Checkster, a reference checking company, has found that 78% of job candidates either misrepresent or consider misrepresenting themselves during the hiring process. And a survey by career advice company ResumeLab reveals that 56% of applicants either lied or “stretched the truth” in recent interviews. Findings of other studies vary, but the takeaway is generally consistent: Don’t assume resumé claims or interview answers are truthful. Verify applicant representations and consider performing formal background checks.
Why it matters
Some job candidate misrepresentations are relatively benign. A Monster “Future of Work” study finds that many applicants (60%) say they’ve mastered a skill when, in reality, their knowledge is basic. A beginner level Excel user may claim mastery in the software, but if the job calls for little or no Excel use, you may be able to overlook the exaggeration.
However, if you’re hiring for an accounts payable position, you probably don’t want a person to be deeply in debt and with a strong incentive to commit fraud. Or if you’ll be issuing a company car, you likely don’t want to hire someone claiming to be a safe driver when a background check reveals a slew of moving violations.
At a minimum
If you’re seriously considering a candidate, ask former employers to confirm dates of employment, job titles and other resumé information, and then ask about the applicant’s work habits and reliability. Many employers won’t divulge more than factual information because they fear lawsuits. But if you pay close attention, their tone of voice may be revealing.
Also, if possible, verify education and certifications listed on the resumé and check whether disciplinary action has ever been taken. If the position involves handling cash, operating company equipment, purchasing or other sensitive duties, consider conducting a formal background check.
Check your state’s laws
Before conducting any checks (or hiring a service to conduct them), obtain written authorization from the job applicant, and find out from your state attorney general’s office what state laws prohibit. In most states, employers can look at driving, credit, criminal and court records. But in some states, you can look at an applicant’s criminal history only if you’re hiring for certain positions, such as a child care worker.
Whatever information you collect, make sure it’s related to the job. Keep in mind that you may not be able to use everything you dig up in making your hiring decision. If a potential CFO declared personal bankruptcy six years ago, that’s not a valid reason to deny employment. If, however, the applicant has been convicted of bankruptcy fraud, you’re probably justified in not hiring the person.
Medical records generally are off-limits to employers. Some workers’ compensation information is public record, but you can only use it if the injury involved would interfere with the person’s ability to perform a certain job. Military records also are generally private, though the military may provide information such as rank, assignments, awards, salary and duty status.
Due to liability risk, you should consult an attorney when establishing your company’s background check procedures.