When Potential Employees Lie

How to Spot a Lie on a Resume or Application
by Henry Strada, Esq.

When you receive a resume or job application, how can you be sure the applicant is telling the truth? Unfortunately, you can't. While most applicants are honest, there are some who will stretch the truth, or, in some cases, lie outright in order to get a job.

"I think lying on resumes is still common, but less common than it was a few years ago," says Firstdoor.com Editor Audra Jenkins, PHR. "Employers have become more cautious because of concerns about negligent hiring, workplace violence, and possible litigation. They do more background checks, pre-employment testing, and other screening methods."

Even if you don't want to go through the time and expense of performing background checks, pre-employment testing, and drug screening, you can still guard against being lied to by an applicant. There are two steps you can use to evaluate applicants: interviewing and checking references.

The Interview
Worried that a candidate didn't actually earn the degree he says he did? There are ways to find out during an interview. "One of the easiest ways is to ask probing questions," says Mike Sweeny, managing director of the Project Staffing Service at T. Williams Consulting. In order to verify someone actually attended a particular school, Sweeny suggests, "asking questions that only someone who went to the school would know."

If you're unsure a candidate actually possesses the skills and credentials reflected in their resume, ask them questions relating to those skills. If the job requires technical knowledge, such as accounting or computer skills, be sure to ask the candidate technical questions.

"The technical part of the interview is so important," says Sweeny. "If you're not asking them technical questions, then you're missing the boat." Questions such as how the applicant would handle a particular problem, or questions regarding particular projects the applicant worked on in the past can help establish if the applicant is right for the job.

Employment History
Checking references can help fill in any gaps or date discrepancies found in a candidate's employment history. Even though many employers are fearful of giving out too much information, most will verify the dates someone worked for them.

"If you're doing a good job of checking references, you should find out if they're telling the truth about their employment history," Sweeny said.

Of course, if a candidate lies on a resume or interview, they can lie during an interview, too. That's why it's a good idea to have more than one person interview a candidate. Afterwards, according to Sweeny, "it's pretty much a matter of sitting back with everyone who interviewed the candidate and comparing notes to find inconsistencies." Having more than one person interview an applicant can help you get a better "feel" for the candidate.

The Job Application
Finally, the job application itself can help protect you from a dishonest applicant. Sweeny recommends applicants complete a job application, even if you already have a resume. The application should contain a statement that points out the existence of any untruthful information may lead to the employee's termination.

Remember, in today's economic climate, hiring and retaining the best employees is a priority. To help your company make the right employment choices:

  • Always ask for, and check references. Even though you may not get a complete picture of the candidate, you'll at least be able to verify employment history.
  • Contact all of the candidate's previous employers listed in the resume or application.
  • Have more than one person interview an applicant.
  • Ask the candidate questions that directly relate to the job.
  • Have every employee complete a job application, and make it clear that giving false information on the application is grounds for termination.

About the Author: Henry Strada, Esq., is Special Projects Editor for Firstdoor.com. Prior to joining Firstdoor.com, Henry was an associate attorney specializing in small business legal matters, employment law, and estate administration. He also interned for several judges in White Plains, New York. Strada is licensed to practice law in New York and Connecticut. He can be reached at Henry.Strada@firstdoor.com.

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