As millions of Americans struggle with long-term unemployment, the temptation to stretch the truth on one’s resume to gain a competitive advantage is becoming harder to resist. Some desperate job seekers are going so far as to establish fake references. However, the payoff may not be worth the risk, according to one employment authority.
“There is very little proof that any form of resume boosting directly results in a job interview, much less a job offer. In contrast, there are scores of examples of individuals who have been eliminated from candidacy or fired after a fraudulent resume was uncovered,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., the global outplacement consultancy which provides job-search training and counseling to individuals who have been laid off.
The significantly weakened job market, which is expected to continue to struggle even as other segments of the economy begin to recover, creates an environment that is ripe for resume boosting. As of January there were 14.8 million unemployed Americans. Of those, 6.3 million or 41.2 percent have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer. Another six million have opted out of the labor force but still want a job.
Statistics on resume fraud are difficult to obtain because only a fraction of resumes are ever checked for discrepancies. The best evidence of resume fraud’s pervasiveness may come from the companies that provide employment screening services.
In its 2009 Hiring Index, business services provider ADP reported that 46 percent of employment, education and/or credential reference checks conducted in 2008 revealed discrepancies between what the applicant provided and what the source reported. That was up from 41 percent in 2006.
More than 22 percent of the tech-sector resumes verified in 2007 by New York-based risk consultancy Kroll contained misrepresentations of academic credentials, according to a company spokesperson interviewed by tech-industry publication IEEE Spectrum. The firm estimated that more than half of the tech-industry resumes it reviewed had discrepancies related to employment history.
IEEE Spectrum also cited a study of erroneous resumes by executive search firm CTPartners, which found that 64 percent of candidates overstate accomplishments, while 71 percent misrepresent the number of years they held a position.
“These somewhat alarming statistics are just from companies that make the effort to check the veracity of claims made on resumes or in interviews. The overwhelming majority of employers do not go to such lengths. Many companies limit their efforts to criminal background checks and reference checks. They do not spend the extra time and money to verify the accuracy of every job title, accomplishment and educational achievement listed on one’s resume,” said Challenger.
“This lack of oversight, however, should not be considered an open invitation to defraud the system. If discrepancies are discovered, many companies maintain a no-tolerance policy on such matters and will move quickly to investigate and possibly terminate. In high-profile positions, where the discovery of resume fraud often becomes public, the breach can taint all future attempts to find employment,” he warned.
Unfortunately, too many job seekers are willing to take the risk. Some have even taken resume fraud to the next level by providing prospective employers with bogus job references.
After spotting dozens of requests for fake references on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, one entrepreneur founded CareerExcuse.com. As reported in the human resources trade publication HR Magazine, CareerExcuse.com offers fake work histories and references to job seekers.
Desperation in this job market may force other job seekers to turn to outfits selling fake diplomas. Because of the underground nature of these so-called diploma mills, there are no reliable statistics on the number of bogus degrees sold each year. George Gollin, a physics professor at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign and a board member of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, the federal government’s recognized authority on accrediting agencies, estimates that 100,000 to 200,000 phony degrees are sold every year. Furthermore, he estimates that the federal government spends roughly $300 million a year on pay increases for employees who got jobs or promotions using fraudulent degrees or certificates.
The problem of diploma mills has become so widespread that Congress is considering legislation that aims to reduce and prevent the sale and use of fraudulent degrees. The legislation introduced in January by Reps. Timothy Bishop (D-N.Y.) and Michael Castle (R-Del.) would cement in federal law definitions of “diploma mills” and “accreditation mills”, bar federal agencies from using degrees from diploma mills to provide jobs or promotions that depend on candidates’ educational credentials, and give the Federal Trade Commission more authority to define and crack down on deceptive practices by dubious institutions.
“These are indeed desperate times, and desperate measures are definitely required to find a job. However, these desperate measures should not include lying on resumes, falsifying work histories, or buying fake references and diplomas. Instead, job seekers should be considering seeking positions in different cities, states, or even countries. They should reach out to people they have not spoken to in 15 years and identify all potential employers, not just the ones posting online and newspaper help-wanted ads. These are the types of desperate measures job seekers should be employing,” said Challenger.
TOP RESUME, INTERVIEW FABRICATIONS
(in no particular order)
Education: Listing degree from a school never attended; inflating grade point average and graduate honors; citing degree from online, non-accredited “education” institution.
Job title: Making up a title or boosting actual title by one or more levels in hopes of obtaining better salary offers.
Compensation: Inflating current or previous salary and benefits to secure more money from prospective employer.
Reason for leaving: Saying it was a mass downsizing when the discharge was based on performance; asked to leave, but saying you quit; underplaying or completely hiding poor relationships with superiors.
Accomplishments: Overstating one’s contributions to a team project or company performance; claiming to have received special recognition; exaggerating level of participation in an important aspect of the business.