Former FEMA director Michael Brown is not the only person accused of fudging his resume. In a survey of 414 staffing and recruiting firms conducted by StaffingU, 92% reported a significant increase in fraudulent information being included on resumes and employment applications. That survey echoes what background search firm ADP Screening and Selection Services found in a 2003 study. Their research revealed that more than 50% of the people on whom they performed employment and education checks had submitted false information, an increase of 10% over the previous year.
The incidents of fraud are not limited to one or two groups, but are occurring at all levels, including staff, management, and executive positions. The most common "lie" is degree-related, with applicants claiming credentials they donít have or misrepresenting the type of degree they earned. In 2002, Bausch & Lomb CEO Ronald Zarrella was found to have falsified his credentials by claiming to hold an MBA from the Stern School of Business, a school he attended without earning a diploma. The same year, Kenneth Lonchar, CFO of Veritas Software, was forced to admit that his highest educational accomplishment was an undergraduate degree from Idaho State University and not the Stanford MBA he listed on his resume.
Especially unnerving is the fact that applicants are now finding hi-tech ways to maneuver around the typical background checks. Some of them list toll-free numbers staffed with operators who verify the individualís bogus education information. Others go so far as to hire hackers to add them to university databases, risking legal repercussions to land a job for which they arenít really qualified.
So, how do employers spot doctored resumes and detect lies about qualifications? The problem is that you canít, at least not in every case. Instead, you must rely on a combination of fact checking and interviewing techniques designed to reveal the truth Ė and accept that the employment game, like just about everything in life, comes with no guarantees.
The Verified Fact
If, when reviewing a resume, you spot a degree from a college or university you donít recognize, do some research to make sure itís an accredited institution and not a diploma mill. You can also turn to a site such as www.studentclearinghouse.org, which offers a useful and inexpensive way to verify educational credentials.
Because faked college degrees are now so easy to come by, pay special attention to employment history. Contact previous employers and ask about the applicantís key accomplishments, as well as responsibilities and titles. Unfortunately, many companies will limit the information they divulge to dates of employment. But you can still get in touch with every reference provided by the applicant and, at the end of your discussion with each of them, request someone else you might contact. When using this technique, it is important to have the candidate sign a release allowing you to contact people from past employers.
When talking with references, ask open-ended questions that will reveal details about the candidateís performance and capabilities. Asking for an example of the applicantís ability to manage complex projects, then probing for details, will yield more useful information than simply asking if the candidate can handle complexity. Use additional open-ended questions such as how the applicantís behavior changes under stress or what the most fitting job description for that person might be.
The Revealing Interview
Donít assume that you can tell whether an individual is lying by his behavior in an interview. Paul Ekman, author of Telling Lies, says, ďMost people cannot tell from demeanor whether someone is lying or telling the truth Ė but most people think they can.Ē On the other hand, itís a poor practice to assume that every candidate is hiding something. Instead, find a middle ground. Trust the answers the applicant provides, but ask for details and descriptions that make it very difficult to conjure up a fabrication.
Request that an interviewee walk you through a typical day on the job, including any paperwork handled and interactions with other employees. Take lots of notes and probe for more details. In addition to helping you formulate additional questions during the employment interview, you can use that information to guide your discussion with references,
Be sure to ask how the individual would handle a hypothetical situation. Focus on determining the level of in-depth knowledge he/she has of a key skill required in the new position. Encourage specifics and elaboration and ask for clarification when needed.
Resume fraud is a problem that's unlikely to go away. In fact, it's likely to become more prevalent as competition for great jobs becomes even more fierce. As applicants discover new ways to pad their resumes with inaccurate information, staffing and recruiting professionals will have to continue to be equally resourceful in finding solutions.
- Scott Wintrip, StaffingU Founder and President
Scott Wintrip, PCC (scottw@StaffingU.net) is Founder and President of StaffingU, the leader in providing relationship-building techniques guaranteed to grow your business. For information on StaffingU's programs and services, including TeleClasses (live telephone-based classes), Virtual StaffingU (web-based courses), individual and group coaching, on-site training and speaking, and consulting visit www.StaffingU.net or call 866-SU-WORKS (789-6757).