HR professionals are well aware that many résumés and applications are full of exaggerations or flat-out lies. But while you review those documents with a healthy dose of skepticism, your newest front-line hiring managers may not.
To sniff out more applicant liars, teach your hiring managers to take a guarded view toward all résumés and applications. Ask supervisors to think of each résumé as a car advertisement: The candidate is trying to sell something, so you need to adopt a "buyer beware" attitude.
Here are six ways you and your managers can identify dishonesty, according to John McLachlan, attorney with the Oakland office of employment law firm Fisher & Phillips:
1. Require every applicant to fill out an application. Apply this policy from janitor to CEO. At a minimum, your application should include: an employment-at-will statement; language informing applicants that omissions or falsifications are cause for termination; a statement saying the applicant agrees to comply with your rules and regulations if hired; and a time period for which the application remains valid.
2. Scrutinize the application. Look for inconsistencies between the résumé and the handwritten application. A well-crafted application can offer a great deal of information about the applicant, things you shouldn't overlook. Among the clues, McLachlan says: strike outs, gaps in employment, reasons for leaving and job and salary progression.
3. Ask open-ended questions in interviews. Asking open-ended questions lets you judge the applicants' ability to reason and helps you pick up on the person's work ethic.
"Well thought out open-ended questions are practically impossible to answer with stock answers," McLachlan says. A good one to include: "What was your biggest frustration/ success/problem on your last job and how did you deal with it?
4. Listen more, talk less. Applicants should talk about 80 percent of the time during the initial interview. That first interview is not the time to convince an applicant of the greatness of your organization. Use that time to understand the person's qualities to better gauge his or her potential for the position. You'll have plenty of time to sell the job once you've narrowed the field.
5. Conduct background and reference checks. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it's still often overlooked. Such checks put your organization on more solid legal ground when making hiring decisions, even if you receive limited information from tight-lipped references. You can avoid liability for negligent hiring, for example, if you took reasonable steps to confirm and authenticate an applicant's credentials.
To encourage past employers to provide more complete references, require applicants to sign a liability release and give it to their previous employer. Another simple technique: Ask the reference to rate the applicant on a scale of 1 to 10 in response to your questions. Finally, don't go easy on referrals; perform the same checks on candidates referred by co-workers or friends.
6. When you sniff out fraud, act right away. Reason: If you detect fraud and do nothing, courts could say you've condoned it. That inaction could jeopardize your defense.
Final tips: Don't shrug off minor résumé exaggerations; they tell a lot about character and effort level. Also, don't probe more deeply into the background of any particular group (females, minorities, etc.) or you'll risk a lawsuit.
Free résumé 'score card' to evaluate job candidates
Using our Résumé Score Card, you can rank each applicant's résumé (on a scale from one to five) on 14 different characteristics. Download it for free and print out a score card for each résumé you review.
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