Fibs flow on job applications
More companies are using sophisticated background checks to root out lies on résumés.
As a job placement director, Tony Beshara has read thousands of résumés over the years. But at least twice a month he comes across some containing false information. In such cases, he consigns the résumés to the reject pile, regardless of how qualified the applicants might be.Skip to next paragraph
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"I am positive it happens more times than that, but those are the only ones who get caught," says Mr. Beshara, president of Babich and Associates in Dallas. "We assume 50, maybe 65 percent of résumés that are sent to us have lies on them."
Call it lying, fibbing, embellishing the facts, or stretching the truth. Whatever the term, the practice of "enhancing" a résumé and inflating accomplishments or earnings flourishes.
In a Careerbuilder.com survey of hiring managers, 57 percent said they have found a lie on a candidate's application, even though only 5 percent of workers admitted to falsifying information. Ninety-three percent of managers who caught an applicant lying did not hire that person.
"The problem is, you don't know where they'll lie again," Beshara says, noting that the practice raises concerns about a candidate's overall ethics.
Ironically, dishonesty is easier to detect than ever before. More companies are implementing comprehensive and sophisticated background checking mechanisms, says Tom Ruff, CEO of a recruiting firm that bears his name in Manhattan Beach, Calif.
In addition, résumés are frequently posted on the Internet. "Momentary mistakes in judgment can end up living on forever," says Michael Fertik, CEO of ReputationDefender Inc., an online reputation management company. "You have to assume not only that employers are finding your résumé online, but also that they are using the Web to verify the claims your résumé makes."
People embellish their work histories for a variety of reasons. "They think it makes them look better to get the job, and it does," Beshara says.
Mr. Ruff finds that the tighter the job market and the fiercer the competition for openings, the more tempting it is for some people to embellish their résumés to try to get an edge over other job candidates.
Declining workplace loyalty also encourages some applicants to stretch the truth, Beshara finds. The idea of career employment is a thing of the past, he says. "With globalization, competition, and subcontractors, you can be replaced any minute. If I don't have any loyalty to you, the employer, my loyalty is to me. The attitude is, 'I just need to get a job. I work for Me Inc.' "
Puffery vs. fraud
Anna Ivey, a career counselor in Cambridge, Mass., who works with recent graduates, finds one question occurring repeatedly among applicants of all ages: What is the boundary between acceptable puffery on a résumé and fudging, dishonesty, or fraud?
"They're just confused about where you draw the line," Ms. Ivey says. "People assume there's always some inflation in a résumé. They feel pressure to inflate. They wonder: If everyone else is doing this, am I then hurting myself if I don't inflate?"
Some applicants lie about their education. "We always call the school, no matter where it is around the world," says Dora Vell, who runs an executive search firm in Waltham, Mass. "We don't trust the certificate [an applicant] may provide. A CEO actually forged a degree from an institution. We called the school and they couldn't confirm the degree."
Misrepresenting dates of employment is another easy way to get caught, Ivey notes. "Even if an employer will say nothing else about your work there, they typically will confirm employment dates if they're asked to verify them."
Still other people omit companies they worked for, or say they were 'consulting' if they had a series of failed assignments, Ms. Vell says. That way, their work history appears more stable.
Ruff's firm had a candidate who was seeking a job in medical sales. He was hired, but when the company conducted a background check, it found he had held another job that was not on his résumé. The employer terminated him.
"If he had been honest and had listed the additional job, it would not have been a problem," Ruff says.
Some applicants pretend to know someone they don't. People drop names, Vell says. "I just had someone call and say someone on the board of my client recommended him. Apparently, the board member had not referred him."
To be sure candidates are not misrepresenting their compensation, Vell usually asks, "What did your W-2 show last year?" It implies that she will check, even though she often doesn't.