It’s a common enough joke—the best works of fiction in America today are resumes and tax returns. According to a Career Builder survey, as many as eight percent of job seekers admitted to lying on their resume. And that’s just those who were willing to admit it. The real number is likely much higher. That means that if you have a stack of ten resumes on your desk, odds are at least one of them is lying. Can you spot it?
Here are the four most common sections for falsehoods to creep in, and what you can do to detect them before and during the interview:
- Academic degreeLet’s say your top resume on the pile is for a candidate who has an MBA from the Chicago Institute of Technology. Your job description only requires a bachelor’s degree, so this candidate’s higher credentials really stood out. Before you pick up the phone to schedule that interview, however, you might want to take a half a minute to google the school. Turns out, “Chicago Institute of Technology” doesn’t exist.
University names are so cookie-cutter that even fictional names usually sound familiar. Deception-savvy candidates will play on this when they try to fool you. Before you schedule that interview, do a quick fact-check. If you’re using a recruiter, make sure they are doing this for you. Candidates with lies like this should not make it as far as an interview.
But don’t forget the last step. You have to fact-check yourself, too. If the perceived deception is the only thing stopping that particular candidate from advancing, give them a chance to prove you wrong. Call up your candidate and say you’re interested, but are just trying to verify some information, and you want to confirm the name and phone number of his/her alma mater. If it was an honest mistake (theirs or yours), you both come out clean. If not, they’ll know they were caught.
- Dates of EmploymentAnother common area in resumes where fact turns to fiction is in employment dates. Sometimes the lies are subtle, and relatively harmless. Fudging the numbers to avoid having to explain a six-month gap in employment is not particularly pernicious, as far as lies go. In other instances the fabrication may go deeper. Other candidates pad their resumes with years of experience for companies they never worked for, or for only a fraction of that time. It’s up to you where you draw the line.
Again, this is another instance where you (or your recruiter) have to do your homework. First, a preliminary check: does the timeline of events outlined in the resume make sense? Some overlap between jobs can be normal, but too much should raise a few eyebrows. The same with education. If a candidate states that she graduated from college in 2010 and has been a Senior Vice President at Microsoft since 2004, you have a potential problem. Either your candidate is outright lying, or he/she had one hell of a college internship.
Call previous employers before the interview. It’s the only way to accurately confirm employment dates. A little legwork at the front can save you loads of time and money later on.
- Skill SetCandidates who lie about their skills are harder to catch pre-interview. A resume may look suspicious if the skill set looks like it was copied and pasted from your job description, but that could also be a sign that the candidate is tailoring the resume to your position.
The bottom line is that any skills that are essential to the job performance have to be assessed pre-hire. The easiest way to make sure this gets done is to use a hiring team. Someone on your interview panel has to be qualified to assess a candidate’s knowledge of key skills so they can spot a faker. This is especially true for more specialized positions. Depending on the skill, pre-employment skills testing may be utilized. There are a number of websites that offer this service for a wide variety of technical and academic skills.
Wait. I know what you’re asking now. What if the person you’re trying to hire needs to have skills that none of your current employees has? This is where a specialized recruiter can be a real life-saver. A full-service, specialized recruiter should have their own in-house experts who can check up on a candidate’s skills for you so you can hire with confidence.
- Embellished ResponsibilitiesPrior job responsibilities is the most common source of lies on a resume, according to Career Builder. There is a difference, though, between dressing up real accomplishments and outright lying. “Chaired a committee” could be code for “talked the most out of the team.” But if your candidate helped a previous employer improve production efficiency by four percent, it isn’t really a lie. On the other hand if “chaired” means “sat in the back and ate donuts,” then you have a problem.
Many such lies can be detected in a conversation with a previous employer, particularly any elaborate falsehoods. But even without checking references, there are ways to investigate anything suspicious. Just like with skill sets, the key is to ask questions anywhere you suspect a falsehood. Give your candidate a chance to explain how they improved productivity, how they like to lead committee meetings, or favorite strategies for generating team engagement. Leadership skills need to be assessed the same as technical skills.