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Recruitment: The lying game

20 April 2006

Job applicants' CVs should come with a serious health warning: read with care, read with scepticism, read with cynicism. Last year, the Risk Advisory Group carried out research which showed that two-thirds of more than 3,000 CVs surveyed contained inaccuracies - and we are not talking typing errors.

These inaccuracies were often out-and-out lies about qualifications, experience and about the "reasons for leaving" a previous job. What's more, the RAG carried out a survey of a similar kind in 2004, and the trend is towards more lies - and they are becoming more brazen.

Certainly, this poses enough problems for the busy employer desperate to hire a new general manager, for example, but there's more. There are now, according to human resources magazine Personnel Today, "serial saboteur applicants". These are people who make multiple applications for an advertised position. One application is genuine but, on the others, the applicant has changed his (or her) race or sex, or even invented a disability. He then traces the progress of each application and, if he finds any anomalous treatment of one of his fictional personae (such as a female or disabled alter-ego), he will sue on the grounds of discrimination.

For a catering employer, such a scam is the equivalent of a health and safety inspector arriving in disguise, planting a fly in your soup - and then prosecuting.

The message is clear. You cannot rely on the information you receive. At best, you could be left with a new employee who turns out to be only half as qualified as you thought. You then have to withdraw your offer of employment, or even dismiss the applicant.

A recruitment survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in 2005 found that a staggering 77% of responders were aware that their organisation had had to dismiss someone, and 75% were aware of them having to withdraw a job offer, having discovered incorrect or misleading information on a CV or application. With the average time spent hunting down a replacement being anything between one month and three, and the average cost of recruiting an employee standing at about £4,000, this is a waste of precious time and money.

Or, it could be worse. If you are the subject of a serial saboteur, you could be the target of a discrimination claim by someone you haven't even taken on yet. Surely, you would think, a tribunal would have sympathy with an employer scammed in this way. Perhaps, but most employers will settle such claims and pay out rather than take the risk.

They also often don't retain previous applications that they have rejected, so they have no evidence to disprove the scam.

The solution to avoiding the costly consequences of bogus CVs is to expend more time and resources on verifying the information given by candidates, specifically by doing basic checks (see opposite). The scope and extent of verification will be based partly on instinct and common sense, partly on experience, but references and fact-checking are the essential activities.

One particular problem for the hospitality sector is that a lot of staff members have qualifications and references from overseas. For example, Tom Hadley, director of external relations at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC), asks: "How is an employer supposed to know about a hotel and catering school in Warsaw, for instance?"

Those responsible for verification are clearly going to have to be prepared to make their checks abroad as frequently as within the UK. The alternative, Hadley says, is to use recruitment agencies with a specific international or pan-European workforce which will have employees on its books who are pre-checked. The downside is ensuring that the agency is doing its job properly. However, the REC has a list of agents which are kite-marked, which could solve that problem.

It is important to explain to all applicants as early as possible that the company has verification procedures, and what these are. They can be told when they call about vacancies, or it can be stated clearly on an application form or other recruitment literature. Not only is this good practice from a data protection point of view but, as pointed out by Rebecca Clake, organisation and resourcing adviser at the CIPD: "If you make this explicit, you will discourage people from telling lies in the first place."

If CVs are being faked and a company does find out about it, then it should set a precedent by dealing with it. Clake adds: "Companies should take serious action - including, if necessary, dismissal, having followed appropriate procedures - as this will also act as a deterrent."

Should employers ruthlessly vet candidates as well? Vetting is where an employer makes enquiries about a prospective employee from a third party such as the Criminal Records Bureau. In certain circumstances, it may be necessary to undertake vetting, but this intrudes much more into someone's privacy and employers must be sure they are not falling foul of data protection legislation by probing too deeply.

Vetting should be undertaken where there are particular and significant risks in the role - for example, where employees will come into contact with children or vulnerable adults. Also, vetting should be limited to those applicants selected for that role and should not be generally applied.

It is also important to keep vetting specific to certain types of information rather than compiling a "full dossier" on someone.

Although the CIPD estimates that about one-third of organisations use online application forms, is e-recruitment another possible answer to the problem of CV fraud? Actually, it seems it may be the opposite. "When online recruitment first came out," Hadley says, "we all thought it was the end of traditional recruitment practices. But the potential for fake CVs and fake application forms in online recruitment has bucked that trend. Online recruitment cuts out the middleman, who may be doing a very essential filtering process of CVs and is, therefore, going out of favour."

Avoid the serial saboteurs, the CV masseurs, the spinners of fact and the tellers of porkies, and get down to some essential detective work before you hire.

Verification Verification involves checks based on information given to the employer by the candidate, through following references and simple fact-checking. Some useful pointers are:

  • You must take up full references. You should include requests for full details of the length of the employment, previous job title, brief details of responsibilities, abilities, overall performance, time-keeping and reason for leaving. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) says you should avoid references that collect subjective opinion on the applicant's suitability for the job.
  • Personal referees are very likely to be automatically positive or complimentary, so are best avoided.
  • References should be given in writing, as this makes the referee invest more time and consideration when responding. The CIPD also advises marking all such requests "private and confidential" and addressing them specifically to the referee named by the employee.
  • Ideally, get the references before the candidate starts work. It is easier to turn down an application than to withdraw an offer, if references are not satisfactory.
  • In any event, make all offers conditional on receipt of satisfactory references, and make sure that the offer letter sets out what the consequences will be if unsatisfactory references are received or false information has been given.
  • You should check any degree course or qualification with a provider. Often, a website will give you sufficient information to conclude whether or not the information given is genuine.
  • You should ask the candidate specific questions about anything of which you are unsure. Could they provide certificates or other documents to verify their qualifications or experience, if you are in doubt?
  • If you do receive negative information, it is good practice to give the candidate an opportunity to respond to this before taking action.

Contacts
Polly Jeanneret is a solicitor with Charles Russell's employment and pensions unit.
polly.jeanneret@charlesrussell.co.uk
020 7203 5208

Other useful sources for guides to recruitment:
www.cipd.co.uk

For recruitment agencies
www.rec.uk.com

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