July 9, 2013

Resume fraud: Fact or fiction

Is resume fraud a thing of the past? Unfortunately, the answer is no. In fact, I feel as though resume fraud is more rampant today than ever before.

Our executive search firm routinely evaluates candidates to be placed at senior levels within organizations at Fortune 50 conglomerates, private equity-backed companies, nonprofit organizations, and many others, and validity of resumes is paramount. For many years now, our firm requires that each finalist candidate be subjected to full and complete background checks. These background checks have uncovered long laundry lists of inaccuracies, over-embellishments, and out-and-out lies.

Take these real-life examples into consideration:

  • One of our clients was adversely impacted by a situation where a finalist for a CEO position fabricated his credentials and references beyond comprehension. Fortunately, he was caught before an offer was submitted. Not only did he provide fraudulent educational credentials, he also utilized bogus references, one of which was the candidate’s spouse masquerading as a former supervisor at a large multinational corporation. Furthermore, he left salient information off of his resume (and LinkedIn profile) that might have shed light on a number of inconsistencies.
  • In a previous CFO search, the leading candidate claimed that she possessed a CPA, masters in finance, and a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. Upon checking out these credentials though, her stories began to unravel. The background check and due diligence process determined her highest point of academic achievement was at the high school level. This candidate also provided us a “fraudulent” diploma from a well-known, nationally-ranked university. Our firm, using skepticism as our guide, inquired with this university’s registrar’s office to determine if this diploma was valid. It was not, and was likely downloaded from the internet.

This story can be recounted as many as a dozen times in the last year alone, to the point that our firm has grown more cynical of many candidates. We now live by the motto used by the characters in the old television show Dragnet who used to say “just the facts, ma’am.”

What lesson does this provide employers? It teaches us all to have a certain sense of skepticism before credentials can be verified. In many cases, some of these candidates would have been hired because certain credentials were not required; however, the lack of truthfulness sends up a bigger red flag than just the lack of a degree or the convenient omission of tenure at a past employer.

What does this say about our society? We must demand honesty and truthfulness. It should be the rule rather than the exception. Perhaps these systemic issues are symptomatic of an apathetic public that is too comfortable with the status quo and not prepared to make tough decisions or take tough stands.

All of these scenarios are causing our business and our clients to recraft policies and procedures in order to thoroughly assure that good decisions are being made. Furthermore, we need to be honest with ourselves and courageous enough to expect the best and demand the best of everyone. When one person lies and gets away with it, whether it is an admired professional athlete such as Lance Armstrong, or a corporate chieftain, the general public believes that they can slide too.

This crusade is a grass roots effort. Our company plans to be part of the solution, and we encourage you to take part as well. Stay tuned as I will be revisiting the issue of resume fraud in a future post.

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