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Fact-finding mission

News Analysis
Jan 27, 20035 mins
Data CenterResumes

Ask lots of questions to squeeze the air from inflated resumés and uncover false claims.

A red flag waved when Vivek Kundra heard his new consultant with a degree from Stanford University mispronounce the Ivy League school as “Stamford.”

Kundra, IT director for Arlington County, Va., asked the consultant if he knew a professor. The consultant said he didn’t, then clarified that he meant he attended Stamford University in England. “That’s when it clicked in my mind,” says Kundra, realizing something was amiss. “It’s one thing to be ambiguous, and another to straight-out lie. Lying on a resumé is a sign of what’s to come.”

After playing a role in selecting the consultant to bring in, Kundra had trusted the consulting firm to verify the resumé of its employee. Within three weeks slacking performance contradicted the claimed credentials of a PhD and 15 years of experience.

When the consultant arrived for the job, Kundra asked him to spend a few weeks researching a PDA implementation strategy and present his recommendations in a report. “I wasn’t happy with his first presentation . . . technically he couldn’t perform. When asked about security considerations he tried to duck and dodge the question,” he says.

The deception resulted in six weeks of lost contract wages because Kundra refused to pay for inept performance. Eventually a more-experienced consultant came in to finish the project. Only then did Kundra learn that his complaint about the first worker had uncovered the lies.

Resumé puffery ranges from inflations to untruths. But a verified paper trail and tactics such as technical drill-downs and panel interviews can confirm the context and depth of skills, integrity of responses, and openness of communication.

Kundra figures about 85% of the resumés he reviewed for senior IT positions last year included inflated experience.

But Jude Werra estimates fewer applicants outright lie on resumés. His management consulting firm, Jude M. Werra & Associates, produces the semi-annual Liars Index. The report measures the percentage of people who misrepresent their education claims.

Truth or fictionBased on roughly 300 resumés, results calculated for the second half of 2002 show a decline to 13.71%, the lowest cumulative two-year average ever (see graphic). Still, that’s more than many employers would like. “Employers rate a claimed, unearned degree as the worst of the inflated resumé offenses,” Werra says.

In Werra’s experience, some IT executives aren’t above misrepresenting their credentials. He cites an occasion when he wasn’t able to verify degrees cited on a resumé. Someone who learned on the job had falsely listed a bachelor of science in engineering and a master’s in business administration. “When faced with a client like that, he’s out,” Werra says. “You can’t rely on that person.”

The firm also polls its newsletter readers about a series of resumé misrepresentations that include leaving employers off, inflating performance results, and falsifying job titles or assignments, compensation history, association memberships, employment and school dates.

Exaggerating results or the impact on a business is a common way of stretching the truth. “A lot of results are of team behavior . . . rather than ‘I’ did it,” Werra says.

Kundra agrees second-hand knowledge can lead a candidate to misrepresent actual experience, “because they’ve sat in on lots of meetings and think they know enough to talk about it.”

Yet, Kundra admits it’s hard to ask the right questions about a technology with which you’re not familiar. The consultant he hired talked his way in the door. “He talked about all the work he had done in Europe and California. He was a very good communicator. He would look you right in the eye, use technical jargon, good posture, and smiled a lot.”

There are people for whom life is just a series of deals, going from job to job and tricking employers into hiring them, Werra says. However, he adds, “Career folks understand the value of telling the truth.”

Naturally, credentials alone don’t get people hired. Rather, it’s clarity of intelligence and values that emerge with dialogue. Drill down with lots of questions for an applicant to expose deceit, Werra recommends. “Most people aren’t good at misrepresenting themselves,” he says.

When job candidates don’t include dates on their resumés, Werra asks why. He finds that most will admit to not having particular experience but say someone else told them to include it.

Look for patterns, and you’ll probably pick up on the discomfort that’s apparent when something isn’t right. Learning that an applicant got fired and left a company off his resumé should knock that candidate off the list. The more someone avoids telling the story, or behaves defensively, “the more suspicious and less attractive they become,” he says.

Every resumé detail is fair game for asking about, agrees Joe Puglisi. The CIO for EMCOR, a construction and facilities service firm in Norwalk, Conn., says resumé details lead to questions about the team, and specifics of work done. “A panel of technical experts pounding the candidate with interview questions helps to validate experience,” he says.

Asking hard, technical questions should identify the gaps, but getting candidates to reach the point of saying they don’t know reveals emotional maturity, Kundra says.

Inflated resumés are a reality of the hiring process, says Puglisi, who spends as much time in an interview as a candidate is worth. “Everyone paints their rosy self . . . tech folks who only coded, and senior executives who take credit for increased sales when they’d only automated the process.” While Puglisi hasn’t caught a blatant lie, he admits to hiring people who were convincing enough but clearly not right for the job.

Responsibilities: To write in-depth feature stories about a variety of enterprise technologies and management strategies. Tasks include formulating story ideas, interviewing and writing stories. Past experience: Worked as Associate Features Editor at Network World compiling the technology Buyers Guides. How to reach: Best to reach early in the day, Monday through Friday.

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