How much faith should you put in CVs?

If the latest survey by the Risk Advisory Group is anything to go by, it’s more important than ever before to take what you read on CVs with a pinch of salt.

In an analysis of 3,000 CVs, they found the number of candidates lying about their background or achievements had increased by 15 per cent in the past decade. In more than a quarter of CVs, candidates had embellished their academic achievements or not revealed the whole truth about their job history. The age group most likely to lie was 25-32 year-olds.

Hiring the wrong person can be costly for businesses – particularly if the candidate you’ve taken on turns out not have the skills you expected.

So if you’re about to hire someone, what can you do to make sure you spot when a candidate is not who or what they seem?

Scrutinise CVs

Automated recruitment process can certainly help you sift through a large number of applications quickly. But they don’t always pick up the small discrepancies that start alarm bells ringing. It’s worth going through the CVs of shortlisted candidates with a fine toothcomb. Look for gaps in employment history or job titles that seem incongruent with someone’s level of experience. These may be perfectly genuine and easily explained, but could equally be a sign the applicant is hiding something. Check dates and be prepared to ask candidates to clarify anything that doesn’t add up on their CV.

Listen to your gut

Sometimes your instinct tells you that something just isn’t right. A candidate’s story doesn’t quite add up, their past achievements sound too good to be true, they become a bit shifty when asked why they left a previous role. Don’t ignore your gut feelings – but do make sure they aren’t a reflection of your own unconscious bias. Candidates may stumble over answers, or fail to meet your eye, because they are nervous, or not used to interacting with people in the way that you expect. If you feel doubtful about how genuine or truthful a prospective employee is being, find a way to check it out.

Give the candidate the chance to prove themselves

The interview is your opportunity to find out if people’s CVs stand up and they really can do the things they claim to. If a particular practical skill is vital for a role, make sure you run some kind of test or assessment as part of the interview process. Ask people to describe situations from past roles where they have used a particular competency or applied their knowledge to good effect. Make sure you dig deep and are not charmed by an engaging personality and winning smile. There are people out there who are great at getting through interviews, but not so good when it comes to actually doing the job in practice.

Seek references

References are a thorny issue. In our litigious times, employers have become nervous about giving unfavourable references in case it comes back to bite them. Some companies have even adopted a policy of not supplying references at all. It is, however, definitely worth asking for referees and following them up. If nothing else, it will help you confirm that people’s job title, salary and period of employment matches up with their CV.
Running a qualification check is sensible too. The Higher Education Degree Datacheck (Hedd) surveys students and graduates about degree fraud every year, and the results are pretty consistent. They report that about a third of people embellish or exaggerate their academic qualifications when applying for jobs.

Manage the probation period

Most companies take people on for a probationary period of three to six months – but many fail to pay more than lip service to the probationary process. The early months are the time for you to check that the skills you were ‘sold’ do actually exist to the right level and to identify any gaps in experience that need addressing. It’s as much about being fair to the candidate as it is being fair to the business. New recruits need time to settle in and learn how things get done – and the business needs to make sure it has made the right decision. Make sure line managers pro-actively use the probation period as a time to identify what’s going well and what areas may need attention, so that candidates become effective as quickly as possible and the business has the chance to pull the plug if it’s been misled about an employee’s capabilities.

One action to take this week: Review your recruitment screening process. Assess how thoroughly you are checking CVs and pursuing checks and references and identify areas where there is room for improvement.

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