Raise your skepticism a few notches. Résumé fudging is on the rise again.
The percentage of applicants who falsify their educational credentials and job experience typically goes up when the economy heads south. Recent layoffs and the financial meltdown have applicants feeling desperate, and desperate applicants tend to add that extra punch to their résumés.
Investigators at Kroll, Inc., which does, estimate that 20% of job applicants exaggerate their educational backgrounds. More than 60% of HR pros told the Society for Human Resource that they have uncovered inaccuracies when checking the veracity of résumés.
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 résumés. 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' résumés, and get those assurances in writing.
Think of a candidate's résumé 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 résumés 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.
Smoke out lies and exaggerations
Here are six ways to spot résumé fraud:
- Check for inconsistencies. Résumé-writing software can make anyone look good. Look for slip-ups in dates (such as overlapping start and stop dates) and contradictions between job titles and duties.
- Require all interviewees to fill out applications. Then look for inconsistencies between the résumé and the handwritten application.
- Test skills. If an applicant claims to have proficiency in a particular computer program or that she can work with a certain factory machine, do a skills check. To avoid charges of bias, test all applicants and ensure your test is business related and without any bias.
- Check references, then ask for more. Demand that applicants provide phone numbers for all past employers, and make the call. Also, ask for names of former supervisors, key vendors, etc. Always call the college admissions office to verify degrees and other claims.
- Probe "self-owned business" claims. When applicants work for themselves, it's too easy for them to cook up experiences. Ask for details about their claims, including names and numbers of past clients.
- Don't confuse referrals with references. Do the same thorough check on candidates referred from co-workers or friends that you would on candidates from other sources.
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