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

How Can You Tell if a Job Candidate Is Lying About Their Credentials?
Credit: fizkes/Shutterstock

Information on any subject is more accessible than ever, yet it's often difficult to verify what is true and what is not. Making the right call is especially important when it comes to hiring new employees. According to a HireRight study, 85 percent of job candidates lied or misrepresented information about themselves at some stage of the job application process. Employers must thoroughly vet candidates and verify their claims to be sure they are hiring the right person for the job.

To do so, employers can either take a do-it-yourself approach or hire a background check service to verify job candidates' claims. For more sensitive positions, such as an executive role, employers might consider an even more thorough investigation. Each approach has different levels of investment and comes with its own set of strengths and weaknesses for verifying candidates' claims.

A DIY approach involves an employer or in-house staff 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 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," said Chris Chancey, professional recruiter and founder of Amplio Recruiting.

  • Low cost: A DIY approach costs only time and the resources an employer chooses to dedicate to the project. For a small pool of candidates applying for a low-level job, the process can typically be quick and informal, meant only to give the employer a better idea of the accuracy of a candidate's resume.
  • Firsthand knowledge: A DIY approach grants an employer more intimate knowledge of each candidate than the use of a third-party service. While services provide a final report, gathering the information firsthand gives the employer a closer view into each candidate they are considering for the job, which might help in making the final call.

"A useful method of making this process more efficient is to ask candidates to bring proof of their credentials to their interview," said Steve Pritchard, an HR consultant with Anglo Liners. "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 manpower." 

  • Time investment: One of the biggest drawbacks of a DIY approach is that it is time-consuming and takes employers or their staff away from other tasks. While it might not cost any money upfront, it still represents an investment of business resources that would otherwise be dedicated to day-to-day operations.
  • Limited scope: A DIY approach will likely be limited in scope, as most employers lack access to the databases that background check services would query. Relying on the primary sources or documentation the candidate provides only offers some of the picture, and employers can't be sure they're not missing anything.
  • 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, but 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 said. "Employers can easily miss subtle discrepancies in a job candidate's resume and cover letter and therefore make a poor hiring decision."

When employers don't want to conduct candidate verification themselves or feel it would be better handled by a professional third party, there are background check services. These companies are available to screen candidates, usually for a per-candidate fee, and provide background check reports for the employer's review. Background checks generally review criminal history at the federal and state level, as well as verify past employment and educational attainment.

"Manual verification of job candidates, especially in high-volume situations, may be impractical," Chancey said. "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."

Editor's note: If you're looking for information to help you choose the background check service that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site BuyerZone provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free.

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  • Experienced: Most background check services are experienced enough to know where to look for sensitive public information that a DIY verification process is likely to miss.
  • Outsourced: Hiring a background check service means employers won't be diverting resources away from day-to-day business operations.
  • Varying quality: As with any service, providers will vary in quality, so employers should ask upfront for a breakdown of what they will get for their money. 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.
  • Upfront cost: Of course, 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.

"These methods can miss a huge amount," said 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." [Interested in learning more about background check services? See our best picks for background check services for 2019, along with our reviews of some of the best services on the market.]

In some cases, Gerstman added, inquiring parties might even need to physically travel to a local courthouse to obtain the relevant records. Many background checks could miss information like that, he said. For more sensitive positions, a deeper dive might be needed.

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."

  • Extremelty thorough: Background check investigations are comprehensive, personalized reviews of a candidate that offer a detailed window into who they are both as a professional and a person. In highly visible roles, such as a C-suite executive, new hires are a reflection of the company, so understanding this level of detail is key to protecting the business's reputation.
  • Reliable: Background check investigations are highly reliable precisely because they are 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.
  • Costly: Naturally, a detailed investigation into a candidate's background costs much more than a simple background check. These investigations range widely from roughly $3,000 to $15,000, according to Gerstman, who added that the cost varies by company. As a result, background investigations are likely only suitable for businesses with large budgets that are hiring for high-profile positions.
  • Time-consuming: Background investigations can also be time-consuming endeavors that require a team to piece together information from disparate and sometimes hard-to-reach sources. Employing a background investigation could slow down 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."

Adam C. Uzialko

Adam C. Uzialko, a New Jersey native, graduated from Rutgers University in 2014 with a degree in Political Science and Journalism & Media Studies. In addition to his full-time position at Business News Daily and Business.com, Adam freelances for a variety of outlets. An indispensable ally of the feline race, Adam is owned by four lovely cats.