It isn’t worth it to lie – or to avoid checking up on job applicants
July 3, 2005
It is so tempting to alter a few little details to make a resume shine brighter than the rest in the pile. Who would find out you were just a small part of a successful project, not the team leader? How would they know you’re six credits short of that undergraduate degree? Workplace advisers encourage job-seekers to put their best foot forward and write achievement-filled resumes, but adding little lies is a perilous way to attract a prospective employer’s attention.
“Applicants might think there’s a chance employers will check their background, but until the last couple of years, employers in Canada haven’t made checks part of their business practice,” says Dave Dinesen, founder of BackCheck, a Surrey-based private investigative service for employers. “In the U.S., background checking is very established, but Canadian companies have started catching up.” Employers use his company to verify information that job candidates provide, Dinesen says. Investigators confirm employment history and education credentials, perform criminal and credit checks and interview references. “Even big companies with human-resources departments don’t have enough time to do the checks,” he says. “And reference calls are usually at the bottom of the pile — or not done at all. “Once you’ve hired someone, it’s too late to check their background, so our clients want to be comfortable when they make the decision to hire.”
About 30 per cent of people exaggerate on their resumes, and one in 10 make false claims about their education, according to industry statistics. “There is a long list of phoney schools and a plethora of schools where you can buy a PhD for life experience,” Dinesen says. “Modest discrepancies are usually overlooked, but not the glaring alterations. People know when they’re lying — everybody knows.” Dinesen says he has uncovered stacks of fake degrees, stopped schools from hiring professors with no teaching credentials and saved hotels from giving jobs to managers with criminal charges for pedophilia. “I’ve found absolute career criminals with dozens of charges who have applied to electronics retailers for jobs,” he says. “We really encourage honesty — it’s bad to start a relationship on a lie.”
Mike Palmer, manager of the talent-acquisition section of Canadian human-resources company Ceridian, says background checking is a critical part of the process for hiring new employees — for Ceridian as well as the clients they provide recruiting services for. “It’s quite amazing the number of people who lie on their resumes,” Palmer says. “A lot of people exaggerate, especially about their education. They may still be hired, but it depends on how flagrant the lie is. “I think a lot of candidates still have the assumption that we’re not going to check.” He says employers would be naive to take resumes at face value. That doesn’t mean candidates are lying about their credentials, but it’s good business to verify claims and references. “If you don’t check and it turns out a candidate is not a very good employee, that they have a bad attendance record or come in late, it can be very expensive to get rid of them,” Palmer says. “And if they have a criminal record of fraud, the cost could be huge.”
Most people exaggerate something on their resumes, but only a few of those applying for high-level positions are bold enough to make significantly false claims. Still, the company does extensive reference checking and contracts BackCheck to investigate the background of every candidate. He recalls one job-seeker who noted three academic degrees, all from a school Reynolds had never heard of. The school turned out to be an unaccredited institution and the candidate had acquired all three degrees — bachelor’s, master’s and PhD — in three years. Another prospect offered reference names and numbers, but when Reynolds made the first call, he recognized the voice of the applicant pretending to be a business reference. Needless to say, the resume was filed in the trash. “When a check shows something that rates as a red flag, we discuss it with the client — sometimes it’s manageable, sometimes it’s not,” Reynolds says. “But in virtually all cases, if a red flag comes up, it compromises the candidate.
“Your resume should accurately reflect your background.”
“Highlight accomplishments, but don’t exaggerate. Company executives these days are really attuned to ethical issues and have high moral standards.”
“Any type of fabrication is a potential issue and looked at very seriously.”
HOW TO WRITE A CLEAN RESUME
- Be clear about educational achievements. Don’t use misleading language to suggest you completed a degree or diploma when you didn’t graduate. Often, job experience is worth as much as a formal education.
- Present your work experience in a positive way, but don’t exaggerate your achievements.
- Fill in the month and year you worked in past positions — leaving out the month suggests no break in employment while you may have been out of work for most of a year.
- Provide relevant references. Most employers want to talk to direct supervisors or the manager responsible for performance evaluations. Be prepared to offer more than a couple of possible contacts.
- For a first or entry-level job, consider asking a teacher or professor to comment on your attendance and quality of work. Babysitting jobs, school clubs and community sports teams may also be valuable additions.
Ran with fact box “How to Write a Clean Resume”, which has been appended to the story.