An alarming number of job candidates stretch the truth when providing background and employment related information to potential employers, according to a recent survey of 850 human resource professionals.

In a poll conducted by the Society for Human Resource Professionals, more than half of the respondents who verify candidate information reported that they regularly uncover mistruths about length of employment, salaries, former titles, and degrees.

To keep your organization from becoming a victim of applicant fraud, here are some suggestions:

  • Develop a written policy. The policy should say that misstatements and omissions about work background and education are grounds for dismissal whenever discovered. If you discover falsified information during the hiring process, that applicant is generally dropped from consideration. In the case of a long term employee who has performed well, some employers opt for a lesser penalty.
  • Use an application form. All job candidates should fill out an application form. Outplacement agencies often review resumes, helping applicants present themselves in the best possible light. An application form presents a more honest picture and can get at additional information that is not included on a resume.
  • Get a release. Have applicants sign an authorization allowing you to verify past employment and all other information. The form can be faxed to past employers and signing it also reminds applicants that lying is serious.
  • Ask about rehire. Ask past employers whether they would rehire the candidate. A “no” is a warning and merits further investigation.
  • Get help from applicants. Have job candidates identify references and inform them that you will be calling. With references from past employers, in addition to the names of former managers or supervisors, ask for the names of colleagues who were at the candidate’s same level and below.
  • Document. Protect yourself against claims of “negligent hiring” by documenting your efforts to verify candidates’ background. If you hire an individual with a history of violence, for example, and he or she later harms others on the job, you could be liable if you failed to do an employment or background check.
  • Check gaps. Gaps in employment or a large number of job over a short period may suggest problems. While often legitimate, the term “consultant” may sometimes be concealing periods out of work
  • Question explanations. When candidates say they were reorganized or downsized out of a job, ask why they did not fit into the new organization.
  • Check all degrees and licenses. Most colleges will verify attendance and degrees by phone.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions. If you discover conflicting information, ask the applicant about it. There may be an explanation.

Other Sources of Information

Employers are most likely to verify past employment and education, according to the SHRM survey, but there are a number of other sources of applicant information that should be considered. Those include:

  • Criminal records. Do a criminal records check whenever a job involves close, unsupervised contact with the public, for example, hotel personnel with access to room keys or service personnel who go into customers’ homes. Access to federal criminal records is generally not available to private employers, with the exception of banks. At the state level, however, you can obtain conviction records if there is a legitimate business need for the information. Applicants should be told that criminal record information will not necessarily be a bar to hiring.
  • Credit checks. The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) governs credit and other types of background checks and allows two types. The investigative consumer credit report is a written report and includes interviews with friends and neighbors; a candidate must be informed that the report has been requested. The consumer credit report is more limited in scope. Written consent from an applicant is required before you can request either type of report. Credit checks are usually done only when a job will involve handling large sums of money or exercising financial discretion. If you do conduct credit checks, remember that the federal Bankruptcy Act prohibits discriminating in hiring because an individual has filed for bankruptcy.
  • Driving records. A check of driving records should be done on all applicants for driving positions. The Department of Motor Vehicles will supply information on an individual’s driving violations over the past 5 years. There is a special form you need to fill out and return; a fee is also required.
  • Military records. An applicant’s military records will show the type of discharge and service and may be helpful if the applicant was recently discharged and does not have much other work history.

Final Tips

Don’t offer any applicant a job until all reference and background checks have been completed. If time is an issue, consider hiring a reference checking firm; look in the yellow pages under “investigators.”

Finally, while thorough and accurate checks are an important tool, delving too deeply into a candidate’s private life can carry its own legal risks. A good rule of thumb? Stick to going after job-related information.