There is something of a fine art to spotting stand-out CVs. On the one hand, potential employees will be determined to catch a recruiter’s eye by highlighting their professional brilliance. But on the other, how can you be sure that any stand-out statements you see on a CV are really what they appear to be?

If recent research is anything to go by, it appears that liberal embellishments are rife amongst job seekers here in the UK. Research conducted by CV-Library revealed that an astonishing 92.5% of people have gotten away with lying on their CV. Worse still, nearly three quarters of those who lied (71.6%) said that they got the job as a result!

Perhaps more worryingly though, fraud prevention service Cifas discovered that 1 in 12 people in the UK have lied about formal qualifications on their CV. Shockingly, 1 in 6 aged 16-24 admitted to this fraudulent conduct, with 1 in 5 in this age group also seeing this as a ‘reasonable’ thing to do.

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This really does beg the question: can HR teams really trust the CVs that land in their recruitment portals?

Separating the fabulous from the phony

Spotting bogus information in employee CVs is an imperative for HR. Hiring the wrong person based on an inaccurate or fabricated CV can be incredibly costly for businesses – especially when you consider that our research discovered that the average cost of recruitment per candidate to be nearly £1,800.

Along with the cost of replacing an employee being estimated to be around one-fifth of their salary, the consequences of a wrong hire can also be associated with a disrupted company culture, decreased work production, and potential loss of customers and revenue.

So, how can you make sure you can tell the difference between a diamond and a dud CV, and hire the right people for your roles? Here’s what you can do as an HR professional…

Carefully scrutinise CVs

Some HR software solutions come with applicant tracking software (or ATS for short) that will help you to automate your recruitment process, making it simpler to screen candidates. However, despite recruitment software making it easier to manage large volumes of CVs, you’ll still need to select the standout CVs and go through them with a fine toothcomb.

Look for gaps in employment history or job titles that seem incongruent with someone’s level of experience. Of course, these may be perfectly genuine and easily explained, but they could equally be a sign the applicant is either hiding something or not being totally honest. Check any stated dates and be prepared to ask candidates to clarify anything that doesn’t add up on their CV.

Don’t ignore your instincts

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, or 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 appear flustered in an interview because they’re simply 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 candidate’s CV stacks up and they can really 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 can be 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: instead, they may only confirm the dates of employment and job title, but very little else. It is worth asking for referees and following them up, though. At the very least, it will help you confirm that the applicant’s employment history 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 – it’s always worth checking if you have any suspicions.

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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Paul Bauer

Paul Bauer is the Head of Content at Cezanne HR. Based in the Utopia of Milton Keynes (his words, not ours!) he’s worked within the employee benefits, engagement and HR sectors for over four years. He's also earned multiple industry awards for his work - including a coveted Roses Creative Award.

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