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Updated Nov 08, 2023

How Can You Tell If a Job Candidate Is Lying About Their Credentials?

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Adam Uzialko, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Editor

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When hiring for your business, some job candidates may need more scrutiny than others, depending on the position and the role they’ll play in the company. If they’re lying about their credentials, it may not be that big a deal – or it may directly impact your company’s security and future. 

Employee background checks can verify a job candidate’s credentials and ensure you bring on a quality individual who can strengthen your organization. However, it’s crucial that business owners and HR directors carefully evaluate when background checks are necessary and what method is best for conducting them. 

Editor’s note: Looking for the right background check service for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

Do you need a background check to verify a job candidate’s credentials?

Background checks are advisable when a potential employee in a key role could dramatically adversely affect your company. However, they can also be an unnecessary drain on finances and your HR department’s resources if conducted unnecessarily as part of the hiring process

First, identifying the events and scenarios that can hurt – or ruin – your business is crucial. Ask yourself the following questions: 

  • What is your company’s risk of ruin? 
  • What events or scenarios could put your company out of business?
  • What could lead to business lawsuits or legal – criminal or civil – charges?
  • What events could cause personal or business bankruptcy

Next, evaluate the positions for which you’re hiring and determine if a bad hire in those job roles can potentially ruin your business.  

When is a background check necessary?

Consider the roles in your company that require employees to have close – and often unsupervised – access to the following:

  • Personal financial information, including Social Security numbers and personal and business bank accounts
  • Medical and health records 
  • Prescription drugs and controlled substances 
  • Homes and offices 
  • Young or vulnerable populations, including school-aged children under age 18 and elderly adults
  • Media outlets (serving as spokespeople)
  • Elected officials or C-suite executives

Background checks are advisable for employees in the above scenarios. Additionally, review local, state and federal laws for background check requirements applicable to your industry. Those laws are designed to protect the general public, customers, employees and your company.  

Did You Know?Did you know

You’ll conduct background checks based on the job position – not how you feel about an individual candidate. All job candidates should experience the same selection process and not be subjected to subconscious bias or discrimination.

When is a background check unnecessary?

Consider your ROI for conducting background checks on specific roles in your company. For example, the following roles are unlikely to create legal, financial or reputational damage:

  • Office workers who don’t interact with the public
  • Minimum-wage employees in industries like food service, retail, and entertainment
  • Employees with little decision-making authority or autonomy whose roles are part of a larger process 

Conducting a background check on job candidates for such positions would likely be unnecessary. 

TipTip

There are six types of background checks: identity verification, criminal record checks, MVR reports, credit checks, education verification and social media screenings.

What are the options for background checks and verifying credentials?

There are several ways to perform background checks and conduct credential verifications. 

1. Conduct do-it-yourself background checks. 

A DIY approach involves a manager, business owner or in-house HR employee working to verify candidates’ claims to the best of their ability. This process varies by employer, but it typically leans heavily on candidate-provided information, reference check questions and internet searches.

“DIY verification [is] where the employer or recruiter screens the job candidate by contacting references to verify employment history, skimming through databases to verify educational credentials, comparing resumes with LinkedIn profiles and checking social media,” explained Chris Chancey, professional recruiter and founder of Amplio Recruiting.

There are some pros and cons to DIY background checks.

Pros

  • DIY background checks are inexpensive. A DIY approach costs only the time and resources an employer dedicates to the project. For a small candidate pool applying for a low-level job, the process is typically quick and informal. It’s meant to give the employer a better idea of a candidate’s resume accuracy and whether they’ve lied on their resume.
  • DIY background checks bring firsthand knowledge. A DIY approach gives an employer intimate knowledge of each candidate. In contrast, a third-party service (see below) provides a final report without the nuances gleaned from gathering information firsthand.

You can make credential validation easier by asking candidates to bring proof to their interviews. “A useful method of making this process more efficient is to ask candidates to bring proof of their credentials to their interview,” advised Steve Pritchard, an HR consultant and founder of the It Works Media agency. “This way, rather than doing the research yourself, you can verify their qualifications at the interview. Validating credentials in this way shouldn’t cost anything other than time and [human resources].” 

Cons

  • DIY background checks require a time investment. A DIY approach is time-consuming, taking employers or team members away from other tasks. While it might not cost any money upfront, DIY background checks are still an investment of business resources that would otherwise be dedicated to day-to-day operations.
  • DIY background checks have a limited scope. A DIY approach will likely be limited in scope because most employers wouldn’t be able to access the databases background check services can query. Employers taking a DIY approach rely on sources and documentation the candidate provides. There may be more to the picture, and employers can’t be sure they’re not missing anything.
  • DIY background checks have a high risk of errors. Without the expertise of professional background check services, employers run the risk of committing errors or overlooking common red flags. For example, a candidate might have been subject to a concerning lawsuit. However, if an employer fails to run the proper search (or queries the wrong sources), they may never know.

“DIY verification tends to only scratch the surface,” Chancey explained. “Employers can easily miss subtle discrepancies in a job candidate’s resume and cover letter and therefore make a poor hiring decision.”

TipTip

Employers must maintain FCRA compliance when performing background checks. For example, they must tell candidates if they plan to run a consumer credit report.

2. Use background check services to verify candidates.

Background check services are handy when employers don’t want to verify candidates themselves or feel a professional third party would better handle it. The best background check services screen candidates, provide background check reports for the employer’s review and help employers avoid hiring horror stories. Background checks generally review criminal history at the federal and state levels and verify past employment and educational attainment.

“Manual verification of job candidates, especially in high-volume situations, may be impractical,” Chancey noted. “For best results, employers should consider partnering with a reliable background screening vendor. Look for a vendor whose screening platform is easy to use and takes out the hassle of verifying multiple candidates, integrates with other HR systems, such as the applicant tracking system, and whose capabilities can be customized to the needs of your organization.”

There are some pros and cons to background check services.

Pros

  • Background check services have experience. Most background check services are experienced enough to know where to look for sensitive public information that a DIY verification process will likely miss.
  • Background check services save internal resources. Hiring a background check service means employers won’t divert resources from day-to-day business operations.

Cons

  • Background check services vary in quality. As with any service, providers will vary in quality. Employers should ask for a breakdown of what they’ll get for their money upfront. Employers should also ask which databases a service will query, which social media platforms it will cross-reference, and how it will verify past employment and educational attainment claims.
  • Background check services have upfront costs. Outsourcing background checks to a third-party service will cost money. Generally, these services cost anywhere from $20 to $100 per candidate, depending on the level of service required.
  • Background check services aren’t foolproof. There’s no guarantee your background check will be all-encompassing. “These methods can miss a huge amount,” warned Bruce Gerstman, corporate investigations expert and founder of Waterfront Intelligence. “When you’re looking at someone who is 40 years old, they’ve probably lived in a few different places over their lifetime. Each place has different ways of finding public information like lawsuits or criminal records.” In some cases, Gerstman added, inquiring parties might even need to travel to a local courthouse to obtain the relevant records. For more sensitive positions, a deeper dive might be needed.
TipTip

You may need to conduct an employment credit check on a candidate who will handle business funds or client money.

3. Conduct deeper background check investigations.

Background check investigations go even deeper than a typical background check service. According to Gerstman, these investigations include any known aliases of the candidate in question, all their past addresses and searches of government databases at all levels. These investigations also include a review of the assets and properties a candidate owns, media reports regarding companies they’ve worked for, and a deep dive into their education.

“For executives, there are a number of research firms that will take the time to have an analyst focus on that [candidate],” Gerstman said. “A real human or team of humans will go beyond Google and private databases … to look at all possible controversies the candidate has been in in the public domain.”

There are some pros and cons to background check investigations.

Pros

  • Background check investigations are extremely thorough. Background check investigations are comprehensive, personalized candidate reviews that offer a detailed window into who they are, both professionally and personally. New hires in highly visible roles, such as a C-suite executive, reflect the company, so understanding this level of detail is critical to protecting the business’s reputation.
  • Background check investigations are reliable. Background check investigations are highly reliable because they’re so detailed. Since a human team has taken the time to contact primary sources and gather intimate details about a candidate’s life to the greatest extent possible, employers can trust that the information is legitimate and verified.

Cons

  • Background check investigations are costly. Naturally, a detailed investigation into a candidate’s background costs much more than a simple background check. These investigations range widely in cost, from roughly $3,000 to $15,000, according to Gerstman, who added that costs vary by company. As a result, background investigations are likely only suitable for businesses with large budgets hiring for high-profile positions.
  • Background check investigations are time-consuming. Background investigations can also be time-consuming, requiring a team to piece together information from disparate and sometimes hard-to-reach sources. Employing a background investigator could slow the hiring process and extend the time a position is left vacant.

“When you’re looking at just a typical employee versus one of the C-suite executives, there’s a much higher risk associated with the executive,” Gerstman said. “Not only do they make considerably more money, but they’re high-profile and often in the media. So, the initial investment of background research into a C-suite executive should be seen as a smart strategic move.”

Did You Know?Did you know

If you discover an employee lied or has an unsuitable background, you can rescind the job offer. However, you should consult an attorney to ensure you’re not opening the business to potential litigation.

Why background checks and investigations are invaluable

Hiring mistakes can have an outsized impact on a company’s bottom line. Poor customer service, bad press and even legal action can result from hiring the wrong person, especially if their role interacts with sensitive information or high-profile customers. 

Background checks and investigations have many levels and customization options. You can complete them internally without special training, use highly skilled and expensive external vendors, or work with a combination of resources.

Business owners and HR directors must consider the risk of damage or ruin to a company if a job candidate ends up being a liar and bad hire – and they could have prevented it.

Leslie Pankowski contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

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Adam Uzialko, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Editor
Adam Uzialko, senior editor of Business News Daily, is not just a professional writer and editor — he’s also an entrepreneur who knows firsthand what it’s like building a business from scratch. His experience as co-founder and managing editor of a digital marketing company imbues his work at Business News Daily with a perspective grounded in the realities of running a small business. Since 2015, Adam has reviewed hundreds of small business products and services, including contact center solutions, email marketing software and text message marketing software. Adam uses the products, interviews users and talks directly to the companies that make the products and services he covers. He specializes in digital marketing topics, with a focus on content marketing, editorial strategy and managing a team.
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