In the age of e-resumes and data systems that store millions upon millions of historical documents, recruiters and employers now have the ability to look longitudinally at information in resumes provided by candidates over many years and map the “content drift” of this information. This provides an entirely new way of determining a candidate’s veracity when it comes to his or her employment history, write Deborah Ben-Canaan and Martha Fay Africa.
Inflating, changing, modifying or skewing facts so that they are not 100 percent accurate for the purpose of securing employment is not ethical. If anything, it causes the majority of recruiters and employers to back away from that candidate in order to find someone who presents himself or herself honestly and objectively.
You might ask, “Really? Who lies on their resume?” The answer may surprise you. According to a CareerBuilder.com survey of hiring managers and employees (and based on the other surveys we’ve seen, these are extremely conservative estimates), 18 percent of candidates lied about their skill set and 7 percent lied about the companies they had worked for. Over the years, our experience has led us to the same unfortunate conclusion — there are far too many occurrences of resume falsification. Some recent examples include:
• A candidate whose resume was exemplary; she was charming, professional and ultimately was a finalist for a general counsel position. A review of her resumes from earlier years, however, turned up several inconsistencies: a) different law firms showed up on different versions; b) employment years were changed; and c) the candidate had actually passed the California Bar much later than reflected in her resume. The candidate was pulled from the finalist spot.
• A candidate with stellar credentials was looking for an in-house position. He added a year onto his law firm experience, but neglected to mention that one of those years was spent as a summer clerk, and not as an associate. Additionally, the candidate indicated that he had two jobs at the same time, and upon further probing, it came out that he was only an intern in one of the positions.
• A candidate was looking for an in-house position. He morphed his solo practitioner experience working on some small matters for a computer company into an item on his resume that stated that he was actually employed inside that company.
We severed our ties with each of the above candidates after discovering their dishonesty. Being caught lying on your resume is a more common occurrence now that: a) the economy is so bad, and b) data is sent, organized and stored on a computer. Dusty file cabinets and lost paper documents have gone the way of the dinosaur. The old paper trail has become a much more easily followed cybertrail.
Candidates may think that stretching the truth a little bit is not a big deal, but it is. We have heard lawyers tell us that they only worked in a job for a few months, so they left it off their resume, or they had a bad experience in that job, so it was left off the resume and then dates were stretched to cover any resume “gaps.” This is deceit, plain and simple.
TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES
These types of career blunders can put a black mark on your reputation in more ways than one. If you are already employed and your employer finds out that they were deceived about your experience, you can lose your job. If you are in a high-level position, this also may mean unwanted publicity.
For instance, Michael Brown, the former FEMA director, was relieved of his management duties following Hurricane Katrina and resigned three days later amid allegations that he had falsified portions of his resume. And in a case much closer to home, the California Commission on Judicial Performance removed Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Patrick Couwenberg from the bench after finding him guilty of willful misconduct in office, conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice and improper action under the state Constitution. “He lied to become a judge, elaborated on his misrepresentation for his enrobing ceremony and subsequently lied to the commission in an apparent attempt to frustrate its investigation,” according to the commission’s report. Couwenberg had misrepresented both his academic and military background, claiming, among other things, that he had been a corporal in the U.S. Army, received a Purple Heart, participated in covert operations in southeast Asia, attended Loyola Law School and worked at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher — none of which was true. During the proceedings, Couwenberg’s attorney said his client suffers from “pseudologia fantastica,” a mental condition in which the person engages in habitual or compulsive lying.
Do you think you won’t get caught? Well, how about living with the fear that you may one day be exposed?
Additionally, recruiters are trained to read between the lines and can often pick up inconsistencies and oddities in a resume. If you are found by Major, Lindsey & Africa to have misrepresented facts about your past, we can no longer represent you to our clients as someone with integrity. We keep all of our old records and can check information going back almost a quarter of a century, and do so routinely. We also Google you!