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Preventing and Countering Candidate Lies

I saw an article recently entitled 7 Resume Lies Employers Will Never Check, on the excellent candidate-oriented web site Resume Bear.  This inspired me to write the anti-article – how to counter these lies that candidates think they might get away with. So here are the lies, and the strategies I would advocate to prevent, counter, and probe through the potential deception:

Lies of Omission:  This is about leaving out information, and only putting things down that “sell” the candidate.  So, you might see: “Increased sales by 30%” on the resume of someone who isn’t that likely to have been responsible for sales.  I would ask:  What percentage of your time did you spend in sales related activity?  What other responsibilities did you have?  Who ultimately was responsible for sales at your company?  What specifically was your contribution to the sales process?  Did you receive incentive compensation for sales? [If not], Why not?  Who else got commissions or incentives for those sales?

Taking Credit for Team Success: Candidate might state “WE turned around the company with this idea.”  Similar to the questions above, I would ask: Who came up with the idea?  What specifically was your contribution?  Who could verify that?  Would your boss give you credit for being responsible for this?  And, the statement I make WHENEVER someone uses WE in answers:  The word WE confuses me.  I know that corporate America has conditioned us to only think of teams, but for the purpose of interviewing with me or with the employer, please use the word “I”, so that the listener can be clear on what you personally have done.

Numbers, Stats: The article advises the job seeker to liberally sprinkle their resumes with percentages, dollar signs, improvement metrics, etc.  This is actually helpful to both job seeker AND employer if the numbers are truthful and meaningful.  Improving on-time delivery by 50% isn’t so good if the company was late 60% of the time.  So now they are late 40% of the time!  Not a great performance record.  Similarly, people will use % when the dollars aren’t significant.  If someone claims a 200% increase in sales, but only increased sales (let’s say of a start up operation) from $100,000 to $300,000, then maybe the performance wasn’t that great.

Favorable Comparisons: The article advises people to say things like “top performer” or “among the company’s leading performers”.  But, if the company only had one person in that function, the candidate might certainly be the top performer, but not a top performer.

Going beyond ordinary: Someone who has only been a fast food restaurant server might easily have bullets that say: “Excels in customer service” and “Achieved 100% on-time delivery”.  People in other jobs also extrapolate the transferability of their skills, and good resume writers are superb at putting these sorts of “translations” into people’s resumes.  You can ask: Tell me more about what this customer service entailed.  How did you achieve 100% on time delivery?  Probe for details and don’t stop until you fully understand the context and the actual extent of the claimed achievement.

Loving every job: Interview books and coaches preach to candidates to never talk negatively about a previous job or employer.  This is good advice, and most candidates practice it.  Some will even claim to have had a positive experience in every job they’ve had.  Two good ways to double check:  What were the circumstances of your departure?  Did you leave voluntarily?  Were you let go? Why?  Beware of statements like, “It was a mutual decision.”  It wasn’t!  Also ask: Would your boss from Job A be a reference for you today?

Tailoring your resume: The article advises job seekers to describe themselves as the interviewer would want them to be – to tailor the resume to look like the ideal candidate would look.  This isn’t so bad, if the candidate is skillfully and selectively portraying the TRUTH to their best advantage.  It is up to the employer to ensure that all key claims, especially the ones that relate to necessary job competencies, are explored and verified.

In summary, the ideas in this article for candidates encourage them to “spin” the way they express themselves, which companies do as well:  We all market aspects of the product or service in ways that will resonate with the buyer.  You know how all the drug commercials on TV list the awful side effects?  The FDA requires that.  There are no similar protections about job candidates!  The employer, as the buyer of the candidate’s skills, MUST probe enough, ask enough, and verify enough to ensure that the promised “package” will deliver.