Background checks finding more resume discrepancies

By DEBORAH M. TODD | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | Published: August 12, 2012

PITTSBURGH — Hoping to build a news team with the chops and experience to cover the chaotic 9/11 aftermath, Fox News officials thought they had a good start with Joseph A. Cafasso. Hired toward the end of 2001, Mr. Cafasso boasted of a background as a retired Army lieutenant colonel, decorated Vietnam War veteran and gifted storyteller who just happened to take part in a failed covert mission to free U.S. hostages from Iran.

It would have been nearly impossible for Fox to find a candidate who could top Mr. Cafasso's credentials — had any of them been true. As it was, his illustrious military career had taken place over the course of 44 days and ended in 1976 with an honorable discharge as a private first class. His tenure at Fox ended March 2002 with a much less honorable discharge from the network's Washington bureau.

A gifted storyteller indeed.

Mr. Cafasso's tale is only one of 17 examples cited in the "Resumé Liars Club," a list created by Washington, D.C.-based investigative services firm Marquet International. But in a jobs market where hundreds of applicants vie for a single position, it's a given that the list will grow, said the firm's CEO, Christopher Marquet.

"With more resumes out there floating around these days, it seems likely there are going to be more incidences of resume fraud," he said.

The issue of resume fraud gained traction in May with revelations that former Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson and former MIT Dean of Admissions Marilee Jones resigned because of false credentials. However, statistics show it's far from a new trend. Using empirical data and the firm's own statistics from 30 years of vetting senior executives, Marquet International estimates that about 33 percent of resumes are falsified in some way. A 2009 study done by Roseland, N.J.-based data processing firm ADP showed that 46 percent of 5.5 million background checks revealed resume discrepancies, up from 45 percent the previous year and from 41 percent in 2007.

Job seekers generally start out with good intentions when it comes to running down work histories, but can find themselves on a slippery slope by bending the truth to suit a specific job title, Mr. Marquet said. The most commonly told lies, according to a Marquet study, involve length of employment, enhanced job titles or inflated past accomplishments, omissions of past employment, false credentials or educational experience, false references and inaccurate military records, unexplained lapses in employment and lying about why previous employment ended.

"Everyone wants to put their best foot forward, and some people do that by enhancing or embellishing their resumes. In rare cases they can step over the line by omitting crucial things, putting things down that are not true, adding credentials that aren't accurate," Mr. Marquet said.

Remedies such as background checks seem like obvious solutions, but adept liars can craft a resume in a way that falsehoods won't show up through a public records search, said Ray Bixler, CEO of Philadelphia-based reference assessment company SkillSurvey.

One can easily call a university's registrar office to confirm a degree, but there's no simple way to prove that person was considered a leader during their work study assignment unless there's contact with their previous supervisor. Additionally, human resources officials tend to provide general employment verification for reference checks and don't delve into the details of an employee's history because of legal concerns.

Mr. Bixler said SkillSurvey's Pre-Hire 360 program, an online system that allows hiring managers to hear directly from candidates' former supervisors, is one way to close the gap between what's said on a resume and the truth.

"There are a lot of behaviors that get people fired but don't end up on background checks," Mr. Bixler said. "But how someone behaves with other people clearly comes out with SkillSurvey assessments."

Considering the fact that some candidates' lies fly under the radar for years, Mr. Marquet suggests that complete background checks should be done before hiring any candidate, no matter how competent or sincere they might seem.

"As time goes on, people become convinced of their own embellishments," he said.



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