Part 1 of 4 on Employment Screening: The Importance of Validating Credentials

Hiring a new employee can be exciting. It can mean that the business is growing or it can be a relief to fill a critical vacant position.  It can also be very risky if the new employee isn't able to perform at the expected level, is intent on defrauding the company, or if the screening process is non-compliant with the applicable regulations.  To mitigate this risk, businesses need to perform comprehensive and compliant employment screenings.

This post, which is part 1 of a 4 part series on employment screening, will focus on the importance of validating credentials as part of a comprehensive screening process. 

Why Validating Credentials is Important

While the day to day function of each employee in an organization differs, the common thread across all employees is that they were all hired to create shareholder value and serve customers.  As such, each employee has a hand in either helping the organization achieve its full potential or fail to deliver on its goals.  Hiring managers evaluate employees based on what value they believe the applicant will be able to add to the organization in the future.  However, the data a hiring manager uses to make this assessment is predominantly what the applicant has accomplished in the past.  If the applicant falsifies her past accomplishments, then the hiring manager is making a decision based on bad information. 

According to Career Builder, the following are the most common resume lies:

  • Embellished skill set – 57 percent
  • Embellished responsibilities – 55 percent
  • Dates of employment – 42 percent
  • Job title – 34 percent
  • Academic degree – 33 percent
  • Companies worked for – 26 percent
  • Accolades/awards – 18 percent

Consider a likely situation where the hiring manager has three candidate resumes in front of him or her, all with the "right" education credentials for the position.  The statistics indicate that one of those three applicants really didn't earn the degree she listed.  One out of three!  Would that change the hiring manager's decision? I would hope so. 

If a candidate is lying on her resume, what will she do if she gets the job?  Personally, I wouldn't want to risk my firm's reputation to find out.  

Senior Executives Are Not Exempt

When I talk to businesspeople about validating credentials, I often hear the comment that resume lies are limited to the entry or mid level employees.  I understand the thinking behind this assumption and before I looked into it, thought the same thing; leaders are in the spotlight and therefore, are more likely to be caught in their lie as a function of their job.  However, consider the following examples of C-suite executives and those with similar responsibilities caught lying on their resumes.

  1. Veritas Software CFO Ken Lonchar claiming an MBA from Stanford
  2. Bausch & Lomb CEO Ronald Zarella claiming an MBA from NYU
  3. SAC Capital trader Matthew Martoma omitting his expulsion from Harvard Law School for forging a transcript
  4. Walmart Stores Inc.'s chief spokesman David Tovar falsely claimed a bachelor's degree from the University of Delaware

How to Properly Verify Credentials

Most importantly, businesses are smart to have an independent, unbiased party perform the verification.  If the employee performing the verification has met and has a positive perception of the applicant, then they are more susceptible to mistakenly verifying the credential as a result of confirmation bias.  Confirmation bias is a tendency to interpret information in a way that confirms the individual's preconception of the situation.  

Additionally, do not assume that their previous employer verified the applicants information leading up to their employment there.   According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), only 69% of firms conduct a pre-employment criminal check.  Therefore, the likelihood that they also verified credentials is slim.