Five background investigation checks recruiters employ to weed out CV lies

After reading How to Catch Lying Job Seekers by Rene Shimada Siegel of High Tech Connect, I wanted to turn her thoughts around to you: the digital communications job seeker in this tough market and the background investigations that you face when you apply for a new job.

I often hear claims in HR and recruitment circles that at least half of all job applicants lie on their CVs. While we haven’t found any hard figures for the digital communications sector yet, Rene quotes these figures from background-check firm HireRight in her post:

… 53% of American job seekers’ CVs contain inaccurate information, and 34% contain outright lies about experience, education and the ability to perform essential job functions.

I would say these figures are an under-estimation. I’ve heard numbers as high as 90% in some countries!

A little fudge here, a small exaggeration there, who will really care, if you get that prized job in the end? Especially when job descriptions seem to be becoming fuzzier and job expectations are less realistic all the time, right? Well, no. (What did you expect me to say?)

Getting caught

It happens! A recent infamous example is former Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson, who left in shame after four months when it was discovered that he had falsely claimed he had earned a computer science degree. I wonder where he’s going to work now?

If you think you’re safe once you get the job, think again. When my family moved to Sweden, HR asked my partner to produce a copy of every diploma and certificate he claimed on his CV after he was employed by his company.

It’s a good thing he had them because imagine how embarrassing – and expensive – that could have been after an international move with kids already in school.

The most common CV lies

According to the article, founder and CEO Kevin Connell of  AccuScreen, an American background investigation company for employment, tenant and date screening, lists these as the most frequent CV lies:

  • Fudging dates of employment
  • Inflating salary history
  • Exaggerating job titles or qualifications

At Firehead, we’ve found similar areas of discrepancy. Clients count on Firehead to work with only the very best digital communications professionals and this includes integrity. We take this stuff seriously.

So, if you’re still thinking of fudging a little on your CV, think of this: many companies and recruitment agencies are now taking matters into their own hands and implementing some or all of the following precautions to prevent expensive and possibly humiliating hiring mistakes. We’ve borrowed Rene’s list and added in what we do at Firehead to weed out false claims and red-flag suspect digital comms applicants:

Five background investigation checks

1. Contact former employers
The first thing we do at Firehead is phone the candidate’s last place of employment and check if the employment dates add up. If they don’t, we have a credibility problem that puts you way down the competitive list of candidates for the job. While this CV lie might not rule you out immediately, it raises a red flag that says we need to take the time to investigate more about you – a serious handicap when we have other candidates who pose no suspicion.

2. Check references and additional references
At Firehead, we ask for references for each applicant when putting them forward for a job – and we check them for where to go next in our screening process. We may also use LinkedIn to locate and contact former colleagues and managers in addition to those provided on your reference list. Who knows? As we work in the same industry and make it our business to know and connect with as many people as possible in it, we may even have a connection or fifteen in common, which makes it easier to find informal information.

3. Verify professional memberships
Professional organisations ensure that only qualified and reputable professionals are allowed to join. It’s a quick check to verify your membership is current.

4. Scan LinkedIn profiles
Through LinkedIn and other social media profiles, we look at employment dates and titles to check they match your CV and application. But also social media profiles can be most enlightening when it comes to candidates’ actual digital communications skills!

5. Pay for a professional background check
This is Firehead’s last resort and we only do this if the client is saying they still find the candidate of interest. Hiring a background-check company to verify education and employment is not expensive compared to the peace of mind we gain about any candidate we are proposing. We’ve used them to check any combination of the following:

  • Tax registration or social security number validation
  • Confirmation of previous address
  • Last three employers
  • Last three educational institutions
  • Police and criminal background
  • Sex offender/predator search
  • Interpol Watch database check

While this might not cover every detail of the professional capabilities stated on their CV (hopefully we’ve covered quite a bit of that in our reference checks), it can help us narrow down a list of candidates if there are any suspicions about an applicant’s integrity.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that in this intensely competitive job market, the pressure is on to get noticed by employers by (almost) any means possible.

But come on. The stakes are high. It’s expensive for companies to bring new employees (or even contractors) on board, and in this environment, an expensive mistake is even more painful for both the company AND you.

Who wants the cost, embarrassment or damage to their professional reputation?

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