Why Employment and Education Verifications Matter

Embellishments, falsifications, omissions, misleading information—a lie can go by many names and according to a CareerBuilder survey from 2014, at least 58% of employers found something dishonest on an applicant’s resume. Talk about putting your worst foot forward.

“Trust is very important in professional relationships,” stated a CareerBuilder representative, Rosemary Haefner, vice president of HR. “By lying on your resume, you breach that trust from the very outset.”

Of the 2,200 hiring managers and human resources professionals surveyed, more than half said they’d automatically disqualify a candidate after catching them in a lie, while the second largest group (40%) said it would depend on the lie. A small subset (7%) reported that it would depend on how much they liked the embellisher.

How Important is Honesty to You?

Which camp would you fall in? In other words, how important is it to you that the individuals vying for your open position are who they say they are and actually have the experience and education they claim to have?
For the large majority of employers, conducting employee background checks that include thorough employment and education verifications matter, and here’s why they should for you too.

The Pressure is On

One-third, or 33%, of CareerBuilder’s survey participants report observing an increase in resume falsifications after the recession and competition continues to be hot. Some people are going much too far in their attempts to stand out and their success in slipping through the nets of your hiring process can be a colossal headache for your hiring department at best and disastrous at worst. Either way, it is a serious waste of resources to hire and onboard an unfit employee only to find out later that they weren’t prepared to perform as advertised.

Which Industries Attract the Most Fibbers?

Short answer: all of them. But CareerBuilder reports that certain industries see more resumes containing falsified information than average. Any guesses? The top five are:
  1. Financial Services (73%)
  2. Leisure and Hospitality (71%)
  3. Information Technology (63%)
  4. Health Care Organizations with more than 50 employees (63% also)
  5. Retail (59%)

Which Resume Items are Falsified the Most?

If you fall into any of the above categories, perhaps you should be paying special attention to the ways you vet your candidates’ resumes. And as you’re doing that, take a microscope to the following claims, as they’re the ones most likely to contain the fool’s gold you’re looking for:
  • 57% of lies had to do with a skill set.
  • 55% pertained to responsibilities the candidate allegedly had on a previous job site.
  • 42% were fudged dates of previous employment.
  • 34% were instances where the fibbers had given themselves a prestigious job title from a past place of work.
  • 33% were claims of having actually-unacquired academic degrees.
  • 26% were lies about the past companies they worked for.
  • And finally, 18% of resume lies were related to accolades and awards the applicants claimed to have received.

Do Candidates Really Think They Can Get Away with It?

As part of their survey, CareerBuilder asked employers to share the most memorable, unusual, or outlandish lies they’d caught on a resume, and the responses were both amusing and eye-opening.
  • One applicant claimed his father’s work experience as his own. They shared the same name except for Sr. and Jr.
  • Another gave themselves the title of Assistant to the Prime Minister, but for a country that didn’t have a prime minister.
  • Someone made themselves an Olympic medalist! But it was unclear if they’d gone all in and claimed to win the gold. (Pro tip: If you’re going to lie about being an Olympic medalist, probably claim the bronze. Bronze is less exciting, so maybe they won’t check.)
  • Another applicant called themselves a construction supervisor on their resume, only for it to be revealed later that the project they’d “supervised” was the building of a single doghouse years before.
  • Someone didn’t do the math and claimed 25 years of experience. They were thirty-two years old.
  • One applicant name-dropped Tom Cruise and Madonna, claiming to have been the babysitter of their and other celebrities’ children over a period of twenty years.
  • Another claimed employment at three different jobs over the span of several years. After contacting each location, the interviewer learned that the applicant had worked for less than a week at two and not at all for the third.
  • Someone actually reapplied for a position at a company that had just fired him. The same company was included on his resume, next to the claim that he had quit.
  • And finally, an applicant made the especially obvious blunder of applying twice for the same position, with two different work histories provided on each application.
It can be difficult to understand why a job seeker would take the risk of trying to mislead a potential employer. As the recession indicated, however, desperation can certainly be a factor, and for those hoping to land that coveted interview and position, Haefner gives this advice: “If you want to enhance your resume, it’s better to focus on playing up tangible examples from your actual experience. Your resume doesn’t necessarily have to be a perfect fit for an organization, but it needs to be relevant and accurate.”

Best Practices for Catching Resume Fibbers in the Act

So now that you know what to look out for, how do you put it into “best” practice?

Best Practice #1: Ask the Right Questions

Conducting employment- and education-specific verifications during the employee background check is your best line of defense. Either you or your background screening company will need to ask the following questions of the applicant’s claimed previous employers:
  1. Start and end dates of the applicant’s employment.
  2. The job title the applicant had while employed.
  3. Their ending pay rate.
  4. Their reason for leaving.
  5. Whether or not the applicant would be eligible for re-hire with the company, and if not, the reasons why.

Word to the Wise

Keep in mind that the previous employer may be beholden to a disclosure policy that limits what they can say or the questions that can respond to candidly, if at all. The reason is the worry over legal reprisals if the applicant chooses to sue over a lost employment opportunity due to a previous employer’s comments.
Never fear, however, or change your questions, because what they don’t answer can be as telling as what they do. Make special notes of the “no comments” you receive as you work to complete the picture of your candidates’ qualifying characteristics. Also remember that the more previous employers you question in this way, the better the picture will be as you can begin identifying patterns of behavior.

Best Practice #2: Ensure Written or Verbal Consent to Contact Former Employers

Not every applicant will be unemployed at the time of their interest in your company, and if you contact their current employer without the applicant’s express consent, it can create an awkward situation for all that’s best avoided.
In these situations, it’s common to verify retroactively with said employer once a job offer has been made and appropriate notice of their exit has been given by the applicant.

Best Practice #3: Use a Search Engine to Validate the Provided Phone Numbers

Remember, the point of a thorough verification process is to avoid taking the provided information at face value. Believe it or not, it’s not unheard of for an applicant to provide the phone number of a friend or relation in place of authentic contact information for the company in question.
By independently validating the phone numbers of the applicant’s past employers with a quick search engine query or by checking the online Yellow Pages, you can ensure that you’re talking to someone qualified to give you the answers you’re looking for.

Best Practice #4: Be Consistent in the Thoroughness of Your Verifications for Each Applicant

The last thing you want to do (or deal with) as an equal-opportunity employer is to attract allegations of discrimination, so you must ensure that your hiring managers as well as your third-party employee screening provider is consistent in the way they conduct the employment and education verifications.
Decide beforehand the scope of the applicants’ work and education history that will be verified, meaning how far back you will go in terms of years and how many former employers you will contact. Different jobs within your company may warrant different parameters for the verifications, but the most important thing is to keep to the guidelines and refrain from conducting verifications on a person-by-person basis.
Some example guidelines are:
  1. Verifying all employers, no matter how many, over the past 3, 5, to 7 years.
  2. Verifying only the past 2 to 3 employers no matter how many years that stretches back.
  3. Verifying up to a certain number of employers or a certain amount of years, whichever comes first.
Whichever route you take, enforcing consistency across the board protects you, your company, and your applicants.

Best Practice #5: Be Diligent in Your Documentation of Verification Attempts

When you’re trying to get through a task list, nothing is more tedious than phone tag. VICTIG uses automated verification technology to curtail this specific time-waste, but as a general rule for verifications and for our final “best practice” tip, make sure that you are thoroughly documenting your attempts to contact an applicant’s former employers to avoid wasting time.
At least five (5) valid attempts is the norm per contact, where “valid” is specified by the person being contacted (a representative in the former employer’s human resources department, payroll and finance departments, or the business owner themselves) and the manner of the attempt:
  • Phone
  • Email
  • Fax
  • Snail mail
Your documentation should include:
  • The date and time of day
  • The phone numbers tried
  • Emails sent
  • The names of people reached
  • The results of each attempt
By doing your due diligence, you’ll have something to show for your attempts even if you weren’t able to get the desired verification information.

The Value of Reference Interviews

Employment and education verifications are best paired with professional reference interviews. These may either corroborate or provide a conflicting picture of the candidate’s qualifications, character, performance abilities, accomplishments, and work ethic, all of which will be valuable in the deliberation portion of your hiring process.
But reference interviews should never stand alone. The resume or application can sometimes reveal more than it’s saying outright with the proper verifications. By probing into unexplained employment gaps, cross-checking the provided contact information, and questioning every qualification claim with a stringent verification process (be it a job title or an academic degree) you will not only uncover problematic work behaviors, but you’ll find out for yourself whatever embellishments, fabrications, falsifications, fibs, or outright lies the applicant has used to try to get your attention. And that’s worth knowing from the very beginning.