Harvard (and paid Harvard tuitions). The courses he attended, Owner-President Management and Innovations in Governance Executive Education, are taught by Harvard faculty. They are attended by high-ranking government officials and businesspeople from all over the world.

Must we check our leaders' resumes?

Come to think of it, at what point does one stop needing a resume? Someone who'd played as public a role in Lebanon as Mr Miqati, who's been prime minister once before and was a co-founder of the Lebanese telecoms firm Investcom, certainly doesn't need a CV anymore.

If politicians at that level need one, what will those of Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali say?