Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 April 2019
Weakness in the job market may well be followed by an increase in cases of resume fraud. But even when the economy is healthy, there are stories in the news about executives that stretched the truth a bit too far on their resumes. That's unfortunate, because when companies hire unqualified job applicants, everyone loses.
In this article, we're going to talk about resume fraud. As part of that discussion, we're going to talk briefly about some of the recent case studies conducted on this topic. We're also going to explain about some of the techniques recruiters and employers may use to spot cases of fraud.
While it seems logical that a weak job market may encourage more applicants to cheat on their resumes, experience reveals it happens all the time. In fact, it's a subset of a larger category of unethical behavior commonly referred to as job fraud.
Human resources departments, as well as recruiters, are interested in funding research, since they're in the business of placing qualified applicants with their clients and companies. Some of the more interesting case studies / statistics on this phenomenon include:
- A 2001 study of 7,000 resumes assembled by Christian & Timbers found that nearly 25% contained at least one instance of the job applicant's credentials being misrepresented.
- A 2004 study conducted by Korn / Ferry International found the most frequently fabricated information included the reason for leaving prior positions (67.8%), and the applicant's accomplishments (68.2%).
- A 2003 study conducted by the Society of Human Resources found that 53% of all job applications contained inaccurate information.
- A 2003 study cited by the The CPA Journal included a survey of 2.6 million job applicants showed that 44% lied about prior work experience, 41% lied about their education, and 23% of applicants falsified their credentials or made false claims concerning professional licenses held.
- A congressional study conducted in 1992 found that one third of all job applicants fake their resumes or contained at least one inaccurate statement. The FBI went on to claim that nearly 500,000 individuals in the United States falsely claim to hold college degrees.
- A 2005 report issued by ADP Screening and Selection Services found that when checking references, 49% of their investigations revealed a difference in the information the applicant provided and what the reference reported.
- According to a survey conducted by CareerBuilder in 2014, 58% of hiring managers claim they caught a lie on a resume, and 33% of employers have noticed an increase in resume embellishments post-recession.
- A benchmark study conducted by HireRight in 2017 found 85% of survey respondents uncovered a lie or misrepresentation on a candidate's resume or job application during the screening process.
A diploma mill is an institution of higher education that operates without the guidance or supervision of a state agency and / or professional association, and grants diplomas that are fraudulent. Back in the 1980s, diploma mills were a handful of small operations and considered a nuisance by law enforcement officials.
Today, these are high-tech operations that earn more than $500 million annually according to estimates made by John Bear, the author of Bears' Guide to Earning Degrees by Long Distance. There is an estimated 400 plus diploma mills in operation, with another 300 websites offering counterfeit diplomas.
Hiring managers, as well as human resource professionals, are constantly reviewing resumes. Those documents will contain the credentials of applicants, including statements involving Bachelor's, Master's, and even Doctoral degrees. All of these appear to be credible on paper, but many may not have been earned through course study at accredited colleges and universities.
Oftentimes, individuals will make obvious mistakes when committing fraud on their resumes. Some of the effective ways to spot an attempt to falsify information includes:
- Abnormal Sequences: the normal progression of degrees earned is high school, Bachelor's, Master's, and then Doctoral degrees. If the resume skips a step in this normal progression, or the progression is chronologically out of sequence, this should be a warning sign the document contains inaccurate information.
- Time Lapses: it normally takes three to four years to earn an undergraduate degree, one to two years for a Master's degree, and two or more years to earn a Doctorate. If the timeline between degrees seems too compressed, this should raise a red flag.
- Inconsistent Information: oftentimes the job applicant will make mistakes that provide clues the resume may contain false information. For example, the work history section may claim the applicant held a part-time position in North Carolina, while the education information may indicate a full-time student status in Illinois.
Verifying Information on Resumes
There are several ways to verify information contained on a resume. The most comprehensive route is to outsource the process to a pre-employment screening service. Alternatively, inaccurate information can be spotted via screenings performed by in-house human resources departments.
Pre-employment Screening Services
The range of services offered by pre-employment screening companies are the most comprehensive, and are sometimes referred to as background screening services. Typical services offered by these companies are public record searches that include:
- Identity Validation
- Criminal Records
- Driving Records
- Credit History
- Worker's Compensation Claims
- Reference Validations
While a company's human resources department may not have the ability to conduct comprehensive searches to determine if a job candidate has committed fraud on their resume, there are some steps these departments can take to help spot a warning sign.
- Verifying Credentials: this involves contacting prior employers and academic institutions appearing on the resume.
- Questioning Candidates: asking the candidate about claims appearing on a resume is an effective way to identify potential problem areas.
- Additional References: asking the job candidate to supply references not listed on the document itself.
- Reviews: evaluate all documents provided by job applicants with a skeptical eye, looking for inconsistencies with respect to geography and timelines.
Verifying Academic Credentials
Finally, the easiest way to verify academic credentials or degrees includes:
- Proof of Degree: ask the applicant to provide proof of their degrees, as well as providing transcripts from each school.
- Contacting the School: most colleges and universities will confirm dates of attendance, as well as degrees awarded. Transcripts can usually be obtained with permission of the applicant.
- Researching the School: just because the school confirms dates of attendance or degrees earned, doesn't mean the verification process stops. It's possible to check if a school is accredited right through the U.S. Department of Education's website.
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