RISMEDIA, June 28, 2007?Amazingly, many job applicants just don’t understand the seriousness of lying to or attempting to hide information from prospective employers. The Society for Human Resource Management estimates?that more than 85% of large U.S. employers conduct background checks today, yet applicants continue to embellish and fib in an effort to land the next job. Take, for example, the applicant who claimed to have had an undergraduate degree from a prestigious university and sent in her fake “b-a-t-c-h-e-l-o-r” diploma as proof.
Aggregate HireRight screening data reveals that over 30% of all application forms contain discrepancies about work experience or education history, demonstrating the lengths to which some applicants will go to land the job.
With every passing year, pre-employment screening becomes more professional, more extensive, more ubiquitous, and yet job applicants often don’t seem to get it. They fudge, dissemble and outright lie in new and unique ways on their resumes and background check applications with increasingly poor results. Aggregate HireRight screening data reveals that over 30% of all application forms contain discrepancies about work experience or education history, demonstrating the lengths to which some applicants will go to land the job. The below list of top job candidate lies was derived from the most common falsehoods uncovered in recent background screenings.
Exaggerating Dates of Past Employment
It’s extremely common for applicants to lie about their dates of employment, and in fact, some studies show as many as 35% of all resumes include discrepancies related to previous employment. Candidates often attempt to stretch the truth on dates to cover gaps in employment they may not want to explain.
For example, one candidate extended his end date at his previous company by six months in order to hide the fact that he spent those six months serving a jail sentence! In other cases, applicants may add a job, like “independent contractor or consultant” to cover up would-be gaps in employment. Sometimes discrepancies can be honest mistakes that can be cleared up by talking to the applicant, but employers should be sure to verify the dates of employment provided by the applicant to ensure they are factually correct.
Falsifying the Degree or Credential Earned
With roughly a 20% discrepancy rate in information provided by candidates regarding their education qualifications, it’s important that companies understand the variety of ways applicants lie to claim unearned degrees. In many cases, candidates will attend classes, but not graduate, as was the case for an applicant claiming to be a doctor who actually dropped out a few quarters before completing his degree. Even if a candidate has earned a legitimate degree, the applicant may lie about what they majored in to enhance their qualifications for a specific job ? claiming a degree in engineering rather than in history, for example.
Other times, applicants will fake their educational qualifications by forging diplomas or trying to pass off degrees earned by family members as their own (such as the case of a woman named Julia claiming the degree earned by her brother Julian). Another tactic is to purchase a degree from a diploma mill. With the growth of legitimate online degree programs, the fraudulent side industry of diploma mills has rapidly grown as well. A diploma mill is set up to appear as a legitimate college ? a name that sounds like an educational institution, a Web site, a street address and a phone number with either a voice-mail, or even in some cases, with an “operator” who verifies the degree. In these cases, it often requires a knowledgeable screening firm that’s compiled a detailed list of known diploma mills to spot the fraud.
Inflating Salary History or Title Held
It’s no surprise that some candidates who are not qualified for a position may lie about titles held to claim expertise and experience they do not have, and they inflate their previous salaries to negotiate better packages than they may be able to obtain otherwise.
A candidate claiming to have spearheaded many significant merger and acquisition deals at a prior employer, applied for a top finance job at a Wall Street brokerage that was opening an office in Japan. As it turned out, his background check confirmed that he had indeed been highly involved with each of the noted deals ? as the staff interpreter!
Confirming this information allows the employer to not only negotiate the appropriate package, but more importantly, to ensure the candidate’s honesty, integrity and level of competency as it pertains to the position responsibilities.
It is a best practice to always contact previous employers to confirm job titles. Obtaining salary history is also an important step. In some cases, employers will provide it.
However, other times, they will not, and the hiring company can instead ask a candidate to provide a W-2 form to confirm salary. Confirming this information allows the employer to not only negotiate the appropriate package, but more importantly, to ensure the candidate’s honesty, integrity and level of competency as it pertains to the position responsibilities.
Concealing a Criminal Record
The most serious reason companies must perform comprehensive background checks is to maintain a safe work environment. Roughly 11% of all background checks return with a criminal record. The most common way candidates with a criminal background attempt to avoid detection is by changing details, such as their date of birth or spelling of their name. For example, a search run on Frank T. Booker (names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent), DOB 8/6/72, came back clean, but an additional search on F. Booker resulted in a found record for a Fred T. Booker, DOB 8/26/72, for six DUIs and two felonies. It’s important that employers conduct very thorough criminal searches, going beyond the basic data provided, in order to confirm the results and avoid hiring a potentially dangerous individual.
Hiding a Drug Habit
48% of Americans admit to having used an illegal drug in their lifetime, so conducting a proper drug test should be a standard step in any screening program. There are numerous ways drug users attempt to beat the drug test, and some go to great lengths. In fact, a recent determined applicant decided to shave his entire body just a few hours before showing up for his scheduled hair sample drug test. A more common way for drug users to try to avoid detection is by adulterating their urine samples through dilution, addition of other substances, or substitution of urine.
Applicants who test positive often try to excuse their results by claiming they’ve eaten certain herbs or foods (such as poppy seeds) or taken medications that affect the drug test. What scheming applicants don’t realize is that today’s drug tests can identify these attempts and are more accurate than ever before in determining positive and negative results despite the tricks and excuses.
With professional background screening best practices in place, employers can ensure they make the right hiring decision the first time.
Lying on job applications, if not downright fraud, at the very least provides reason to question an applicant’s character. With professional background screening best practices in place, employers can ensure they make the right hiring decision the first time.
Lisa Gallagher is vice president of Operations for leading employment screening firm, HireRight.
Society for Human Resource Management Workplace Violence Survey 2003.
SAMSHA 2005 National Survey on Drug Use & Health.
HireRight aggregate screening statistics 2006.
Anecdotes recorded by HireRight researchers.
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