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Ok, so, resume inaccuracies might not be the most common resume problem. In this 2014 LinkedIn post, Google’s Laszlo Bock, a Senior Vice President of “People Operations” at Google (AKA human resources), put “Lies” as the fifth most common issue he observed with resumes. In the top four slots, Bock listed typos, excessive length, head-scratching formatting, and revealing confidential information. However, resume inaccuracies seem to be becoming more and more common in the current competitive job market, and for the most part, they are intentional.
In Bock’s LinkedIn post, he slyly mentioned how the people with inaccuracies on their resumes were “always goofing in their favor.” In other words, applicants confronted about inaccuracies might dismiss them as simple mistakes, but those “mistakes” always made the applicant look more qualified as opposed to less qualified.
Sometimes, the “goof” is someone rounding up their college GPA. Other times, it’s a job title that sounds a bit more impressive than the position the applicant held in reality. Depending on the resume, employers may also find candidates listing jobs they never had, companies they never worked for, college degrees they never received, or professional licenses they do not possess.
If you are an employer, these lies are problematic and potentially dangerous to you. How can you know who you are hiring when the document that is supposed to most succinctly represent an applicant’s professional past is riddled with lies? How can you avoid hiring a person who is nowhere near as qualified as they led you to believe?
If the bad news is that people lie and exaggerate on their resumes, the good news is that those lies are relatively easy to dismantle. The fact that most resume lies aren’t meticulous at all and were merely dreamed up in front of a computer screen should make it easy for your hiring managers to expose instances of resume dishonesty. Here’s how to do it:
- Do Reference Checks: Often, your applicants will give you the keys to discovering their lies right on their job applications/CV in the form of their references. While there is a chance that your applicant has listed references who would lie for them, you will always have a better chance of spotting any fabrications when you speak with a third party. Colleagues, mentors, and former bosses are always more likely to let something slip when you speak with them in person or over the phone. You can also call the HR department at your applicant’s former employer to confirm straight facts like job title, responsibilities, employment dates, and salary.
- Check LinkedIn: In general, social media background checks are a lot less helpful than some employers think they are. A person’s Facebook might reveal a few inflammatory statements or other bits of unflattering behavior, but very often finding the right account is harder than it seems and usually just not worth the time investment. The exception is LinkedIn. If your applicant has a LinkedIn profile, it’s great to check it to see if their information lines up with what they wrote on their resume. There are probably going to be some factual discrepancies, only because a lot of people don’t update their LinkedIn profiles as often as they should. Perhaps the applicant’s profile doesn’t reflect a promotion they recently got or any other recent developments. However, if the LinkedIn profile lists the same companies but different job titles or lists of employment responsibilities, there’s a chance you just caught a liar red-handed.
- Run Verification Checks: If you don’t want to do all the calling yourself, there are companies you can hire to verify key pieces of resume information. In particular, a verification check might look into university records to see if an applicant ever received a degree from a specific institution. Similarly, one of these screenings might check with a state licensing body to see if the applicant has the licenses or certifications he or she claimed. Verification checks are great because they expose the resume lies that you absolutely can’t ignore. An applicant who has entirely invented a university degree, professional license, or former job is one who has either committed fraud or come dangerously close to doing so. That kind of reckless dishonesty is not something you want in your organisation in any position.
- Consider Skills Tests: The idea of pre-employment testing is gathering steam in some industries, particularly in technical fields. These tests require applicants to demonstrate some of the key skills they claim on their resumes. For example, a technology company might require an applicant to demonstrate familiarity with a key CMS or piece of software. A marketing firm, on the other hand, might ask an applicant to complete a writing assignment. The idea is that resumes can deceive, but on-the-spot skill demonstrations can’t.
- Use the Interview: The job interview is your chance to learn about your applicant and ask them for more details about any items on their resume. Use this opportunity well. If the applicant seems to have matched his or her experience and skill set a bit too closely to the job description, focus your questions on those items. If you require a specific degree or license for the job, ask your applicant to tell you more about what they studied in school or how long they’ve been professionally certified. You might not get any absolute proof that your candidate is being less than honest, but you might see telltale indications. Bogus stories tend to fall apart a lot faster in conversation than they do on paper, so be sure to note when your applicant is dodging questions or skimping on details.
In a perfect world, every resume would be an entirely accurate reflection of a person’s professional and educational history. While not every applicant will lie on a resume, on the off chance that there is a big inaccuracy on your top candidate’s resume, it’s a good idea to go through all the processes discussed above before submitting anyone for interview.
Michael Klazema has been developing products for pre-employment screening and improving online customer experiences in the background screening industry since 2009. He is the lead author and editor for Backgroundchecks.com. He lives in Dallas, TX with his family and enjoys the rich culinary histories of various old and new world countries.