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Don't be caught short!

Posted By Natalie Singer, Thursday, 06 June 2013
Updated: Thursday, 06 June 2013

Desperate times call for desperate measures and most research conducted recently, and specifically since the global economic crisis, has shown that CV fraud is on the increase.

CV or application fraud refers to any act that involves providing fictitious, exaggerated, or otherwise misleading information on a CV or job application in the hopes of persuading a potential employer to hire an applicant for a job they may be unqualified or under-qualified for.

In researching this article I stumbled across a myriad of forums and websites where the general consensus of participants was "it’s ok to lie, just don’t get caught”. Some respondents were a little more circumspect and advised other bloggers to avoid lying about the important stuff because it’s more likely to get you caught out.

Scarily, there appears to be a distinct difference, in the minds of most job seekers about the seriousness or guilt between outright lying and omission. Both however can have detrimental effects on the recruitment and selection process.

Most common CV lies

By far it appears that altering dates on CVs is the most common fraud employed by job applicants. For many, the reason touted as an excuse is to hide "too many jobs” with short lengths of service. There is a still a clear tendency amongst employers (and recruiters to a large degree) to dismiss out of hand an applicant that appears to be a job-hopper. However, with the dramatic changes in the world of work and the entrance of more Generation Y candidates into the job market, this discrimination will need to change. Research has shown that today’s 20-somethings are likely to have had at least 14 jobs by the time they’re 38 years old and this equates to an average tenure of just 16 months, a statistic that will horrify most Baby Boomers.

Of course, the reason for changing jobs should always be investigated – as we all know there are good, and bad, reasons for making a career move. The simplest way to uncover this sort of lie by omission is to employ a thorough interview process and to take several references with previous employers.

The next most common fraud is the substitution of friends or family as a "previous employer” for reference purposes. With the increased use of cell phones and email, it is now far easier for an applicant to arrange with a relative or friend to pose as their former boss who will naturally give them a glowing reference.

In my experience as a recruiter, most people who resort to substituting a referee do so because they’re unsure about the kind of reference they will get from the real ex-boss. Most often, this could have been avoided by simply being honest with the recruiter about the problems in the relationship etc. If doubt exists, a recruiter should conduct more than one reference to compare testimonials and make a judgement about the person based on several references rather than a single one that may well be tainted due to personal conflict. A small percentage, usually the cleverest and most charming applicants, will be using this ploy to hide a trail of disaster where they’ve been dismissed from several jobs, usually for the same reason, like substance abuse or theft. These are often the most difficult to uncover because the applicant is skilled at lying and committing fraud.

Other, more serious examples of fraud relate to fake credentials. In South Africa these are most often citizenship documents, drivers’ licenses and degrees/certificates. Whilst I acknowledge that some of these may be difficult to verify due to the inherent problems within the departments that issue them, recruiters should still satisfy themselves, as best possible, as to the authenticity of the documents. Qualifications should be verified, particularly if they have been issued by institutions outside of South Africa.

I personally experienced a situation where a candidate presented a degree from a university in Australia and where the qualification was confirmed and verified by the administration office of this institution. I later discovered that the degree had actually been bought online with the ‘added feature’ of a dedicated office specifically available for reference and verification of this false qualification.

Some candidates, particularly those with limited or no experience, may be tempted to falsify their CV by creating a list of fictitious employers some of whom may actually never have existed. Be aware of a string of "companies that have closed down” because this is often the best way to disguise a fake employer and avoid any reference verification from taking place.

The Pinocchio syndrome

Almost all applicants will admit to exaggerating their previous experience and see this as "stretching the truth” rather than outright lying. The most common exaggerations relate to job title where candidates will list themselves as "Office Manager” when in fact they were the only one in the office and so handled administration, reception and other similar duties.

In order to uncover exaggerations relating to duties and responsibilities, a structured interview process should be employed and a suitably qualified and experience person should handle the interview process. It would be very easy for an IT programmer applicant to bluff their way through an interview with someone who clearly didn’t know the difference between C# and C++

It is for this reason that employers would do well to retain the services of a specialist recruiter in instances where they are recruiting candidates with a very niche set of skills and where the results of hiring an un- or under-qualified candidate would be disastrous.

In an economy that is putting increasing financial strain on individuals many candidates will look to exaggerate their current salary in the hope of getting a significantly bigger offer from the new employer. As a result, it is now common practice for recruiters to request a copy of the most recent pay slip to verify actual earnings.

Who’s more likely to fabricate their CV?

According to research conducted by The Risk Advisory Group (TRAG) annually since 2005, younger more junior people are more likely to have a discrepancy on their CV. Someone in a junior administration position is 23% more likely to have a discrepancy than someone in a managerial role. Furthermore an applicant aged under-20 years old is 26% more likely to have a discrepancy than a 50 -60 year old.

Interestingly, women are marginally more likely to have a discrepancy with 13% of all applications submitted by the fairer sex having a discrepancy compared to only 10% of those of men. Graduates too are less likely to feel the need to alter their CV fraudulently with only 13% compared to 17% of non-graduates. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times when employers place greater emphasis on applicants with tertiary qualification?

TRAG’s CEO, Bill Waite said that the motivation for lying on a CV was often simple ‘survival of the fittest’. "In a tougher job market, it is clear the temptations for exaggeration or downright lying increase dramatically,” he said. Getting a job can be highly stressful and candidates feel pressure to enhance their achievements to present themselves in the most favourable light.

In their book Deception in Selection, Liz Walley and Mike Smith suggest that, in such circumstances, people are pushed to deception in the belief that "everyone else is doing it". Walley and Smith put forward the theory that job candidates often fabricate an element of their CV in the belief that it will only be a short-term measure. Yet, if not discovered early on, they find it hard to turn back the clock and escape their deception.

How do you safeguard your business and avoid being caught short?

A good recruitment agency should provide you with a comprehensive service that includes:

  • thorough interviewing aimed at interrogating the applicant’s employment history;
  • skills assessment to verify actual ability;
  • verification of employment history through reference checks;
  • verification of qualification; and
  • credit and criminal checks (where appropriate)

Not all recruitment companies are the same, nor are their recruitment methodologies or processes. Question your provider to be sure that you’re getting the service that you expect and so that you can determine whether or not you need to conduct any pre-employment verification yourself before making an offer to the candidate.

The APSO Code of Ethical & Professional Practice does not dictate service offerings to members but does make it clear that an APSO member agency is required to clearly outline their service offering to the client and to ensure that the candidates that are submitted have been properly interviewed and verified, in accordance with their agreed terms of business.

Should you experience a problem with an APSO member who has not fulfilled their terms and conditions in terms of candidate verification, you are able to lodge a complaint with APSO. For more information, and to view our Code of Ethical & Professional Practice, visit

Tags:  APSO  baby boomer  compliance  CV  experience  fraud  Gen X  Gen Y  interview  qualification  risk  verification 

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