Resume fraud – Identifying the truth!

For those not familiar with the case, Andrew Flanagan was hired by Myer in June this year to the senior position of Group General Manager for Strategy and Business Development. He was fired on his first day when Myer was made aware via retail giant Zara that Flanagan had forged his CV. Amongst many lies, the one that shone the light on his bogus career history was his claim to have been the Managing Director and Vice President of Zara – they had never employed him.  It is not the first time that Flanagan had done this having previously duped the Speciality Fashion Group which owns Rivers into employing him in a senior role under an alternative name.

Regrettably, resume fraud and reference fraud is becoming increasingly prevalent in today’s business environment. Online companies such  are making big money from organised fake referees. Career Excuse, an online company founded in 2009, allows individuals to purchase fake job references. A “premium plan” lets customers choose a fake company name and URL for a website. “We then create a professional website and virtual office with ONE business day!” the company says on their website. In some cases, Career Excuse will even pin a location for the fake business on Google Maps.

Candidates may seek to use such services if they’ve had a hiccup during their career, don’t have a strong work history or are exceptionally ambitious well beyond capability (cue Flanagan). Naturally, this poses a problem for potential employers as dodgy job seekers get savvier when presenting their work history.

How to spot a fraudster?!?

A well-structured, behavioural based recruitment process delivered by trained professionals should be enough to weed out those candidates who aren’t telling the truth.  Each recruitment firm works to their own internal set of processes and standards, and it appears in this case that the devil was in the detail that was missed by the recruitment company that executed the process.

HorizonOne follows a meticulous recruitment model to ensure candidates are screened and interviewed using behavioural based questioning techniques. All claims are supported during comprehensive reference checks aligned with the specific competencies required for their position of interest.

Most senior executives are very good at talking and in this case, Flanagan was a professional con man with a criminal history. That said, skilfully delivered behavioural based questioning techniques will usually expose a scammer. A skilled interviewer would have drilled down to the fine detail. For example, Flanagan listed Zara as a past employer and naturally, with Myer being in the retail space, there should have been a strong focus on his time and achievements in this role. Questions such as;

“Tell me about a time when you struck a difficult stakeholder relationship when working at Zara?’ should be followed by “How did you handle it? What was the end result you achieved? What would you have done differently with hindsight? What was the response of those around you?”

It’s in these nitty gritty details that candidates will begin to struggle if forging the truth. At some stage they will slip up and a diligent recruiter will pick up on it. No one is that good of a performer that they can keep up the charade through an entire interview. Following on to check the specific details of their response through the reference checks will ensure the answers provided are genuine.

Also, pay attention to the ‘I dids’ and the ‘we dids.’ When a candidate uses ‘we’ to answer specific questions, drill down to the detail to learn what part theywere responsible for. What did they actually do? By holding the person to account an interviewer can better understand the candidate’s personal achievements and how their performance rates against others. Sometimes ‘we’ can in fact mean ‘not me.’ 

Just because you’re recruiting a senior position doesn’t mean you can glaze over the process

One may assume that much of Flanagan’s work history was not covered during the interview process due to his (supposed) impressive work history. Interviewers simply can’t be complacent or intimidated by a candidate’s seniority – nothing is a given. The same rigor must be applied during the interview process regardless of level.

It is not uncommon for some senior executive candidates to have developed an ego over time and they will deflect questions targeted towards their career achievements.

However in my experience, good candidates are proud of their accomplishments and they are both willing and able to articulate the details of their successes and learnings. It is when candidates avoid or are unable to participate actively in this process that concern is raised over their true competence.     

The almighty reference check

With all that said, if a professional con man like Flanagan does slip through the cracks the reference check – if done diligently – will pull them up. At HorizonOne we do our reference checks verbally over the phone and they are as detailed as the candidate interview.

Our reference checks are not a standard template and are not something that a referee could realistically prepare for. Rather than asking tick box responses such as ‘tell me about their ‘strengths and weaknesses’, we ask tailored competency based questions around the candidates performance and achievements identified at interview.

We align our reference checks to support claims made by the candidate during the behavioural based interview. Someone who is posing as a former employer will find it very difficult to align their responses with the behavioural based questions that were answered at the interview stage.

The power of social media

In today’s digital age, we also do a final check on the internet to try and spot any potential red flags that might indicate that a candidate is not telling the whole truth. In some cases, it is the lack of presence on social media that might indicate a potential problem. LinkedIn is particularly useful as most professional candidates these days will have a quality LinkedIn profile including recommendations and endorsements from relevant business stakeholders.

Common CV discrepancies

The red flag goes up when people leave jobs off their CV and/or gloss over the dates. Some potential candidates even go so far to leave dates off completely. Gaps in your employment history are fine, as long as they are clearly explained. For example a candidate may have taken a career break to travel, had a period of illness, taken compassionate leave or out of work because they resigned before finding alternative employment. It is always better to be honest.

For candidates who do have a blip, such as leaving a job that was not the right position, or if there was a mutual decision to part ways, again it is always better to be honest. It’s important to note that when we do a reference check we don’t just accept the referee comments as wrote – we raise questions about context. Where there has been a personality issue/clash, it does not mean the candidate was bad at their job.  We are trained at taking references, we can read between the lines.

Another discrepancy we have seen in the past is the misrepresentation of job titles. For example, a candidate may have spent 5 years with a company in various roles however their most recent job title, such as Senior Manager, is presented as their position for the duration of their employment. It’s important to articulate the different titles you have had even if it was within the same company.

And finally, listing qualifications that have not yet been completed along with listing a job description rather than actual duties undertaken is a deceptive behaviour. If you haven’t completed a qualification but the study is relevant to the role, this should be represented in brackets as ‘part completed’ or ‘incomplete.’

White lies always come out in the wash so be honest.

And as for Flanagan, well, he’s been charged with fraud by Victorian police.