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How to Avoid a “Fingers Crossed” Approach to Hiring

Recently resume fraud allegations were made against one of South Australia’s senior public servants, however SA Government is not the only organisation to take a candidates’ claims on their resume and during interview – or glowing comments from their referees for that matter – at face value.  High profile organisations such as Yahoo, IBM, MIT and Myer have all hired senior team members who have falsified their backgrounds and subsequently been caught out – with the organisation suffering an impact to their reputation and/or share price as a result.  While these are extreme cases, according to some studies, candidates are at a minimum “stretching the truth” on their resumes at least 50% of the time.

So why does this happen?  For a candidate, securing their next opportunity can sometimes be a long process punctuated with pitfalls of disappointment.  Many candidates will apply for numerous positions before finding success, so it can be tempting for a candidate to improve their opportunities, and their confidence in general, by embellishing their resume.

Some of the most common resume “exaggerations” include: –

  • Education– Candidates may have started a course and not completed it, but they list it on their resume anyway or, they may have completed a particular course, but list a more prestigious learning institution on their resume.
  • Employment dates– Candidates may be concerned about how potential employers will perceive gaps in their resume so will increase the length of time spent at a particular organisation. They may also put years against their job roles only, rather than months or years so this is definitely one to probe.  For example, 2015 – 2016 could be 2 months (Dec 15 to Jan 16) or 2 years (Jan 15 to Dec 16), quite a difference.
  • Position titles– Candidates may feel that previous position titles don’t reflect the actual duties they undertook so will change the title to reflect what they feel is more relevant. This can, in turn, lead to inflating some of the responsibilities they undertook or skills that the candidate possesses.  Unfortunately, no matter how justified they feel, this is a form of fraud on a resume and will get noted by a thorough fact checker.
  • Technical skills– Candidates may review the technical skills required in the job advertisement or the position description and broadly list them as part of previous positions as a way of “tailoring” their resume and having the key words stand out during a scan by the recruiter. The relevant technical skills required for the position need to be assessed throughout a recruitment process in various stages to ensure the candidate possesses what is required for the role.

Conversely, a hiring organisation is usually inundated with large volumes of applications and are working to tight time frames, so it can be tempting to rush the process when there is a real gap being felt in the organisation.  Also, as they progress a process they build a real liking for their preferred candidate and often take their words at face value with perfunctory reference checks to tick off the checkbox in the process list.  They are keen to get their preferred candidate on board and don’t want to de-rail a successful placement by slowing the process down or demonstrating anything but complete trust in the candidate.

So what steps can companies take to avoiding a crossing fingers approach to hiring? And what does a comprehensive background check look like?

  • Qualification checks – Check all listed education qualifications directly with the academic institution listed to ensure the candidate attended, that the dates listed are correct, and that they completed the qualification as listed.
  • Employment history checks – Reference checks should extend beyond a candidate’s list of preferred referees. Contact their last three employers’ HR teams to verify they definitely held the roles they’ve listed for the time periods cited. Also confirm that the scope of the duties described in their application is accurate – and ask their employer why they left.
  • Criminal history checks – Checking a candidate’s criminal history and DCSI clearances, especially when they are working with finances, sensitive or confidential information, working with a vulnerable group, such as children, the elderly or people with disabilities, is an essential element.
  • Other license & credit checks – Conduct other relevant license and credit checks, especially where these checks relate to the prospective employee’s day-to-day work. For example, drug screening for roles requiring the operation of heavy machinery or transport work, and driver’s license checks where candidates are required to drive as part of their job. Credit checks are another useful tool, particularly for finance-related roles.
  • Online detective work – It might seem straightforward, but a little Googling goes a long way. Search for your shortlisted candidates on search engines and social media platforms including Google, Seek, LinkedIn and Facebook to ensure consistency and a good culture fit.
  • Be sceptical – Finally, be sceptical. With fraudulent applications becoming commonplace, review each application carefully and question the candidate’s experience and results by delving deeper and asking them to explain in detail what their roles entailed, and how they achieved the results they’re referencing. Ask for verification when you need it. Vague answers and a lack of detail about the dates they were employed, or who they reported to could suggest they’ve lied or exaggerated their skills, job history or education.

In the information – and equally, the misinformation – age, remember that comprehensive background checking involves more than a quick criminal history check and contacting supplied referees. Delve deeper, or outsource this aspect of your recruitment process as a powerful defence against potential scammers.

Need support? In addition to reference checks, Harrison McMillan offers a comprehensive Fact Checking Service for vetting candidates. Contact enquiries@harrisonmcmillan.com.au to find out more.

Harrison McMillan was awarded Most Innovative Recruitment Agency of the Year in 2016 at the SEEK Annual Recruitment Awards.

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