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Scrutinize resumes; layoffs increase lying

by on
in Human Resources

Raise your skepticism a few notches. Resume fudging is on the rise again.

The so-called Liar's Index, the percentage of applicants who falsify their educational credentials, has risen steadily in the past three years, according to the index's creator, Jude M. Werra Associates, a Wisconsin-based executive search firm.

Fueling the trend: the spate of recent layoffs and the slowing economy. Applicants who feel more desperate tend to add that extra punch to their rÈsumÈs. Also, the Internet is full of diploma mills that hand out dubious degrees and credentials for little or no work.

Applicants lie most about their education, followed by their reasons for leaving past jobs, salary, job titles, scope of duties and criminal records.

No business is immune. People with criminal records have tried to hide their past when applying for jobs at police departments and even for positions at background-checking firms. (Of course, honesty doesn't always pay. A man who admitted on a Baltimore police application that he had committed a crime ended up confessing to a car jacking when questioned. He was arrested rather than hired.)

Advice: For top prospects, scrutinize every detail on their rÈsumÈs. Don't shrug off minor exaggerations, they tell a lot about character and level of effort. But restrict inquiries to job-related issues and don't probe into the background of any certain group, such as minorities, or you'll risk a lawsuit.

Also, check on temps. Make sure your temp agency screens applicants' rÈsumÈs, and get those assurances in writing.

Think of a candidate's rÈsumÈ as the advertisement for a car. Something is being sold, and you need to adopt a caveat emptor attitude before you jump in and drive away.

Start your search with a well-written job description that outlines essential functions and secondary duties, plus any education and skill requirements for the position.

Put applicants on notice that you will verify information they provide and terminate them if they lie on the application or during the interview.

The final item on your application, to be signed and dated by the worker, can make that clear:

The facts set forth in my application are true and complete. I understand that, if employed, false statements on this application will be considered sufficient cause for dismissal. I hereby authorize [company name] or its agents to make an investigation of my employment and personal history through any investigative or credit agencies of its choice.

The application is also one of several places to affirm your rights as an employer. When applicable, make clear there is no contractual relationship between the company and workers and also your right to terminate employees at will.

Case study: Caught in the act

In the late 1980s, the Port Authority of New York took out want ads soliciting rÈsumÈs from electricians with experience using Sontag conductors. Nearly a third of the respondents said they had experience using Sontags.

The problem: There was no such thing as a Sontag conductor. The applicants had lied.

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