Last week I was a guest on a business radio program. The focus of this hour long broadcast was “Resume Fraud.” Resume fraud may sound a bit harsh so feel free to replace fraud with any of the following: embellishment, exaggeration, deception, distortion, fabrication, misrepresentation etc. You get the picture!

Any way you refer to it, this behavior is far more common than anyone would like to believe. In fact, some of the research indicates that 30-50% of people lie on their resumes. These numbers tend to increase during tough economic times when a combination of job scarcity and angst may make people more willing to engage in behaviors they might not otherwise.

Resume “fiction” can also take a variety of forms not all of which will engender the same response. Stretching the dates of employment or even changing them to cover gaps or the appearance of job-hopping is prevalent. As can be enhancing one’s responsibilities. For example, did “candidate A” have 100 people reporting into him/her or 500? Were the savings he/she created valued at $30 million or $100 million? These details may be challenging to confirm.

Altering a job title may be a bit more difficult to carry out but certainly occurs as does the modification of degrees and other professional designations. The recent big story in this arena surrounded Scott Thompson who was very briefly the CEO of Yahoo. Thompson came to Yahoo from PayPal and claimed that he had a degree in Computer Science AND Accounting from Stonehill College. While Thompson did in fact graduate from Stonehill, the college did not offer a computer science major until well after he claimed to have received his. Aside from the trouble this caused it serves to illustrate that distortion can take place at even the most senior levels.

When it comes to education, some indentify mere attendance at college as a degree. There are also the many professional designations and actual degrees that can be obtained from uncredentialed institutions. These so-called “diploma mills” are a thriving business facilitated by the Internet as well as the pressure to compete for jobs that are oftentimes scarce.

And the possibilities go on and on…unfortunately. So what can a potential employer do about all of this?
As Ronald Reagan once said: “Trust, but verify.”

Degree verifications are the baseline and so easy to conduct that their omission in the hiring process is simply negligence. In addition to this, comparing a potential candidate’s resume to their LinkedIn profile while not foolproof, is another step in mitigating risk. Hopefully because a LinkedIn profile is exposed and accessible to almost anyone, the temptation to misrepresent is reined in.

Whenever possible, it is helpful to measure a candidate’s skills objectively. This is not always possible but creativity can go along way here. Ask a marketing or sales candidate to prepare a presentation as to how they would promote your product or service. Have a programmer write some code or an Executive Assistant prepare a document or answer the phone. I always switch to speaking French when a candidate claims this language facility!

References while helpful, are not enough. Speak to those provided by the candidate and if possible a few that have not been proffered. LinkedIn can be very helpful in this regard as well. This step in the hiring process can be laborious but definitely worth the effort.

While no amount of skepticism and verification will completely eliminate these problems, as a potential employer it is wise to proceed with caution and avail yourself of the tools and techniques that work. Cutting corners leads to less than optimal hires and ultimately less than optimal results, or worse!