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The importance of fact-checking résumés

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I recently read an article I found quite interesting: as the competition for jobs increases during these tough economic times, many job applicants are tempted to bend the truth by embellishing or omitting information on their résumés.

It happens even more than I imagined. Apparently, recruitment firms and pre-screening companies estimate that one in three résumés raises a red flag (due to false statements, exaggerated claims or important omissions), and it has only become worse since the economy weakened in 2008.

This scenario leads to applicants getting hired and being unable to perform their jobs because they are not truly qualified for the job in the first place. What’s worse, the company could be harmed as a result of the employee’s actions during his or her time with the company.

The only way to deal with this problem is to select the proper applicant from the outset: it is critical to thoroughly check out applicants prior to hiring. The main areas that are vulnerable to “white lies” are:

  • Education
  • Experience
  • Responsibilities
  • Work dates
  • Salaries

In terms of education, it is common for job applicants to be a course or two shy of a degree yet list the degree as completed to avoid having to explain the situation. Also, extra courses and professional affiliations may be inaccurate. Some might even list a fake university.

Concerning experience and responsibilities, some applicants exaggerate what they did at their last job. For instance, they might stretch the truth about how many employees they managed, or claim to have been a full manager when they were only an assistant manager.

Work dates are important to examine, as many applicants leave out portions of their work experience because they don’t know how to explain a termination, resignation or unsuccessful job search. Further, some may leave out the early portion of their careers because they don’t want to show their age.

Lastly, it is important to get an accurate idea of the applicant’s previous salary, as some may inflate the numbers so they can get a higher one from their next employer.

If we accept that at least 30 percent of résumés contain some type of inaccuracy, it is important to conduct a diligent search of the job applicant. Try the following strategies:

  • Make sure that the interview process involves rigorous questioning to verify information on the résumé.
  • Pay attention to the applicant’s body language. If it is negative, defensive or evasive, determine why.
  • Don’t be afraid to use technology to check on a job applicant; for example, the Internet, including social networking and social media sites. However, be careful how you use the information you collected.
  • Look for gaps in the applicant’s résumé. Explore whether there have been problems with past jobs or during the time between jobs.
  • Check references and credentials to ensure that the résumé is truthful. Don’t be afraid to hire a fact-checker if you lack the time to do so.

Remember, once you identify a “white lie”, give the job applicant a chance to provide a more honest account of the situation before hastily rejecting him or her.

Christina Catenacci
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Christina Catenacci

Christina Catenacci, BA, LLB, LLM, was called to the Ontario Bar in 2002 and has since been a member of the Ontario Bar Association. Christina worked as an editor with First Reference between February 2005 and August 2015, working on publications including The Human Resources Advisor (Ontario, Western and Atlantic editions), HRinfodesk discussing topics in Labour and Employment Law. Christina has decided to pursue a PhD at the University of Western Ontario beginning in the fall of 2015. Read more
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