The Epidemic of Misrepresentation

A recent New York Times essay focused on how “the confidence man” (or con man) has been committing fraud since the beginning of time. A con man’s success is driven by his ability to gain a victim’s trust via false information. Today, the ease by which candidates can misrepresent themselves or “con” prospective employers via the internet is increasing.

In 2009, ADP reported that 46% of reference and credential verifications “revealed a discrepancy between information provided by candidates and what the screening revealed on employment and education and/or reference check.” Although this survey was conducted several years ago, this trend continues, bordering on an epidemic.

It is not just education that is contrived. According to a 2014 survey by CareerBuilder, there are certain fabrications job seekers try to slip past employers more frequently than others. According to employers, the most common lies they catch on resumes relate to:

  • Embellished responsibilities – 55%
  • Dates of employment – 42%
  • Job title – 34%
  • Academic degree – 33%
  • Companies worked for – 26%
  • Accolades/awards – 18%

With a few swift keystrokes, anyone has the ability to create a LinkedIn profile that says anything they wish. The flip side is that the internet also allows the employer or recruiter to conduct more detailed searches on candidates. Nevertheless, candidates can stack the deck with additional supporting information – presentations on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and other social media, to substantiate the myth they want others to believe.

The New York Times essay by author Maria Konnikova goes on to say, “Caught up in a powerful story, we become blind to inconsistencies that seem glaring in retrospect.” The following example illustrates how even an intelligent individual can overlook “red flags” that reveal the truth. A forged painting—supposedly painted by Jackson Pollock—was sold to an art collector who had it hanging on her wall for years, yet failed to notice that the signature on the painting was misspelled, “Pollak.” “It wasn’t a failure of eyesight so much as a failure of belief: Faced with incongruous evidence, you dismiss the evidence rather than the story,” writes Konnikova.

The team at Executives Unlimited recently had our own experience with egregious candidate misrepresentation. We encountered two incidences – almost back to back – in which seemingly solid executive-level candidates’ inconsistent information finally caught up with them. After working with each candidate extensively, and continuing to ask the right questions, we discovered one candidate had two LinkedIn profiles. The second candidate posted numerous public speeches online, where we uncovered drastic inconsistencies in the work history the candidate provided. On the surface, these revelations were hard to see because the candidates’ credentials appeared in order; however, our extensive experience backed with thorough research enabled us to identify these discrepancies.

What’s Behind Misrepresentation?

Why are candidates misrepresenting their credentials? A recent article quotes Lorne Epstein, the author of You’re Hired, on the release of former CEO of Yahoo, Scott Thompson. Thompson claimed he had a computer science degree from Stonehill College when, in fact, that degree was not offered at Stonehill until two years later. In the article, Epstein surmised how cultural changes and the erosion of loyalty within the American workforce led us to where we are now — a world where our business leaders and politicians feel that lying is fair game if it means a better chance of getting ahead. “It’s a deeper cultural problem,” he said. “We don’t live in a society where honor is stressed as much as it should be.

The implications are far-reaching. Obviously, false claims are often sufficient cause for firing, but legal action might also be taken. An employee may be sued in civil court by an employer for damages resulting from misrepresentation. At least 11 states have made misrepresentation of employment qualifications a criminal offense. The law aside, a person’s career and reputation can be gravely damaged, resulting in the inability to find another job.

Stay Ahead of the Candidate

The need to conduct more thorough screenings of each candidate, especially for executive leader positions, goes without saying. The best way to defend against fraudulent claims or misrepresentation is to employ an experienced executive search and recruiting firm skilled in identifying, verifying, and placing talent.

At Executives Unlimited, we are committed to the executive search process. For information about our services, please call us at (866) 957-4466 or contact us online today.

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