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Detecting the Con Artist

• volume 2 • number 6

Detecting The Con Artist

We recently had an experience that proves the importance of checking a candidate's references. We learned the hard way that even the most experienced interviewers - in this case, us - can almost be taken in by an expert and determined liar.

The case in point: "Bob" applied for an administrative position in our office. He was extremely persuasive and personable in the interview - so much so, in fact, that he seemed a little too good to be true. So we did some checking, starting with a call to verify his undergraduate degree. It turns out "Bob" doesn't have one. This knocked him out of contention for the job, but curious as to just how creative his resume really was, we decided to follow the paper trail. What we discovered surprised even us.

We found, for instance, that the market research firm our candidate listed as a previous employer had never heard of him, despite his claim to have worked for the company for three years in increasingly responsible positions. He had even regaled us with an elaborate tale of how he had stepped in to run a focus group when the group's regular leader failed to show up. According to "Bob," he saved the day, and from then on became a successful discussion group leader. During the interview, this story struck us as a bit over the top, even for the inimitable "Bob," but it was told with such power and conviction we couldn't help being impressed.

Prior to the research company, "Bob" claimed to have worked for a second-hand bookstore, but unless he was peddling paperbacks from his car, he did no such thing, since the store went out of business the month he supposedly began working there. The bookstore was a nice touch, though, because "Bob" clearly has the makings of a first-rate novelist. As for us, we've learned our lesson.

The most common way to "embellish" a resume is to claim an unearned degree, so we now verify degrees before interviewing any candidate. During the interview, we also ask the candidate for a list of references and a description of what each one might say about the candidate's job performance. Finally, we like the approach of one of our clients, who asks finalist candidates to bring in copies of their last two performance evaluations. A hardball tactic? You bet, but think of the costly and embarrassing mistakes it can prevent.