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Lying on Resumes

Q. Have you found that applicants lying on resumes is a big issue for small businesses? If so, what do they do and how do they get away with it?

A. Sadly, statistics reveal that up to 50 percent of resumes contain one or more major misrepresentations. When reviewing resumes, small businesses must protect themselves from unscrupulous people who falsify their accomplishments.

When presenting credentials, we all want to show ourselves in the most favorable light. That’s natural, expected, and there is nothing wrong with this. It’s just good marketing. However, when good marketing crosses the line into intentionally leading others to believe things that aren’t true, that’s a problem.

Applicants attempt to deceive prospective employers in many ways. Some candidates tell outright lies, but using clever wording to intentionally mislead people is no better. One executive proudly proclaimed that he had graduated from Harvard Business School. The statement was clearly intended to cause people to believe that he held a Harvard MBA. At Harvard, the MBA program has very high admissions standards and requires a lot of hard work over a two-year period.

In fact, the man had “graduated” from an executive education seminar conducted at HBS. The program took one week to complete and the primary requirement for admission was having the money to pay the cost of the program. Clearly, his accomplishment was a far cry from earning an MBA. The executive might argue that he hadn’t lied because he had actually “graduated” from HBS. Perhaps, but the intent to deceive was clear. The executive was subsequently terminated for unspecified reasons.

Another equally misleading practice is claiming to have a degree from one of the all too prevalent diploma mills. Such enterprises have names that sound like legitimate academic institutions. The programs most often require little or no academic work and grant credit for “life experience.” These “schools” are not accredited and many will perpetuate the scam by providing a phone number that prospective employers can call to verify the degree. People who participate in such schemes are likely to come up with a justification for their actions, but deep down, unless they are completely devoid of character, they know that what they are doing is wrong.

More recently, services have sprung up that will provide an applicant with a phone number that prospective employers can call to get a reference. The service will answer the phone any way the applicant requests and provide prior employment verification. The service might answer the phone using the name of a real company or one that is completely made up. Either way, it’s a scam.

The message is clear. In the words of Ronald Reagan, “Trust, but verify.” Learn how to validate claims of educational and professional accomplishment. The internet-age makes this easy and inexpensive. Don’t use numbers provided by the applicant when verifying employment. Look up the company’s phone number yourself. Ask for references from people who are familiar with the applicant’s work who were not on his/her reference list. Most people are clever enough to list references who will say nice things about them. Don’t let fraudsters infiltrate your organization through benign neglect on your part. Make sure that the claims of prospective employees reflect the truth, the whole truth, and… you get the idea.

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