June 24, 2018

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Employers are Calling in the Detectives

Tired of lying, cheating job applicants, employers are calling in the detectives.

There's a thin line between putting a best foot forward and outright lying about academic and career achievements.

In the frenzy of a job search, apparently many eager applicants are willing to skip over that line. Employment specialists estimate that anywhere from 25 percent to 80 percent of resumes harbor some degree of embellishment. But that little white - or big fat - lie on a resume or application form wonít go undetected these days, thanks to the growing use of background screening. "It used to be we could take a person at his work, but we canít do that anymore," said private investigator Fay Faron, owner of the Rat Dog Dick detective agency in San Francisco. More companies are hiring investigators like Faron to weed out the potentially troublesome workers before they are hired.

Smart firms say background check first, pay check second

Faron specializes in employment screening for health-care workers involved with the elderly. In that kind of job, the wrong hire can have deadly repercussions. Smart employers interested in keeping customers safe and themselves out of lawsuits can no longer rely on applications and interviews to scope out job candidates, said Faron. "A con artist can look you right in the eye and lie to you," she cautioned. "That's why theyíre cons." Her detective agency researches criminal history, verifies social security numbers, checks driving records and looks for signs of financial troubles that could entice someone to embezzlement. Employers typically come to her when someone under consideration for a job raises a red flag, she said, so she frequently does uncover deception.

The most common area where truth and fiction intersect in the hiring process is in the area of job specifications and academic credentials, according to Peter Franklin, director of investigative services at Martinez-based Project Enquiry. The opportunity to hype experience has expanded because many employers are reluctant to provide job references. Fear of lawsuits from former employees makes companies reluctant to give more than dates of employment. "Unless you've got a copy of their job description, you donít know what the person did," said Franklin. The higher a position in responsibility and pay, the higher the level of scrutiny becomes.

Background checks for senior executives can run $15,000 for a high-level investigation, Franklin said. The pricier screening includes interviews with neighbors, friends and former co-workers, all done with the applicant's permission.

At lower levels, the cost of a background screening usually pencils out at less than the cost of the workerís first day of employment, said Les Rosen, a former criminal attorney turned employment consultant, who six months ago started Employment Screening Resources in San Rafael. The cost of a bad hire far outweighs the cost of an investigation. Termination lawsuits, harassment claims, negligent hiring lawsuits and customer dissatisfaction all undermine a company's finances and reputation.

If done right, Rosen said the background screening can build trust, not alienate new employees. The employer is letting everyone know he values a safe environment. "I wouldn't want to work for a company that didnít run a background check on me," he said.

Rosen advises both employers and applicants to keep everything above board. Law requires employers to let applicants know they will conduct a background check. But any information an employer can legally ask during a face-to-face interview is fair game for a background check, said Rosen. He also believes the job hunter should fess up to any indiscretion in the past like a drunken-driving conviction or bankruptcy, even a criminal record. "People get turned down because they lie," he said.

-Donna Hemmila
San Francisco Business Times staff writer
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