Hiring Lessons From The Resume Lies Of Rep. George Santos

Trusting resume content is a main cause for the outrageous 46% new hire failure rate (within 18 months). Unfortunately, lies on resumes are becoming even more common because 85% of employers have uncovered a lie or misrepresentation in a candidate’s resume or job application. Alarmingly, lying is up 66% from just five years before. Yet most hiring managers and recruiting leaders continue to drastically underestimate both the extent of this resume fraud and the many negative impacts that it has on the company and individual teams. Recently, it has become an even more serious problem. Because several years of talent shortages have caused many HR departments to use extremely shortened background checks. Or in some cases, these critical resume assessments have been completely stopped.

When Do The Most And The Fewest Lies Occur In Resumes?

Not all types of resumes or resume content areas contain the same number of lies. So, it’s smart to know upfront what areas need special attention.

  • Most resume lies appear in “years of work experience” – the most common content area where candidates lie is their “years of experience.” Where 46% admitted to being dishonest about their years of experience. 
  • Another common lying area is exaggerating their “accomplishments” – another common area of misrepresentation occurs when they list their individual accomplishments. Most are trying to look much better and “overdo it” in each listed accomplishment. So be suspicious of unrealistic successes like a long continuous string of successes. And be especially suspicious of extraordinary numerical accomplishments (i.e., more than 25 % improvement) or those results that are rounded off (i.e., increased sales by 25% or 50%). Exaggerators seldom even mention their failures, so consider it a positive when they admit a major failure (that they learned from).
  • Some resumes have much higher inaccuracy rates – because a shocking 95% of college students say they would lie to get a job. And 41% have admitted to having already done so). It’s especially important to verify the information contained in student and recent graduate resumes. Among the different functional departments, 55% of IT resumes contain falsehoods, while finance comes in second with 45%.
  • The fewest resume lies appear here – research has shown that the lowest percentage of resume lies occur in about “accolades and awards.” You shouldn’t invest much time in verifying them unless they are extremely prestigious. I’ve also found that direct quotes in the resume from managers or customers are generally accurate. And, of course, there is no benefit from verifying the accuracy of “not-required for this job” resume content (i.e., grades or degrees).


Resume Verification Lessons From Rep. George Santos, The Worst Case Scenario

What could be a better illustration of the serious problem with “resume lying” than the recent highly publicized case of US representative George Santos? Who literally lied in every major resume area. However, despite the extensive public scrutiny during his run for office. He was able to successfully “get hired” despite his across-the-board lying in education, work experience, and life experiences. If your team would like to eliminate being fooled by purposely dishonest and misleading resumes. Here are some proven action steps to consider.

  • Assume it’s all a lie – start by getting over your inherent “faith in people.” And instead, realize that the frequency of resume lying fully justifies starting out with a completely cynical screening approach. This is where you simply assume that any resume content that you don’t have backup verification or data on is assumed to be untrue. You must automatically disregard it.
  • Supplement your assessment with a global professional background vendor – background checks are critical for catching untruthful resumes. These vendor checks are necessary because 46% of resumes include at least one discrepancy between the resume content and the background check information. The use of external vendors may also be required if you have a weak background-checking process or if you are hiring internationally. They may also be necessary if you are checking education, licenses, and criminal backgrounds, which are often slow and difficult to complete. In these cases, consider hiring a highly-rated large background-checking firm to supplement your work (e.g., TruthFinder, First Advantage, or Intelius). Incidentally, if you want to check to see if you have a well-designed reference check system, you can find a comprehensive list of what’s wrong with most of them here.
  • Use their LinkedIn profile to double-check experience and education one of the easiest and most accurate ways of verifying resume information is to directly compare the resume to the candidate’s LinkedIn profile. Realize upfront that there is data that shows that LinkedIn profiles are normally the more accurate of the two. Because of the public exposure and scrutiny they receive from others who worked at the candidate’s same employers. In addition, be cynical of any professional in job search mode who doesn’t have an updated LinkedIn profile.
  • Focus resume verification reference checks on their former managers – be highly wary of “personal references” and any person who may not have been the candidate’s actual manager. Insist on contacting former managers because they are the only people that are most likely to know the details of your candidate’s actual work. Even if the candidate supplies you with the former manager’s contact information. It’s essential that you verify that you’re talking to the right person (which you can get from LinkedIn or other professional sources). Whenever possible, be sure and ask them about the specific resume content detail that covers the candidate’s responsibilities, skills, and accomplishments that are in their resume. Asking the reference to provide a ranked list of a candidate’s skills is a much better approach than asking them if the candidate possesses each individual skill.
  • Find more information about critical resume areas using targeted interview questions – it should be a habit to dig deeper into the major accomplishments and skills in the candidate’s resume with specific interview questions. The answers to these questions will provide deeper information about the extent of their accomplishments, knowledge, or skills.
  • Use social media platforms to find supporting information – if a candidate worked for a certain company or attended a well-known University. You should expect to find some indicators that support that affiliation on one of the major social media platforms. I do not, however, recommend using social media to identify personal habits or activities.
  • Give top candidates an opportunity to provide more information on disputed areas – when important resume information doesn’t check out, I recommend that you give the candidate an opportunity to clear up the confusion. For example, I once had a top student rejected by Google solely because my university said that they hadn’t yet graduated. Fortunately, Google gave them a chance to prove otherwise (the University records office had screwed up).


The Many Negative Consequences From Hiring A Resume Liar

If you were to conduct an ROI assessment of the value of a process that catches resume liars. You would find that there are many costs and negative consequences that result from failing to catch resume liars. They include:

  • The “honesty handicap” will cause you to miss out on many honest applicants whose resumes received relatively lower point scores – when an applicant adds significant boosting lies on their resume, their resume will naturally be assigned more points than it actually deserves when reviewed by your ATS, a hiring manager, or a recruiter. And that means that a much larger percentage of liars will move forward. While the genuinely honest candidates will have point totals that, even though more accurate, will be much lower than those that lied. Also, when you prematurely screen out many of the honest candidates (because the resume liar point total was artificially inflated by lies and embellishments). Because of this “honesty handicap,” many honest resumes will never make it to the interview stage. So you will literally never know what you are missing.
  • Liars are more likely to become a hiring failure – those that lie on their resume won’t actually have the required experience, knowledge, and skills in order to actually do the job. So when you hire these liars, their shortcomings are much more likely to make them “new hire failures.”
  • Without a formal process, liars may get hired anyway – most in recruiting think that they no longer have to worry about a candidate after having discovered that they lied on their resume. But unfortunately, at most companies, there are literally no consequences for resume lying. In fact, 59% of dishonest job seekers are hired anyway! So, you must include corporate processes that actually prevent the hiring of these liars.
  • Expect lower productivity – those that lied about their skills and capabilities simply won’t be able to meet your work standard. And that will, unfortunately, affect the productivity of both the new hire and the team.
  • There will be more safety issues – those that lie about their skills and capabilities are more likely to hurt themselves or others on the job. And if they lied about their criminal background, their history with that activity may spill into their current workplace.
  • They are harder to manage – resume liars will likely continue lying both to their managers and coworkers. And therefore, teammates, but especially their manager, will have to spend much more of their time figuring out when the new hire is actually telling the truth.
  • Customers can tell – those resume liars that frequently interact with customers are likely to be found out. And that will affect your organization’s current and future sales and your product brand image.
  • Anticipate legal issues – if the new hire lied in an important legally required area like licenses, certifications, or criminal histories. Your company may run into complex and serious legal, compliance and insurance problems.
  • Many recently hired liars will have to be released – after being hired, and you find out later about their resume omissions and lies. After investing so much in their training and development, you will have to release them. And experience the cost of rehiring.
  • Recruiter workarounds will hurt applicants, the rule of 120 – because many resume screeners assume 20% of every resume isn’t true, they automatically “discount” every resume by that 20%. That means that the 100% honest resume will in fact only get 80% of the possible points. It takes an embellished 120-point resume just to get a 100-point score. Unless you have a perfect resume, being honest means that you don’t have a realistic chance of getting an interview. And if the word spreads, you will stop getting well-informed applicants (and you will never know why). Tolerating resume lies hurts honest candidates.


Moving Beyond Just Resumes, The Two Most Effective Ways to Hire for Any Job

Regardless of the job, I have found that there are two almost foolproof hiring approaches that work even if the candidate consistently lied on their resume.

  1. Hire like you would pick a chef – even though I advise many high-tech firms. I recommend that everyone in every industry should hire like you would hire a top chef. Don’t be impressed by the fact that they worked at a high-quality restaurant or that they speak French. Instead, put them in your busy kitchen. And ask them to cook one of your difficult menu items. Using this method, you can best tell their competencies by their output. Fortunately, this “put them in the job and assess their output approach” works just as well when you’re hiring a technologist, accountant, manager, or recruiter. So, for finalist candidates. After the formal interview, give them a real task or problem that they will face during their first month. And then ask them to complete the task. In cases where it is not possible to put them in the actual job. Instead, give them a verbal problem and ask them to walk you through the steps that they would take to solve it. In addition, during each step, ask them to explain what could go wrong and what differentiates good from great execution.
  2. Hire them both on a contract – a college friend of mine Charlie B lied about literally everything. And he was so good at BS that he’s a hamburger cook. He came in first after the interviews for a chef at a fancy restaurant. Fortunately, the owner hired both the #1 and the #2 candidates on a contract basis for a weekend. The customer comment cards alone immediately revealed that Charlie B couldn’t cook anything more sophisticated than a hamburger. So he was immediately released. A related approach is only hiring a single individual but then placing them under a short-term employment contract. This is the best way to quickly reveal whether an individual that excels at lying on resumes and in interviews can do the job.
If you only do one thing – when you are trying to find out if a professional applicant is lying on their resume. The fastest, cheapest, and easiest approach is to first compare the years of work experience in the resume to those found on their LinkedIn profile (LinkedIn employment dates are usually much more accurate). Next, if you have time, check their resume content line by line with the same content in their LinkedIn profile. Note that any items that are included in the resume but are not found in the LinkedIn profile are most likely to be the ones that contain falsehoods.

Final Thoughts

Although this article focuses on how resume lying makes overall hiring more inaccurate. You should also be aware that most of our traditional hiring assessment areas don’t produce accurate results. Those with painfully low accuracy or validity rates include the ATS and recruiter resume screening processes, interviewing, silly tests like Myers-Briggs and emotional intelligence and most corporate reference-checking processes.

Author’s Note

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About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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