There have been plenty of high-profile instances of the consequences when someone falsifies a résumé. Here are two well-known examples: Patrick Couwenberg, former Los Angeles Superior Court Justice whose entire résumé bore little resemblance to “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” He lied about his undergraduate and graduate education, military service (including a Purple Heart), and “secret agent” work experience for the CIA. When the truth came out, Mr. Couwenberg was removed from the bench after four years and extensive public hearings.
Another example is Scott Thompson, former CEO of Yahoo and Paypal, who stepped down after a Yahoo shareholder exposed his bogus claim that he had a degree in computer science. High-level executives like these may believe they are beyond scrutiny.
To the job seeker, these examples should warn of the potential pitfalls of résumé lies. If judges and CEOs cannot hide from their résumé exaggerations and falsehoods, the average job seeker has little chance.
As the economy soured and the job market dried up in 2008, résumé fraud grew. Statistics are not easy to come by because few people closely scrutinize résumés for discrepancies, but payroll processor and background checking giant ADP found inconsistencies in 46% of résumés, Kroll Background America, Inc. found issues with 22% of the tech-industry résumés they screened, and executive search firm CTPartners found that 64-71% of résumés contained misrepresentations.
Whatever the number, résumé fraud—from minor embellishments to dangerous lies—is thriving. There are even Internet-based companies that will provide phony references for less than a prospective employee’s first paycheck. That’s not a bad return on investment for someone lacking morals looking to get hired at any cost.
You can employ proper internal controls and processes to protect your organization. Here are two processes that will help your organization increase the likelihood of making quality hires.
The first step in the process is to analyze the candidate’s résumé and other submitted documentation. It can be a difficult attitude to take, but hiring personnel need to be skeptical and suspicious. Look for these red flags when you review a candidate’s material:
- Suspicious dates:
- Stretching dates of employment, for example, to cover up an extended stint of unemployment or jail time.
- Omitting an episode of past employment, especially if he or she left under unfavorable circumstances.
- Suspicious Credentials:
- Inflating credentials and past accomplishments like advanced degrees, military service, awards, community service, job titles, and job responsibilities. Faked credentials are easier than ever to make and flaunt with basic software and printers, but they are still fake.
- Falsifying references by intentionally providing incorrect contact information, such as: “She doesn’t work there anymore. I heard she moved to South America.”
- Suspicious Claims:
- Self-acclamations like “world class leader” and “pioneer” may sound great on paper, but should be interpreted with extreme skepticism.
- Lack of details can be attempts to mask lack of experience. For example, “ten years in the financial services industry” could describe the janitor of the local credit union.
Only the candidates that have cleared this phase of review should enter into the next phase of reducing Hiring and HR fraud: Verification.
Résumé lies may not be a crime, but their existence speaks volumes to someone’s character and integrity. Like other types of fraud, résumé fraud starts small but when small infractions go undetected, these little lies build momentum, which leads to bigger lies and the proverbial slippery slope. The best approach is to vet all finalists for a position, paying attention to all discrepancies, large and small. A small lie on an entry-level position résumé can become a reputation damaging lie in the future. Here are 9 verification tips that will help you screen out fraudulent candidates:
- At minimum, make every offer of employment contingent on the results of a background check.
- For finance positions, consider adding a credit check. Do a credit check at hire and every couple of years thereafter. Financial stress is one of the key risk factors for embezzlement and fraud. Do you want someone to manage your finances if she can’t manage her own?
- Check credentials online using state licensing body websites for anyone who claims to hold a license, even if it is not relevant to the position.
- Check the National Student Clearinghouse for college and university degrees.
- Check the National Sex Offender registry database, especially if your organization services children or the elderly.
- Call references, but not necessarily the ones the candidate provides. Ask open ended questions and compare the responses to claims on the candidate’s résumé and from in-person interviews.
- Do the same checks on temporary employees, even if they come through an agency.
- Establish a “no tolerance” policy with job candidates as well as established employees. This type of policy sends a strong message that your company values character and integrity. You should enforce it consistently to keep you on level ground and off the slippery slope.
- Always consult an employment law attorney before you adopt new policies and processes.
This checklist provides additional verification and areas of analysis:
Any “no” response may be a red flag and should be closely evaluated.