Mark Twain once said, “Honesty is the best policy—when there is money in it.” Apparently, honesty doesn’t pay too well these days, judging by the rise in occupational dishonesty in the labor market.
The little white lies and exaggerations that job applicants used to include on their résumés are being replaced by high-tech scams that go way beyond mere puffery. Job hunters are not merely enhancing education credentials, they are creating them, along with employment histories, specialized licenses and job references.
The rise in résumé fraud can be traced to the rise in unemployment, coupled with tough competition among those competing in the labor market for what few jobs are available. Job seekers who don’t have a degree or specialized skills are inventing them out of desperation. For the employer, this translates into a significant problem since applicants who lie on their résumés often become employees who misrepresent issues on the job. It is estimated that résumé fraud costs employers approximately $600 billion annually.
The statistics concerning résumé fraud are grim. One survey estimates that as many 80 percent of all job seekers submit applications and résumees that contain intentionally misleading information. The misrepresentation involves work experience, criminal history, inflated past salaries and education credentials. It is not confined to workers who seek labor versus managerial or administrative positions. Indeed, in a 2001 survey of more than 7,000 applicants for executive positions, it was found that 23 percent misrepresented personal information. Of those who misrepresented information, 71 percent lied about length of service, 64 percent lied about accomplishments, 60 percent exaggerated managerial experience, 52 percent identified mere attendance at college as a degree, 48 percent overstated job responsibilities, and 41 percent omitted negative employment experiences.
The most common areas of falsification involve employment history and education/training. With regard to employment history, job applicants are falsifying not only their length of employment with employers and the reason for their departure, but also job titles, responsibilities and even the employers themselves. A recent trick has involved filling employment gaps with fictitious employment with companies that have closed or never existed. Websites designed to aid occupational fraud provide job seekers, for a fee, with a 1-800 number an applicant may use on a résumé for employment verification. When a prospective employer calls the 800 number, it is provided with a glowing recommendation and confirmation of employment at the fictitious company.
Consider, for example, the services provided by www.fakeresume.com. The site claims that “over 70 percent of college graduates admit to lying on their résumés to get hired. Can you afford not to know the techniques, tricks and methods they use?” The site then dismisses ethical concerns by telling potential customers that “companies … expect you to work like a slave and then treat you like dirt.” The site assures potential customers that “your loyalty should be to yourself, your family and your friends that look out for you and take care of you.” The site also observes that human resources managers assume that “EVERYONE embellishes, exaggerates, puffs up, and basically lies to some extent on [his/her] résumé. So if you are being totally honest, you are being penalized because they are going to assume that you embellished your résumé to a certain extent!” The website then offers a “powerful underground guide” designed to show job applicants how to fill gaps in employment history, add experience to their résumé, fake references, lie about age, get college transcripts from any university with any GPA the applicant wants, and rig their resume´ so it gets picked by automated human resources systems which screen résumés. The website even boasts that the résumé guide is “tax deductible.”
Job applicants are also increasingly less than honest with regard to their education and training. Applicants list colleges and universities they attended, giving the impression that they received a degree or certificate from those institutions. Even worse, applicants fake their attendance at, and degrees from, colleges and universities, banking on the fact that prospective employers will not check the veracity of their education claims.
A growing trend in résumé fraud involves listing degrees received from “diploma mills,” online companies which offer degrees and/or licenses based upon an individual’s “life experiences.” For example, Rochville University offers degrees for as little as $199 with “no studies, no attendance, no waiting, no examinations and no hefty fee.” The website proclaims that “it is now possible to earn an accredited degree on the basis of work and life experience you already have and receive your degree in just five days!” The degree package it sells includes a suitable-for-framing degree and course transcript. The transcript includes course subjects and scores, not just “pass/fail” notations. The aspiring “graduate” can select “any major you can think of.”
Additionally, websites are providing job applicants who subscribe or buy their products with 1-800 numbers for applicants to provide to prospective employers so that the employers may verify the job applicant’s degree and education. As with the bogus employment history, an employer who dials the 800 number receives assurance that the job applicant has received an identified degree or pursued a particular educational program.
Even more extreme are the cases where job applicants have hired computer hackers to add their names as graduates to college and university databases. Employers who contact reputable colleges and universities are assured by college staff that an individual has received a degree since his/her name appears on an alumni database.
While the prospect of checking references and confirming the accuracy of résumé and application information may seem daunting, the foregoing should in fact demonstrate the real need for such verification. Given the high-tech complexity of occupational fraud, it is more important than ever to ascertain who the job applicants really are, what their educational credentials are, where they have been employed, when they worked and why they left their previous employment. To this end, consider the following tips:
With regard to verification of employment history, ask the job applicant not only for the calendar year dates of employment, but also for the months in which employment began and ended. For example, a job applicant who lists employment dates as 2004 – 2005, may not have actually worked one to two years for a particular employer. He/she may have, in fact, worked only for a month if he began work began in December of one year and the person left in January of the following year. All former employers should be contacted for employment references and, most importantly, job duty verification. Even employers who will not provide a recommendation for employees are normally willing to confirm that an applicant was actually employed and what his/her job duties were.
The applicant should be questioned in detail about prior employment. He should be questioned about specific job duties, the name of his supervisor, and the reason for employment gaps or a succession of short-term jobs. The prospective employer should request a copy of the applicant’s personnel record by having him execute a release form. Prior employers should be contacted directly and asked to verify employment. Be skeptical of 800 numbers and obtaining references from individuals who no longer work for the particular employer. Ask for copies of W2s to verify employment and compensation earned.
With regard to verification of education/training, verify degrees and attendance by requesting the job applicant’s transcript. Do not rely on the applicant’s copy of such a transcript. Ask him to sign a release directing an official copy of the transcript be forwarded to your enterprise. Mail the release yourself to the educational institution. Verify licenses with the issuing state agency where applicable.
Where appropriate, conduct criminal background and civil record searches when filling safety sensitive jobs and positions of trust. You may also wish to include a driving record check if the position requires driving and credit reports for positions that involve money handling.
Take the time to get to know the people you hire. In hiring decisions, like business, not doing your homework can be costly.