How to Avoid Getting Stung By Dishonest Candidates

By Mark Swartz
Canadian Workplace Specialist

You don’t really need a dictionary to know what resume fraud means. Not when studies show that nearly 50% of candidates embellish, or even lie outright, on their job application.
Getting fooled can be costly. You might mistakenly hire someone who can’t perform their duties. Or that person’s dishonesty could spill over into their work habits, causing havoc internally and harming morale in your organization.
Replacing a wrongly hired employee can be expensive and disruptive. Hence the steps you can take to prevent resume fraud may be well worth it.

Common Lies

Fabrications on resumes range from little white lies, such as embellishing job responsibilities, to whoppers like making up fictitious employers and references. Here are some of the more familiar ones:
  • Padding dates to mask employment gaps
  • Falsifying academic degrees and other credentials
  • Exaggerating job titles or salary
  • Inventing achievements that never took place
  • Claiming sole responsibility for team efforts
Avoiding Getting Caught Off Guard By Resume Lies
In times of economic stress, applicants may be under more pressure than usual to varnish the truth. Here are some steps you can take to reduce the chances of being played.
Early In The Hiring Process
Right from the start, you could flag possible fibs when reviewing resumes and make sure to question the candidate about these either in a pre-screening phone call or during the first interview itself.
When it comes to specific skills and knowledge the applicant claims to possess, you can administer tests or quizzes to determine if the candidate genuinely knows their stuff.
If you are unsure about the validity of academic degrees or other credentials, ask the candidate to provide you with official proof (e.g. transcripts or graduation confirmation sent to you directly, sealed, from the institution itself).
Consider using psychological testing to help identify questionable ethical behaviours which might prevent the candidate from fulfilling their responsibilities in an appropriate and legal way.
Before Officially Hiring The Candidate
Conduct a thorough background check. Include all references and the employment history provided by the applicant. Add a criminal record search or Driver’s Abstract review if you think it is necessary. You can either have this whole procedure done by internal staff, or else hire an independent agency to do so.
State in your Offer Letter that lying on the resume constitutes a possible firing offence. It reminds the candidate of the consequence they might face if they choose not to disclose a material falsehood before they accept your employment offer.

After The Candidate Is Hired: Termination For Resume Fraud
In most Canadian jurisdictions, employees who deliberately lie on their job applications can be terminated for cause, depending on the severity of their misrepresentation. Here are three legal points that the courts will consider:
1. The lie must be connected to the knowledge and qualifications the employer had in mind when recruiting for the position.
2. The content of the dishonest statements is important enough to be considered a serious breach of honesty.
3. An employer’s reliance on the statements and lies must be reasonable. In other words, if a lie was entirely unbelievable to most people, yet the employer chose to ignore or overlook the obvious facts, they usually will not then be able to fire for resume fraud later on.

What If We Let Some Lies Go By, Just This Once?
Employers may be tempted to skimp on the vetting process or let a few resume lies go by unchallenged. Is this such a bad thing to do?
Not necessarily. But only if the position you are hiring for is unimportant, or if you know the candidate previously, or if they come highly recommended from a trusted source.
Otherwise you risk lowering the standards of acceptable ethical behaviour for all other employees within the organization. Also you set a precedent for your recruiters:  why should they bother to scrutinize candidates carefully in the future?
Finally it could anger existing employees if they find out that you let the new hire get away with dishonesty, or that you turned down someone truly qualified instead.

No Need To Excessively Delay Hiring
Background screening, reference checking and skills testing can normally be completed in two to five business days. Sometimes there can be delays that are out of anyone's control: previous employers who will not return calls, schools that are closed for vacation, or a court clerk who needs to retrieve a record from archive.
The alternatives—cutting back on fact-checking or else accepting resume dishonesty unquestioned—can be much costlier. It is harder to terminate an employee who has lied on their application than to assess their candidacy thoroughly.