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SA Companies Not Verifying Qualifications


We speak to an expert about why so many senior executives are lying about their qualifications and how they’re getting away with it.

Most recently, City Press reported that Dube Tradeport CEO Saxen van Coller lied about having a BA, an MBA, and a Doctorate in order to land the top job.

Van Coller, who earns R2,5 million annually, not only managed to fool Dube Tradeport about her qualifications, she also lied about her identity. In 2008, she allegedly changed her name from Yvette Coetzee to Saxen van Coller.

She’s had no problem building her career on a foundation of fake credentials.

Before joining Dube Tradeport, Van Coller held other senior positions, and her qualifications were never questioned.

Of course she is not the only CEO to have lied about qualifications in order to climb the competitive corporate ladder. In 2012 former Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson found himself in hot water after the company discovered he had lied about having a computer science degree. He was later fired.

Van Coller and Thompson are just two names on what has grown to be a long list of senior executives who have pretended to be more qualified than they really are.

Others on that list include former SABC Chairwoman Ellen Tshabalala, former Veritas Software CFO Kenneth E Lonchar, CEO of Maori Television Services John Davy and SABC Chief Operations Officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng, who has managed to keep his job at the public broadcaster.

We speak to Michelle Moss, Director of Assessment at Talent Africa, a leading executive search and talent management company to find out what’s behind this trend and why companies are not verifying information on CVs.

Verifying candidate’s qualifications is not a mammoth or even difficult task, he says, but many companies fail to do it, especially when it comes to hiring senior managers. They often mistakenly tend to take at face value what is presented to them in the candidate’s CV.

“We would get fired if we didn’t check someone’s qualifications. At our company this is not negotiable, and qualifications have to be checked. But I think [not checking] happens when companies do their own recruitment, and they perhaps get someone who is referred by another person. Because of this that person does not go through the formal processes of an executive search or other recruitment processes,” Moss says.

Additionally, many companies don’t even consider undertaking leadership assessments, or even checking if the person has a criminal record.

"If someone is applying for the position of a CEO, they already have a solid reputation. Because they have been in a senior position before at a big company, other businesses think, oh well I’m sure the other company checked their qualifications"

“At other times it can be [the fault] of an inexperienced HR person who just doesn’t know that this is something that can be done quite easily. But this is unlikely as most HR practitioners are qualified, and should know the processes for checking qualifications as it is inexpensive and easy, even for an international qualification,” she says.

Moss adds that it is highly likely that a company will not verify qualifications of a candidate who is applying for a senior position, as most of the time the applicant has been referred by another person.

“If someone is applying for the position of a CEO, they already have a solid reputation. Because they have been in a senior position before at a big company, other businesses think, oh well I’m sure the other company checked their qualifications.

The company trusts what is on the CV – if the guy says he has an MBA, they trust he has an MBA,” she says.

Moss suggests that senior executives may be lying on their CVs because of stiff competition for senior posts. Many have the experience, but not the qualifications, and so they bend the truth.

Some trick companies by stating on their CV that they attended a certain university, but do not say whether they completed their degree or not.

So, how difficult is it to check the validity of an applicant’s qualifications? Moss reiterates that it’s a simple process, as companies can sign a service agreement with organisations such as Managed Integrity Evaluation (MIE). This is a company that conducts background checks. Part of their work is verifying qualifications, credit and criminal records, and citizenship statuses.

“All you do is get permission from the candidate to enter their information into MIE’s online system and then they check the qualifications,” she says.

Employing someone who is not qualified for the specific job you want them to do can have serious implications for a company’s credibility.

“Also, if someone has a qualification they bring a certain richness of understanding and knowledge to the company. If they don’t, you lose out on that. While they might have experience, the theoretical underpinning is not there and you will feel that more intensely at the higher levels of the company,” she says.

Moss concludes that companies are becoming more aware of this and more are diligently checking candidates’s credentials before they hire them, even at senior-executive level.

Additional reporting: City Press, Business News


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