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Trick or Treat? Discerning Fact from Fiction on Resumes

Posted by Elaine Varelas  October 1, 2009 04:00 AM

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By Elaine Varelas, October 1, 2009

We’ve all been there. We have that one last position to hire for, and despite sifting through what seems like a MILLION resumes, not one candidate’s qualifications seem to be a good fit. Then, all of a sudden, there it is among the papers destined for the recycle bin, almost as if it is being surrounded by a halo of light (cue the heavenly music here). There is that one perfect resume; the right match of education, skills, and experience, and YES, a salary requirement way below what you were expecting to pay. But before you rush through that phone interview and set up face-to-face meetings with the CEO and all five vice presidents, wait! Like our mothers always said, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

In a down economy HR managers may only be trying to fill a handful of positions, but they are still getting bombarded with resumes—as many as thousands for each position. With jobless rates approaching 10% nationwide, if people aren’t qualified for a post or don’t have suitable experience, they may send along a resume anyway. HR managers are left to weed through countless inappropriate resumes to get to the one or two that may be worth a second look. At the same time, HR managers are under increasing pressure to make every hire count.

Some candidates, in their desperation to land a job, may also be stretching the truth a bit on their resumes. HR managers must be able to peruse resumes and determine what’s fact and what’s fiction. Look out for these common exaggerations to avoid wasting time chasing after that “imaginary star employee.”

Time warp—This resume shows a candidate jumping from freshman year in college to CEO in a 6-year span. Watch out for unusual leaps in education or work experience. Also pay attention to a high number of jobs in a short period of time or big gaps in work history.

Show me the money—Be wary if the salary requirements don’t match up with the purported level of experience. Some people hope to get an HR manager’s attention by inflating their experience and keeping their salary request true to their current level, or giving themselves a significant cut in pay to get in the door.

Master of none—People who say they are experts in all areas of business (finance, management, marketing, IT) probably haven’t mastered any.

Do as you say, not as you do—If a resume boasts that a person is an expert in technology, the resume should include an email address and a LinkedIn profile, not just a landline and fax number. Resumes that state that people have led teams and projects, but the job titles don’t say “management” should also raise red flags.

Beware of resumes bearing gifts—If the resume is attached to an expensive gift basket, or tickets to a hot event, the giver may be trying to distract you from the resume’s content (and hope that you’ll feel indebted enough to at least call for a phone interview).

These are some of the more apparent examples, but how can you protect yourself against less obvious deceptions? The resume may look good, but before you invest your time and effort at the interview stage, do a little fact-checking of your own. It’s possible to get a better idea of people’s backgrounds, experience, and level of advancement without even talking to them. Here’s how:

Six degrees of separation—How did this person get to you? Was the resume forwarded by a colleague or employee, or is it in response to an ad? Resumes that landed on your desk through a reference should hold more weight than those that arrived “cold.”

Be a cybersleuth—Go online and do a search for the person’s name. You can use a search engine like Google or a web-based research site such as Zoominfo. You can also see if the candidate has a LinkedIn profile or a presence on another social networking site.

Missing Link?—If candidates do have LinkedIn profiles, examine them closely. Do you know any of their contacts? Do their connections have job titles similar to what they are seeking at your organization? For example, if the candidate is applying for a CFO post, their contacts should be other executive-level people, not just assistants and junior professionals.

Match game—Once you’ve completed your online research, compare that information to what was provided by the candidate. Does it match up? If there are several discrepancies, that person may be bluffing.

Just ask—If the candidate was referred by a colleague or employee, contact that person to get additional information. You can also utilize your LinkedIn connections to see if any of your contacts overlaps.

It’s a competitive market, so people are using attention-getting maneuvers to get noticed (yes, even stretching the truth). Be sure to do your due diligence so that you can be confident that the person who eats up your time (and your team’s time) is the person represented on paper, and that the resume is not a deceptive, albeit attractive mask.

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