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When an employer as seemingly sophisticated as the White House can miss clues that someone has falsified his or her resume, it's likely most employers could, too.
Taylor Weyeneth was recently demoted from his post as an administrative leader in President Donald Trump's Office of National Drug Control Policy after an investigation revealed a lack of experience and misrepresentations on his resume.
According to The Washington Post, 24-year-old Weyeneth overstated his work at a New York law firm, where a supervising attorney said he "just didn't show"; indicated that he had a master's degree from Fordham University, even though administrators said he did not complete his coursework there; and lied about his previous experience with drug policy, among other falsifications.
"The competitive job market is certainly one of the factors at play here, with more candidates potentially trying to beef up their resumes to outshine the competition for desirable positions," said Catherine Aldrich, vice president of operations at HireRight, an Irvine, Calif.-based background screening company. "Candidates are aware of what HR managers are looking for on their resumes. With the flood of applicants, they may assume HR managers aren't going to follow up on every detail."
Candidates, even at the most senior levels, are regularly embellishing their resumes, according to a 2017 report from HireRight. Eighty-five percent of the 4,000 survey respondents said they uncovered a lie or misrepresentation on a candidate's resume or job application during the screening process—up from 66 percent five years ago.
[SHRM members-only toolkit: Introduction to the Human Resources Discipline of Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability]
The Resume Check: Step by Step
When checking out a resume, Aldrich recommends starting at the top, with the applicant's name and address.
"If a candidate is lying about their name or address, what else are they hiding?" she asked.
Identity checks can be done by verifying a Social Security number, global passport or government-issued identification card.
A key part of a reference check is to independently verify that past employers are real and the contact numbers are legitimate.
And since an employee's past can often be prologue, an employer has a vested interest in finding out how the applicant performed in previous positions.
"Many human resources professionals believe that how a person has performed in the past is the single best indicator of how they will perform at your business," said Lester Rosen, an attorney and the CEO of Employment Screening Resources, a background screening firm based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The HireRight survey found that only about half—49 percent—of employers check applicants' education credentials. Candidates have inflated their grade point average, claimed to have received an academic honor that they didn't earn, or even made up a degree altogether. Also, employers should be aware of "diploma mills," or phony schools that will provide job applicants a certificate or degree for a price.
"Anyone with a printer, computer and credit card can instantly achieve any degree they want from any of approximately 10,000 fake schools around the world, which are often 'accredited' by fake accreditation agencies," Rosen said.
The FTC offers a website with information to help employers recognize education scams.
What if someone like Weyeneth has been hired and is performing well on the job, but an employer then finds out that he fudged something on his resume?
"If a candidate has been successful … and yet they're still lying, this is … concerning," said Robert Gill, director of people operations at Checkr, a San Francisco-based background screening firm. "How someone represents their work experience really speaks volumes about their character and integrity."
While it may sound like an expensive prospect, some employers use external screening companies to verify an applicant's education and work experience.
"The best use of a screening firm is for the methodical verification of employment, credentials and education after a hiring decision has been made," Rosen said. "Many background firms have a great deal of automation that allows the task to be completed very efficiently and cost-effectively."
Prices can vary greatly depending on what types of information are being checked, Gill said.
"While simple database searches are the least expensive, these are less accurate than a more in-depth check that can provide additional verification including past employment, job titles held, educational credentials and professional licensing."
As a rule of thumb, the cost of a reference check typically is less than an employee's first day on the job, Rosen said.
"The exact amount depends on how many past employers, schools or licenses are checked as well as the employer's volume of business and business needs. But the amount is generally minimal compared to the damage just one bad hire can cause."
For instance, a bad hire—especially one that an employer didn't thoroughly screen—can be a legal risk.
"[Screening] demonstrates due diligence in case a firm is ever sued for negligent hiring," Rosen said. "Even if all the employer gets [from a previous employer] is verification of the past employment, dates and title, that at least verifies the application, so the employer knows the past employment is accurate and real."
Screening Your Future Boss
Screening experts say that executives, more than rank-and-file workers, may not be as thoroughly vetted in the hiring process.
"There have been many well-publicized incidents where CEOs, head coaches or members of upper management were discovered to have falsified past employment or education," Rosen said. "The organization wrongly assumed a background check was not needed for someone at that level. The fact is that the higher up in the organization a person is, the more damage they can do and the more reason there is to do a background check."
Because a company's HR professional could be screening the resume of an applicant who could be his or her boss, consider hiring an outside agency or law firm "to prevent HR from being put in an awkward situation if something negative is found," Rosen said.
SHRM Online editor Roy Maurer contributed to this report.
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