Do You Know Who You're Hiring?

10 Tips for Successful Candidate Background and Resume Checking

Man checks the references and background of a potential employee on the phone.
••• Kevin Dodge/BlendImages/Getty Images

Resume and background checks are integral to finding the right candidate for a job. During times of economic challenge when people are desperate for jobs and may falsify their information, checking the background and credentials of your potential employee is crucial.

Resume and Background Check Findings

Your review of employment application materials such as resumes, cover letters, and job applications must assume that a percentage of your applicants are lying about their credentials and job experience.

Experts estimate that 20 percent to over 50 percent of job applicants lie to embellish their credentials.

In fact, Steven D. Levitt, the co-author of Freakonomics, and an economics professor at the University of Chicago, cites research suggesting that more than 50 percent of job applicants lie on their resumes. In addition, cover letters are notorious for embellishment and exaggeration. 

An even larger portion of resumes is misleading. They may embellish job responsibilities or change actual job titles. They may even blur dates so the employment record is difficult to follow and confirm.

Employment application fraud is rising. Employers need to screen employment applications to discern lying, exaggeration, and enlargement of experience, education, and credentials. Fake degrees are on the rise; even bogus job references are prevalent in today’s job market.

Additionally, human resources (HR) offices report an increase in applications for most jobs.

This means that HR offices are weeding through more unqualified applicants and investing time and energy ensuring the accuracy of backgrounds presented on application materials.

In addition to fabricating credentials, desperate people will take any job offered even if it’s not the best fit for them or their needs.

This includes taking jobs such as part-time work, night shifts, and assuming unwanted responsibilities. Of course, their job search continues on the sly.

According to findings from the "HireRight 2017 Employment Screening Benchmark Report":

  • "Candidates, even at the highest seniority levels, are regularly embellishing their resumes.
  • 85% of survey respondents uncovered a lie or misrepresentation on a candidate’s resume or job application during the screening process – up from 66% five years ago.
  • 77% said screening uncovered an issue with a candidate’s background that would not have been caught otherwise.
  • Yet, only 49% of respondents verify candidates’ education credentials today, despite the many headlines in recent years of executive-level scandals involving falsified degrees."

Tips for a Successful Candidate Background Check

These are alarming statistics because they come from sources that actually check and save statistics about each area of potential fraud on application materials. Where does that leave the average employer in their candidate background check?

The time you spend on the front end will save you the time and energy you’ll spend later addressing unqualified employees. These 10 suggestions may save you the trouble of hiring a fraudulent employee:

  1. Review resumes, cover letters, and employment applications with a skeptical eye. Do not take them at face value. Faked academic credentials are also on the rise, so be aware of these as well.
  2. Ask specific questions about statements made on the resume during your initial phone screen and during the subsequent interview. Ask the candidate questions such as: How did you achieve the stated results? What did you measure to determine that you had accomplished the stated improvements? What role did you play on the team that rolled out the marketing strategy? What was your official title? What was your unofficial contribution? Careful questioning should reveal differences between stated facts and reality. According to Cari Tuna in “How to Spot Resume Fraud” in the Wall Street Journal, “When managers ask candidates about claims on their resumes, they should look for suspicious behavior. Red flags include broad, vague answers to specific questions. Other times, job-seekers refuse to say to whom they reported, or who reported to them, citing confidentiality."
  1. Background checking has become critical. Check every fact including degrees, dates of degrees, degree majors, employment history, exact dates of employment, direct supervisors’ names, job titles, job functions, salary history, and reason the candidate left each job. If anything seems suspicious, ask the candidate for details and verify the stories the candidate tells you. Ask the candidate for verification.
  2. Check the candidate’s history online using internet search engines such as Google and social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to see if the applicant’s history online differs, in any way, from the facts the applicant provided in all application materials. If you find differences, dig deeper, or ask the applicant for an explanation.
  3. Look into the candidate’s credit history for any position that deals with money, compensation, and any type of financial information. Employers have received an increasing number of notes from HR people who do not want to hire people who have poor credit ratings. They anticipate the increase in staff work related to such issues as wage garnishment, and more, that poor credit will cause in the future.
  4. Call references in addition to those that the candidate provides. References they provide are generally positive and will speak well about the candidate. It is unusual to find a reference who says, “No, that does not sound like a job he will do well,” in response to an employer's query,⁠which did happen.
  5. Call every recent direct supervisor and ask detailed questions about the candidate’s responsibilities. Cast a wide net to people you know who may know the candidate in their industry and among your contacts. In addition to using email lists to contact colleagues for recruiting purposes, use them to check your candidate’s background.
  6. Perform the same checks on any candidate who has been provided to you by a third party, such as a temporary staff provider firm or a recruiter. Even if you have an agreement with the firm about what they will check, recognize that no one will ever care as much as you do about bringing qualified, superior staff people into your firm. Every employer has found cases of fraudulent education, work experience, and several serious criminal histories that included violence, arson, and armed robbery when your temp firm has supposedly double-checked candidate credentials.
  7. Establish a no-tolerance policy and track record. If you find the candidate has lied or exaggerated credentials in any way, eliminate the candidacy. If you discover a current employee committed any type of fraud during the hiring process, investigate, and then terminate the person’s employment, if you find the employee was untruthful. Establish a no-tolerance policy as an employer and hopefully, your reputation will spread and deter fraudulent behavior in candidates.
  8. Perform background checks that make sense for your job and your industry. Todd Owens, the General Manager of TalentWise, suggests, “Drug screening is important if your applicants are going to be working with heavy machinery, for example, in the construction industry, or exposed to prescription drugs in the healthcare industry.

If the applicant will drive company vehicles as a part of their job responsibility, checking their driving records is a must.” Additionally, Owens says, “Take advantage of the National Sex Offender Registry database; it's quick and easy and will go miles in protecting your company from hiring a known sex offender, especially if your business is associated with children or the elderly."

Do appropriate candidate background checking to spare your company the negative effects of resume and job application fraud. Time spent in prevention by performing a thorough candidate background check, will save you time, energy, and heartbreak.