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As an employer, you may expect a few lies in the hundreds (or more) resumes you receive. These discrepancies may or may not be intentional — a forgotten end date of employment or job title is average to find on almost any resume. However, you might not expect for applicants to both blatantly lie on their resume and ensure that their lie is verified. It seems like …

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We’ve encountered countless stories of job applicants lying on their resume, whether it’s been education or employment, somehow these tricksters have gained employment or even entered Ivy League schools based on resume lies. Several months ago the news was buzzing with the story of the Yahoo CEO, Scott Thompson who deceivingly listed that he earned a degree in accounting and computer science. The latter degree claim was a lie. Earlier this year it was discovered that the CEO had only received a degree in accounting from Stonehill College and built his career based on this lie.

Another fascinating fabrication from 2010 was the story of Adam Wheeler, who elaborately created a resume not with little white lies, but blatant claims of attending schools he never did and earning test scores he never received. Wheeler was admitted into Harvard and even attended until his lies were uncovered.

It’s troubling that if Thompson and Wheeler got away with lies like these, there are definitely employees that are slipping through the cracks all the time. Whether it’s a huge lie like these two or something smaller, it’s disconcerting that either these companies are not completing employment background checks or these background checks are not being done thoroughly.

A recent Careerbuilder survey revealed intriguing statistics from employers saying they’ve made costly hiring mistakes in the past year.  [...]

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I have been neglecting my blogging duties as of late and for that, you should be grateful! However, every so often I come across something that I feel passionate about. Today is one of those days as I have just come across an article that every job seeker should read. It’s about choices.

In this story, Steve was presented with an option. Lie on his resume and pretty much be guaranteed a job, or tell the truth and actually prove himself and his skills. Steve was more than qualified for a job but a recruiter told him that unless he made up a degree, the employer would likely pass. What did Steve do? Steve owned it! I love this guy, I love his story!

Choices to make the right decision or the wrong one. I am certainly not a righteous person, but I am a person of principle. I believe that in life you are presented with decisions; sometimes you make the right one and sometimes you don’t. However, its important to live with the consequences. People in life make mistakes.  Own it.  That’s your responsibility. This situation could have taken a completely different path; one that could have created dozens if not hundreds of lies to cover up a lie that wasn’t necessary in the first place.

Why lying on your résumé won’t pay off

Getting asked by a reporter about where I went to school made me remember the day I had to choose whether to lie on my résumé.

The job of a lifetime

When I got my first job in Silicon Valley, it was through serendipity — my part — and desperation — on the part of my first employer. I really didn’t have much of a résumé — four years in the Air Force building a scram system for a nuclear reactor and a startup in Ann Arbor, Mich., but not much else.

It was at my second startup in Silicon Valley that my life and career took an interesting turn. A recruiter found me while I was working in product marketing and wanted to introduce me to a hot startup making something called a workstation. “This is a technology-driven company, and your background sounds great. Why don’t you send me a résumé and I’ll pass it on.” A few days later, I got a call back from the recruiter. “Steve, you left off your education. Where did you go to school?”

“I never finished college,” I said.

There was a long silence on the other end of the phone. “Steve, the VP of sales and marketing previously ran their engineering department. He was a professor of computer science at Harvard, and his last job was running the Advanced Systems Division at Xerox PARC. Most of the sales force were previously design engineers. I can’t present a candidate without a college degree. Why don’t you make something up?”

I still remember that exact instant of the conversation. In that moment, I realized I had a choice. But I had no idea how profound, important and lasting it would be. It would have been really easy to lie, and the recruiter was telling me to do so. “No one checks education anyway,” He said. This was long before the days of the Internet.

Making the choice about my résumé

I told him I’d think about it. And I did for a long time. After a few days, I sent him my updated résumé, and he passed it on to Convergent Technologies. Soon after, I was asked to interview with the company. I can barely recall the other people I met (my potential boss, the VP of marketing, interviews with various engineers, etc.), but I’ll never forget the interview with Ben Wegbreit, the VP of sales and marketing.


We are in the business of finding people that lie on their resumes! Why? Well, companies are hit everyday with people who are not qualified for their positions and therefore make things up in order to get them. Organizations pay us because they know that we find over 50% of resumes contain falsehoods and in some cases flat out lies. These sometimes include fake diplomas, degree mills, false employers, extended dates to cover up positions they have been terminated from and so on. The interesting thing is that this is usually done AFTER the applicant has gone through a series of interviews and has already had the chance to sell themselves. Often times,  the lie is unnecessary.  The background check is being run because they want you based on you, not based on the “fake you.”

I love the lessons learned:

  • You will be faced with ethical dilemmas your entire career
  • Taking the wrong path is most often the easiest choice
  • These choices will seem like trivial and inconsequential shortcuts — at the time
  • Some of them will have lasting consequences
  • It’s not the lie that will catch up with you, it’s the cover-up
  • Choose wisely

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Chalk this story up to something a background screening provider most likely will not do now or in the future: ethnicity testing.

Massachusetts Republican party leaders are calling for Harvard University to investigate faculty member and U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren for lying about her ethnicity.  Warren claimed that she was Native American which GOP leader Bob Maginn says is unsubstantiated.  And because he believes that she got her job with the university because of her ethnicity claims, he believes this is academic fraud.

Check out the full story reported by the Boston Herald.

State GOP big rips Liz claim, urges Harvard investigation

The head of the Massachusetts Republican Party yesterday demanded Harvard University investigate faculty member and U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren’s claim to be a Native American minority professor.

MassGOP Chairman Bob Maginn slammed Warren’s claim as baseless and mocked her statements in response to the controversy over the past week.

Maginn said Warren’s actions “appear to constitute academic fraud” and suggested Harvard consider disciplinary action.

“The problem is that Ms. Warren is not a Native American,” wrote Maginn, a Harvard alum. “She is Caucasian. Despite her insistence that she is an American Indian based upon ‘family lore’ and her observation that some in her family had ‘high cheekbones like all the Indians do,’ she has failed to produce a single shred of evidence to substantiate her claim.”

Maginn said Warren’s actions “potentially violate” Harvard’s academic standards and the university is obligated to probe the Democrat’s actions.

“By Harvard’s own Code and precedent, Ms. Warren’s actions require an investigation,” wrote Maginn.

Warren campaign officials referred to statements released last week by Harvard Law Professor Charles Fried, who sat on the panel that hired Warren in 1995, and former Harvard Law Dean Robert Clark.

Both defend Warren’s credentials as the primary reason she was hired. Clark denied her heritage was a factor.

Warren listed herself as a minority professor in the Association of American Law Schools desk book from 1986-95 while teaching at the universities of Texas and Pennsylvania.

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By now, many of you might have heard that new Yahoo! CEO, Scott Thompson misrepresented his educational qualifications. But unlike some other high profile cases we’ve seen over the years (see Radio Shack CEO and MIT Dean of Admissions stories), Thompson didn’t say he had a graduate degree that he didn’t have.  He said that he graduated from Stonehill College with accounting and computer science.  Well, he did earn a degree in accounting, but the university didn’t offer a computer science degree in 1979 when he graduated: thus, no computer science degree.  As Homer Simpson would say, “DOH!”

How did this come to light? It seems like someone clearly had an ax to grind with Yahoo!  It’s being reported that the lie was uncovered by a hedge fund manager who is seeking more control over the company.

Does that excuse the lie?  Probably not.  But how many ways could this have come to life over the years the decades that Thompson has made this claim? You’d think an employer might have spotted it by conducting a standard background check, right?  That depends.  If all of his past employers conducted an education verification, this should have been an fairly easy catch.  I say fairly easy because there’s a bit of a caveat here.

If the University came back and indicated that Thompson had earned a degree as we said, perhaps the employer just assumed that if the accounting degree was earned, than surely the computer science degree was also earned.  And I could accept that for his earlier employment. However, when he became a major executive eBay and Paypal, you’d think this would have come to light.  Well, maybe it did.  Those two companies just reported his accounting degree on their SEC filings.  Do you think they knew about the resume lie and chose to move forward in spite of it?

And now to Yahoo!  Did they forget to do a background check? My guess is that they probably did, but they took Thompson’s word for his educational credentials.  I just don’t see any other way it was missed.

Is this a minor white lie or egregious fraud?  He might very well have used it to get a leg up early on in his career, however at this point in the game, the falsification did nothing for him whatsoever.  He was respected and established and his experience ran miles around the degree he never attained.

So now Yahoo! has a huge problem.  On one hand, this guy is probably the perfect candidate for the job. On the other, this lie has reflected poorly on the company.  Stay tuned.  His fate will probably be decided within the next couple days.

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EmployeeScreenIQ recently released our annual background screening trends survey: “Threading The Needle: Employment Background Screening in an Age of Increased Litigation and Legislation.” More than 650 HR professionals from across the country, in organizations large and small, shared their thoughtful (and sometimes surprising) insights on everything from falsified resumes to the phenomenon of Facebook in our revealing 20-page report.  Listed below is one of our Top Findings which deals with the type of criminal records found on a background check that concern employers.

Severity of Criminal Convictions Correspond to Levels of Concern:

It’s not surprising that 99% of participants would be concerned about felony convictions. In an increasingly litigious business world, today’s employers must remain acutely sensitive to their responsibility to protect the interests of shareholders, partners, customers and their workforce at large. Workplace violence, fraud, theft, sabotage of computer systems and other potential criminal conduct can have far-reaching effects on an organization’s reputation, its ability to compete for talent and its bottom line.

More interesting is the finding that 63% of participants would be concerned about misdemeanor convictions and 30% concerned about infractions and, or traffic offenses. Understandably, employers are interested in felonies for clear reasons of safety and security but their interest in misdemeanor convictions and infractions isn’t as immediately intuitive—until you read their comments (see below). Their primary interest in misdemeanor convictions stems from their need to identify patterns of potentially troubling behaviors or lack of judgment related to the jobs they are filling. In other words, it’s a matter of responsibility to their organizations.

It’s important to note that, as the percentages show, the severity of the convictions and offenses is directly related to employers’ level of concern—i.e., felony convictions are of greatest concern, misdemeanors are of lesser concern and infractions are of even less concern. And, as they reveal in their comments, employers are primarily interested in misdemeanors because they’re searching for patterns and/or frequency of troubling behaviors related to the jobs they are filling.

Download the Whitepaper now!

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I just read a great, albeit long article in my current edition of Fortune Magazine about fraudster Barry Minkow.  This story has it all: from love, crime, betrayal, corporate greed, personal greed and rags to riches, to prison stripes!   A simple blog posting will not do this story  justice. Fortune did a great job, Kudos to the author, Roger Parloff.

Why am I writing about it and what does it have to do with background screening, employment checks, criminal searches, credit reports or anything to do with background checks? One sentence, captured me to read on and think about our industry and the current debate of criminal recidivism.  That sentence; “His story is hard to read without pondering the question; Is Character Destiny?”  Is it?  I don’t know, I don’t think it is overall.(Character being your destiny) I mean it’s a strong general statement and could unintentionally stereotype some ex-criminals.  Is Character Destiny? It really begs the question; if you have a previous record and you just have the type of character that says, “Let’s make a quick buck. Do it the easy way and break the law,” do you have any chance at redemption?  It plays into what many of us in the industry argue all the time; there are just some bad people out there, period.

I promise, I will get to the link.  One more thing that caught my eye and that definitely ties him to the employment screening industry was one of his past side businesses.  In 2008, Minkow created a business that would comb through databases looking for inflated educational credentials on the part of corporate officers.  Great idea, right?  Sounds like he could have been a pioneer in the screening industry, one of us, one of the good guys!!  Well, he took this a step further.  When he found a discrepancy he would short the stock, leak the story to a reporter and when the priced dipped, make a nice profit.  He exposed resume embellishments at more than a dozen companies, including MGM Mirage, Broadcom and EchoStar.   Yeah, not one of us, not one of the good guys….not so much!

Okay, as promised, Click here to read the full story!

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It’s that time of year again.  A time for us to enjoy what we all know is the Super Bowl of all holidays, Thanksgiving!  And in honor of the season, we again offer up our annual Background Check turkey honorees.  So without further ado, I give you this year’s Turkeys.

Okay, that’s all I’ve got for now.  Need to make our annual pilgrammage to Cleveland for Turkey Day.  Have a safe and happy holiday.  But before I go, take a moment to enjoy my favorite Thanksgiving song of all time.

P.S. This post is dedicated to our director of business development, John Sferry; the only man who loves Thanksgiving as much as I do.

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We’ve just posted a guest article on EmployeeScreen University about the efficacy of resumes in today’s marketplace authored by Kevin W. Grossman, Chief Marketplace Evangelist at Fisher Vista, LLC and Check it out.

Okay, it’s not dead yet, but I want it to die.

I understand that there’s still a huge part of the career management industry keeping it alive, making it better and making it work for you, the job seeker. To all my friends in this industry, please forgive me, as I also understand it’s probably not going anywhere for years to come.

But I still want the painfully ubiquitous resume to die a horrible death.

Why? Because it’s a self-serving piece of inconsistently formatted and fudged professional drivel that really doesn’t help me hire true quality of fit. Just ask any background screening firm that does employment and education verifications. For example, EmployeeScreenIQ’s research yields a 52% discrepancy rate between what an applicant claims about their education and work experience and what they find when they verify such information.

Fifty-two percent. Sure, the resume helps me sift and sort to the short list, but a short list that’s almost half fabrication on the average. And if you as the job seeker take that risk and blatantly lie or embellish on your resume, and my background screening firm uncovers it, you are out of luck at a time of high unemployment where you really need a little luck.

Yes, embellishing the truth is fabrication. It doesn’t make it any better than an outright lie, especially if you’re telling me you’ve been programming native iPhone apps for the past six months and you really only took an online course six months ago and made one farting app, one that isn’t very good anyway because it sounds like a Yorkshire Terrier barking.

So what then do we put instead of this black magic resume full of lies and deceit?

Your professional online profile, of course. Like the one you better have completely up to date on LinkedIn, where thousands of recruiting professionals are scouring and sourcing every day. (And I’m not even talking about the majority of recruiting pros who search for online information about you across the internet and other social networks.) And by the way, much of the same advice you may get about building your resume applies to the online profile as well.

However, I get the fact that anybody can fudge an online profile just as well as they can a resume. But, there’s a peer pressure element of keeping one another honest in an online community where your professional history is available to everyone you’re connected with, many of whom you‘ve worked with or for at one time, if not currently, as well as the portion that’s available for public consumption if you so choose.

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According to People Magazine (yes, I really just quoted People), Top Chef finalist, Morgan Wilson has been indicted on charges of possession and intent to distribute child pornography.

Now, to be fair to the Bravo television network, it looks like the arrest took place after the show was aired last fall.  However, Wilson does hold a job with the Ritz Carlton hotel in Dallas.

So, here’s the question.  Should the hotel have known about this arrest?  Well, he was hired in 2007, so a background check at that time wouldn’t have revealed these charges.  It is, however surprising that the hotel wouldn’t have heard about this before the indictment was announced earlier this month given Wilson’s high profile status.

Okay, so let’s say that the hotel wasn’t aware of the arrest and charges.  What could they have done?  Many organizations are now performing criminal background checks on their employees on a regularly scheduled basis to ensure that nothing has changed since the time of their hiring.  Now, I certainly can’t fault the Ritz for not doing this, since those that do are still in the minority.  Just something to think about though.  In this case, it certainly might have helped keep their name out of the papers.

P.S. Not that the allegations against Chef Robert Irvine for resume fraud were even close to as serious, but this isn’t the first time a television chef has fallen from grace.

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