Candidates don’t always tell the truth – do background checks

December 31, 2022

If ever there was an example of why organizations must conduct thorough background checks, it’s U.S. Rep.-elect George Santos, R-N.Y.

In December of last year, The New York Times was the first to report that some of his touted biography, including information about his education, career and charity work, was disputed by public records and the organizations contacted by the news outlet. Santos has since admitted to making some of the falsehoods, and contended that others were just poorly described.

In a recent interview, Santos said, “I’m not gonna make excuses for this, but a lot of people overstate on their résumés.” He added, “I’m not saying I’m not guilty of that.”

Are we in such a sad state of affairs that it’s a given that people “overstate” on their résumés? Yes, we are.

A 2022 survey by StandOutCV, a résumé-building platform, found that over half (55%) of those surveyed admitted to lying on their résumé at least once. The published survey concluded that this “could mean 42.5 million Americans lied their way to a job in 2022.”

Younger people are more likely to lie than older workers, according to StandOutCV. In fact, 66.65% of those ages 18 to 25 said they lied on their résumé.

Conducting background checks has been made more difficult by people (16.9% of those surveyed) using a fake job reference service, which involved fake employers (and paid actors) to verify false employment records, the StandOutCV results show.

People also lie about their educational credentials. In fact, 41% admitted to lying in various ways about their college degrees on a résumé, including about 25% telling employers they had a degree when they hadn’t earned one. “Fake college degree certificates and transcripts can be bought online and cost an average of $270,” according to StandOutCV.

An organization hired an executive who appeared completely overwhelmed and unqualified for the job from day one. I suggested that everything on her application be verified (something the organization had failed to do before hiring her). When representatives of the organization checked whether she had obtained a degree from the University of Virginia as she claimed, UVA had no record of her. When asked about the discrepancy, she said she had made a mistake — and had only attended a banking course at the University of Virginia the year she said she graduated from the school.

This survey is in line with one done in 2020 by the online job site Zippia. After surveying 1,000 people, it determined about 30% of people have lied or “bent the truth” on their résumés.

According to the Zippia survey, about 80% of people who lied on their résumés were never found out.

Because of the labor shortage in many workforces, some consultants have recommended to organizations that they cut the background checks in order to speed up hiring. However, your background check isn’t the holdup, the recruiting process is. I recently wrote about the application process, and suggested that employers go back to the basics and best practices.

Don’t cut corners on something as important as a background check. Trust — but verify. And check everything that can be validated — including graduation dates, degrees, dates of employment, job titles, certifications, responsibilities and, where legal, salary/compensation.

According to the StandOutCV and Zippia surveys, candidates are most likely to lie about previous work experience and skills.

This is why the interview/recruitment process is so critical in addition to the background checks.

I once interviewed someone for a human resources position who lauded her master’s degree. She said she might as well be an employment lawyer based on all she had learned. So I asked her specific questions about employment laws. She answered not one correctly.

Those conducting interviews should not feel as if they are insulting a person by asking specific questions about skills and knowledge, but make sure those asking the questions know the correct answers.

And if you are giving an employment test or requiring a demonstration, make sure that it is properly validated, consistently applied and that you are evaluating the test or demonstration to avoid disparate impact on race, gender or other protected characteristics.

For years, organizations have consistently devalued the recruitment process and failed to adequately train managers and those conducting interviews. Recruitment is a critical component of successful business practices and one that should take center stage in your business model in 2023. It’s hard to imagine that people can be so dishonest — but, unfortunately, this is reality.

Inspect what you expect. Whether hiring a part-time hourly worker or CEO, conduct the same level of scrutiny for the hiring process.

If using a third party to conduct background checks, be sure to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act if denying a candidate employment based on those results.