Embellished claims on a CV may make you appear the best candidate for a job, but they’re fraud.
Now employers and educational institutions are ramping up the fight against faked credentials to avoid embarrassing mistakes.
Andrew Flanagan had impressed the executive team at Myer, one of Australia’s biggest companies and best-known retailers. He was hired as general manager of strategy and business development, but had little time to reap the benefits, coming unstuck the first day on the job. Myer alleged that the American businessman used a falsified resume to snare himself a top role at the company, and the reaction was swift and punitive.
Flanagan was fired by Myer, then charged with fraud by the NSW Police. Court documents allege that Flanagan, 46, lied in his curriculum vitae (CV) and verbal employment history and references when he claimed he had held a number of senior executive positions. He faces four charges of obtaining property by deception and two of making a false document. He is also charged with single counts of obtaining a financial advantage by deception, attempting to obtain property by deception and theft. He is due back in court on 15 December.
“Lying about your qualifications or experience can lead to a huge breach of trust and brings into question a person’s integrity and honesty.” – Harriet Stacey, Wise Workplace
If proven, Flanagan’s audacity and successful duping of a corporate heavyweight is sensational, but what is shocking is that it is increasingly common: top-ranked executives down to lower paid rank-and-file employees are fudging their qualifications and experience as competition becomes cut-throat in an ever contracting job market.
Back in September this year in the US, David Tovar, Walmart’s vice-president for corporate communications, was readying himself for promotion to senior vice-president. Instead, he was instructed to resign. The University of Delaware had responded to a routine management inquiry about Tovar’s qualifications, denying that he completed an arts degree there as he had claimed. He’d been with Walmart for eight years.
In November 2013, Michael Vukcevic, chief executive of Baldwins, a New Zealand-based intellectual property law firm, resigned after the human resources team discovered two years into his employment that he had lied about his qualifications.
Related: The end of the embellished CV
Vukcevic had claimed he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Laws from Victoria University in Wellington, when in fact he never received the law degree.
Over the years Vukcevic had held roles as a director at Ernst & Young and was on the board of Transparency International New Zealand, a global anti-corruption agency that promotes accountability in government and society – all the while maintaining a falsehood about his law credentials.
Uncovering a fraud before a candidate is hired is infinitely preferable to containing the damage after the fact, says Phillip Guest, regional managing director for international recruiter PageGroup.
“It’s the financial damage that a company faces [for having to find a replacement] but also beyond that, the reputational damage that occurs, reflecting badly on an executive team that could not even get the basics right. This leads to general mistrust.”
Britain’s fraud prevention service, CIFAS, says in the first half of 2014, 63 per cent of confirmed reported frauds stemmed from employment applications in which candidates made fake claims about their qualifications, employment history and experience and, alarmingly, had managed to hide criminal records.
As a consequence, CIFAS chief executive Simon Dukes warned all new university graduates in the UK this year that fabricating information on CVs amounts to “fraud by false representation”, which attracts a 10-year jail term.
“While competition for jobs is fierce, the temptation to lie to make an application or CV stand out might seem appealing,” Dukes says.
“However, fraudulent declarations regarding qualifications, employment history and experience can have very serious consequences.”
Faked qualifications not only can lead to dismissal, he says, but also cause the employer financial damage and “lead them into reputational and regulatory trouble, too”, if someone is in a role for which they’re not qualified.
Harriet Stacey, a former British policewoman who now runs a national workplace investigation company, Wise Workplace, says CV fraud is frequently the trigger or a component in a set of allegations that a fellow employee or employer is making against an employee.
“Lying about your qualifications or experience can lead to a huge breach of trust and brings into question a person’s integrity and honesty,” she says.
“If the lie is about a skill set or qualification that is directly related to a relevant role, then the employer may have grounds to fire that person.”
Stacey says an employer is usually only prompted to involve the police and bring fraud charges against the employee if their CV falsification endangers other people’s safety (such as an unqualified person practising as a doctor or nurse) or if the individual could receive a significant amount of income in a role gained by their deception, such as in the Myer case.
But Graham Kittle, a partner with international executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, says it is surprising when fraud is discovered at a senior executive level, as most international recruiters are well acquainted with many of the potential candidates at the highest level.
"It’s the financial damage that a company faces... but also beyond that, the reputational damage that occurs, reflecting badly on an executive team that could not even get the basics right.” – Phillip Guest, PageGroup
“We already have an ongoing international database of CVs and all the candidates are heavily vetted before they even get there, before they are even considered for a position,” Kittle says.
Jennifer Bicknell, an employment partner at international law firm Kennedys, says it’s difficult to gauge whether CV fraud is growing globally but agrees that headlines about high-profile fraudster cases make it seem more prominent.
“It depends on how you define it. There is often embellishment, overstating or omission. People hide gaps in their CVs by not mentioning a sneaky job they got sacked from, or by not stating the exact months they worked in a position,” she says.
“Unfortunately, dodgy people are still definitely slipping through the cracks.”
Guest from PageGroup agrees that it’s hard to track the number of cases of CV fraud but says, at least anecdotally, it appears to be on the rise. But he adds that this may be because it is easier to detect inconsistencies via Google and social media.
“Perhaps it’s always been at the same level but now clients are expecting us to check more,” Guest observes.
“It also depends on the industry. In some areas, such as finance and banking, we now need to do criminal and bankruptcy checks, in others we need to check whether the candidate has the right to work and the right visa.”
Bicknell says that particularly in smaller companies, candidates are sometimes hired in a hurry by inexperienced people who may be reluctant to call referees or ask the right questions in an interview. She advises that in the current climate, all companies should engage in rigorous due diligence to vet CVs – it is easier to reject someone’s application before you hire them than to fire them after the fact.
Asking probing questions is the responsibility of the employer during the interview process, says Dr Robyn Johns, a lecturer in human resources management at the University of Technology, Sydney. She says the onus is on the employer to be sceptical and test a candidate to determine whether they have falsified details or duties around a purported role.
“Of course you want to believe the best in people, but it’s important to have protocols in place to determine whether they acted in that role, if they were the leader or just part of a team,” Johns says.
“At the same time, you don’t want to breach privacy when asking too much detail about another company.”
Dr Peter Heslin, associate professor at the Australian Graduate School of Management at the University of New South Wales, argues that HR managers need to go beyond a candidate’s CV to detect fraud.
“CVs should be verified by psychometric testing, by skills tests and seeing whether someone can produce a work sample and do the job they claim they did,” he points out.
Peter Wilson, chairman of the Australian Human Resources Institute, the peak body for HR professionals in Australia, says that while references are important, referees should not be taken at face value.
“The contact details for the referees should also be checked independently, by phoning through an employer’s reception, rather than dialling the direct number supplied by the candidate. Sometimes false phone numbers or candidates’ friends can be given to compound the deception,” Wilson says.
Kittle from Heidrick & Struggles says his company does a “360 degrees” referencing of a potential candidate before they are presented for a role and the whole process can take up to 18 months for very senior positions.
“We will have spoken to at least four people: their superior, their subordinate, people who they directly report to, questioning them in a systematic way about their work history, how significant an impact they had on the company, and was there anything to be concerned about in their performance, but of course everything we do is completely confidential,” Kittle says.
Employers should also look to social media to double-check information and referees, suggests LinkedIn’s Roger Pua in Singapore.
“Using LinkedIn can actually assist them in qualifying information on candidates through their network, and also from the skills and endorsements candidates have listed on their profiles,” Pua says.
He believes LinkedIn’s global set-up promotes accountability.
“LinkedIn helps combat the issue of inaccuracy of candidate information as the career information our members choose to publicly share on their profiles is potentially available to more than 313 million members worldwide, via their connections.
“We believe this provides a higher degree of transparency, as the vast majority of members value the benefits of maintaining an accurate and authentic professional brand.”
Employers’ ability to get colleges and university to verify qualifications also varies in each country depending on the local privacy laws and the institution’s policy about releasing students’ data without their consent. Johns says in many cases the data about a candidate’s degree is a matter of public record.
For the past two years in the UK, the government-funded Higher Education Degree Datacheck database (HEDD) has provided a national online data verification service for all employers. In most cases though, these institutions still require the candidate’s permission before they release details. And while this service is readily available, research commissioned by HEDD found that more than a third of British employers surveyed failed to take advantage of it.
To overcome privacy stumbling blocks, Stacey from WISE Workplace suggests HR departments should request, as part of the hiring process, candidates’ permission to check all their qualifications.
“If a candidate is keen to get the job, you’d think they would agree,” she says.
At the same time, employers should also require candidates to produce original or certified documents, although this method is far from foolproof. Using a scanner and a friend’s certificate, it is easy to produce a fake, Stacey says. PageGroup’s Guest adds that the practice of falsifying certifications is common in certain Asian countries, to the extent that his company now uses third-party agencies with expertise in detecting falsified documents and duplicates.
“In some markets there is a higher risk of fraud than others and we need to ensure that we are actively providing our clients with candidates with the right professional competencies,” he says.
7 ways to beat the cheats
- Use recruitment agencies with solid reputations, which have the resources to properly vet candidates and check CVs.
- Use LinkedIn and other social media to cross-reference credentials.
- Call referees via the company switchboard, not their direct line.
- Ask probing questions during interviews to test the validity of claims in a CV.
- Insist on certified qualifications or call the university direct.
- Have the candidate sit a test or undergo psychometric testing.
- Ask the candidate to provide work samples.
How BT keeps job applicants real
BT, formerly known as British Telecom, is one of the world’s leading telecommunications companies with 19,000 employees worldwide. To assist getting the right people in the right jobs, it follows a company-wide hiring protocol. Kate Witenden, head of HR Australasia for BT, says every candidate must undergo police and security checks, provide two references from their past two jobs and also a payslip as proof of earnings in those roles.
“Knowing someone’s salary says a lot about where they are in their career. All those things add up,” Witenden says.
“We also require that people provide originals of academic qualifications and also certain certifications which are gold in the telecommunications industry – we need to verify that they have not lapsed. We do not take them at face value.”
BT also uses an external company to do background checks on potential employees.
“Because of the nature of the work that BT does, when we deal with clients and have data flying across the world, we have to be absolutely certain of the people we hire,” Witenden explains.
“We also do full behavioural interviews and ask the hard questions, to get them to declare their real role in a situation. Especially in sales, you may have been part of a group effort but not the one who closed the deal.”
Access the following CPA Library items online at resume fraud.
- "Build, but also manage your brand", by F Wdowczyk, Bottom Line, 2013
- "What to do when a job candidate's resume seems too good to be true", Legal Alert for Supervisors, 2014
- "Resume fraud still major problem HR needs to address", HR Focus, 2012
- "A resume that reflects the real you", by Barbara Elmore, Baylor Business Review, 2012
Contact CPA Library on 1300 737 373 or email [email protected]
This article is from the December 2014 issue of INTHEBLACK