Think twice about using even seemingly inconsequential white lies—no matter how tough the job market is.
Here are a few examples of terrible fraudulent tactics that now haunt the culprits:
In 2010 Rhiannon Mackay was jailed for six months for lying on her CV to get a job as Capital Projects Administrator with Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust. What did she do? She claimed to have two A-levels, examinations in the United Kingdom typically taken at the end of secondary school, and when suspicions were aroused due to her poor performance, she forged a letter of recommendation. After managers at the Trust looked deeper into her background they found enough evidence to convict her using the Fraud Act 2006.
*Another person working for NHS, Lee Whitehead, was jailed for three months after it was found that he lied about his qualifications; he claimed to have a Doctorate and Master’s degree despite only having a second-class science degree.
A more recent example is Thamsanqua Jantjie, the suspected fake sign interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s memorial. The South African Deputy Disability Minister, Hendrietta Bogopan-Zulu, held a news conference on the matter—declaring that a “hiring mistake” had occurred. At this moment it’s still uncertain if Thamsanqua created a misleading portfolio. However, shortly after the debacle, it was found that he suffers from schizophrenia—something that’s easily discovered by a solid vetting process.
A glaring case in America is that of former Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson. Thompson stepped down after it was discovered that he never earned a computer science degree from Stonehill College.
According to a CareerBuilder survey these are the most common lies on a resume:
- Embellished responsibilities – 38 percent
- Skill set(s) – 18 percent
- Dates of employment – 12 percent
- Academic degree – 10 percent
- Companies worked for – 7 percent
- Job title – 5 percent
What are some solutions that employers and hiring managers can implement to spot fraud or misrepresentation?
Think of background checks broadly, and never take them (or the information) lightly.
The best part is you can always return to a candidate’s background if things appear to be off. One of the great advantages of social profiling is you may find surprising clues that change how you draw conclusions. For example, someone may have spent years producing a wonderfully heartfelt amateur documentary on human trafficking—eventually helping them land a job as a counselor for victims. Yet you may come across an old social media post where they offered money to people to write their college papers. This insight may be enough to question not only their academic abilities, but their professional ethical standards. Never underestimate how easily people can incriminate themselves, or how the causality of their past actions relates to the present.
Both over-explained and scantly outlined position descriptions may be a red flag.
Sometimes you see position descriptions that are just overblown with details. If this seems too good to be true, during an interview, have the candidate re-explain their role(s) and see if you can gauge how easily they can do this (take note of what has changed). Sometimes you’ll also see broad references to industries like “five years in the human resources industry,” yet there is no listing of a specific job. This may mean they’re not willing to tell you where they worked (they might have a few reasons for doing this). Moreover, be careful of people who claim to have worked for nonprofits around the world, but fail to tell you the organization name. This holds true for people who say they've “attended” a specific university—mostly likely they don’t have a degree from the listed institution.
Be cautious of people who temporarily lie about possessing skills that they feel they can easily learn at a later time.
They say they know how to use a wide range of software when all they’re really doing is appearing to be within the minimum qualifications. For job postings that require knowledgeable software skills, no matter how minimal, don’t be shy about testing prospective candidates. Sometimes the easiest way to spot this sort of misleading information is noticing that a candidate lists certain skills under only one job—yet they didn't work that job long enough to master said skills (they may have mastered them over time, but right now it’s unfair to make any claims).
Watch out for extraordinary claims that require an extraordinary amount of effort to prove.
You've probably seen resumes that make claims like this: “Increased sales from X million to Y million within my first year on the team.” In certain cases this is almost impossible to prove. Similarly, people will string together a list of accomplishments that cannot readily be dismissed. For example, you may find someone who says they’re a champion athlete, reputable scholar, successful author, and experienced manager. Suppose you’re having a hard time verifying their contacts, but you realize that one of these things on the list turned out not to be true. It may be safe to assume that they are misleading you about more than that one thing.
Experienced hiring managers have seen a lot of things like this before, and I’d imagine that they have some humorous stories to tell about outrageous claims they've seen a person fabricate. Just remember that you don’t have to be a psychologist to figure out something is wrong or missing; go with your gut and never let your common sense wander.
For more related resources see our post “The Recruiter’s Dilemma: Dealing with Misleading Resumes.”