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False Credentials for Sale

Kennedy's Column

These days, job seekers intent on gaining any advantage in a tough market don't have to falsify their resumes. They can hire the "experts" at websites such as careerexcuse.com to do it for them. What’s worse, the folks at careerexcuse.com can create an entire network of fraudulent references to back up those fabricated claims.

Here's how it works. For a fee, careerexcuse.com will fill in gaps on a resume by creating a fictitious job with a phony title and salary history. Depending on the "client's" needs, it can also provide a fake address, website, and even a sham 800 number where trained operators are standing by to give glowing recommendations when prospective employers call.

Smart employers have known for years that many job hunters pad their resumes. But careerexcuse.com goes way beyond the fudging that individual candidates do. The web site is a sophisticated commercial operation whose sole purpose is to defraud employers.

William Schmidt, the founder of careerexcuse.com, says he got the idea for his business when he noticed job seekers on Twitter and Facebook asking for phony references from friends and acquaintances. A few months ago, he claimed to have helped at least twenty people find work under false pretenses and “feels great about it." He says he performs a public service by "opening doors for people who need a second chance."

Fighting back
Since selling fictitious resumes and references isn't exactly illegal—at least not yet—employers must be extra vigilant. We recommend a statement in your application process granting you "the right to call any references about the candidate’s prior work history and character.” This gives you permission to ask any reference for the names of other people who knew the candidate you are considering, and to contact them. The idea is to smoke out phony references and “break the chain of names” of positive references from friends and associates.

Some additional pointers:
• Determine how well the candidate’s resume matches what they may have posted on LinkedIn.
• Use the candidate’s LinkedIn connections for references when appropriate.
• Search the Web to see if a company listed on the candidate’s resume actually exists.
• Cross-reference telephone numbers with an online reverse search to validate a company’s identity.
• Avoid calling 800 phone numbers for reference checks.

Unfortunately, even legitimate companies can stymie your best efforts to vet candidates. Fear of lawsuits has led many businesses to divulge only the most skeletal information about former employees, which is why so many reference checkers don’t check references thoroughly.

Yet given the lengths to which some job seekers seem willing to go, it's crucial to investigate carefully. And that brings us to the interview. We have long stressed the need for interviewers to probe for the authenticity of answers in an interview because of the limits to reference checking. In today's increasingly unethical environment, the interview remains the most reliable way to judge a candidate's qualifications.

Getting the truth
A successful interview is focused and probing. It goes beyond the information on the resume, which just might be a figment of someone's imagination. Equally important, an interview should be conversational, not confrontational. Decades of experience have shown us that people reveal the truth about themselves when they're relaxed, not when they're on the defensive.

In the interview, it may be helpful to probe for dates, names and specifics of the job that are not on the resume. Ask the candidate to describe in detail a typical day in that job. Find out the names of anyone they may have reported to or worked with and knows their work well. Suggest you may call these individuals for additional references. Prior to ending the interview, ask the candidate, “What else should I know about your job performance before I follow up on these references?”

We don't think that every job candidate lies. But we do think that the existence of web sites selling counterfeit references and even identities makes it a lot easier for today’s candidates to stretch the truth. That means due diligence is essential.