How Much Faith Should You Put Into Resumes?

According to Steven D. Levitt (co-author of Freakonomics and economics professor at University of Chicago), 50% of job applicants lie on their resumes; this could mean anything between embellishing a skill set to fabricating an academic qualification.

Hiring the wrong person can be costly for businesses—particularly if the candidate you’ve decided to hire 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?

1. Scrutinize

Automated recruitment processes 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 resumes of shortlisted candidates with a fine-tooth comb. Look for gaps in employment history or job titles that seem in-congruent 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 resume.

2. 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.

3. Give the candidate the chance to prove themselves

The interview is your opportunity to find out if the candidate’s resume stands 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.

4. References & Background Checks

It’s always a good idea to ask for references—and check them. But beware that in our litigious times, employers have become nervous about giving unfavorable references in case it comes back to bite them. If nothing else, many will confirm an employee’s job title, salary and period of employment so that you can check if it matched up with what they’ve provided.
If referees are unavailable—or unable to give out information—background checks can be used to verify employment and education history on a candidate’s resume—not just  criminal activity. This will show if the

5. 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 resumes/CVs and pursuing checks and references and identify areas where there is room for improvement.

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