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Just how truthful is that applicant’s resume? Here’s how to find out

There’s always tough competition for a good job. And sometimes, to beat out the competition, people do more than brush up their resumes. Some fabricate the facts to get in a better position for winning a job.

But there’s a way to sort out the facts from the fiction, says Michelle Taylor, PhD, of Taylor Consulting in Huntington Beach, CA, a company that provides psychological and investigative services to employers.

It begins with doing the fact-finding up front. And it continues on to knowing when and how to press a job candidate for more information, because most fraudulent applicants will eventually talk themselves into a quagmire.

Check the references up front

The key is to look for inconsistencies—in what the applicant says, what the resume says, and what the background information shows.

Thus, it’s necessary to do the background and reference checking before the interview, not after it. Doing it at the start gives the office what Taylor calls “a foundation of information” to compare to what the person says in the interview.

Find out everything possible about that person beforehand, Taylor says. Beyond the references, verify the education and employment history. Google the individual. Check out the social networking sites.

“There’s a lot of information to be had there,” says Taylor. “Besides helping a manager recognize inconsistencies, it saves wasting time interviewing someone only to find out later that the resume is fabricated.” Conducting background and reference checks ahead of time also prevents the situation where the manager gets a high regard for an applicant and then is willing to overlook a few fudges that show up in the background check.

Use application forms

More inconsistencies can come to light if the office requires all applicants to fill out an application form. People see that as unnecessary for someone who has a resume, “but a resume can be tailored to show what the applicant wants to present,” Taylor says, and it can disguise some not-so-favorable points.

Suppose the resume shows an applicant leaving one job in June 2015 and starting another in July 2015. On the surface, that says the applicant left the first job for the other. But it’s quite possible the applicant was fired from the first job June 1 and didn’t find the second job until July 31.

The job gap can be even greater for someone who lists employment by years.

An application, however, can ask for exact dates of employment. It can also ask for the names of supervisors, whereas a resume can leave out the ones who weren’t so impressed with the applicant. And more, if a not-so-truthful applicant fills out a form in the office and doesn’t have the fabricated resume to look at, some of the fabrications get forgotten and written a bit differently.

Set up multiple interviews

You can detect further inconsistencies by having several people interview the applicant and then compare notes.

“Different people have different styles of questioning and get different information,” Taylor says, and it’s not uncommon for multiple interviewers to uncover conflicting information about work ethics or work habits.

For example, a nursing applicant might tell the doctor that patient care comes first no matter how late it keeps the office open and then, in a separate interview, tell the manager that overtime is not possible. Or somebody might tell one interviewer that a job change was made for a better opportunity and then give another interviewer a completely different reason.

Five deception-finding tricks

Taylor also points to some simple tactics to elicit more honest answers during the interview.

1. Build rapport at the start of the interview by engaging in social conversation instead of going straight into the resume.

Any applicant goes into an interview with a list of canned responses ready to give to questions about work experience and history. The general conversation, however, lulls the applicant into a sense of being accepted, and when the questions come later, that person is relaxed enough to tell the truth.

2. Ask about work habits and ethics at the beginning of the interview and then ask for specifics later.

Taylor gives the example of the standard “what do you consider your greatest weakness?” Many applicants are ready with some self-aggrandizing answer such as “I’m a workaholic. You have to force me to take time off.

Later in the interview, press for specifics: “Earlier you said your greatest weakness was being a workaholic. Can you explain how that played out in your last job? What hours did you work? How much time did you work at home? How did it negatively impact your job? Will you work that hard in your next job?” Anybody who is a true workaholic will have direct answers to give.

3. Use silence. Ask a tough question, listen to the answer, and then just sit there. Invariably, the candidate will fill up the quiet space with more information.

Manager: “What would your current supervisor say about you?

Applicant: “She’d say I’m a good worker.

Stop there and wait for additional comments. If none are forthcoming, stretch out the wait by saying “excuse me while I take some notes.” Then write something down while the applicant sits and stews and gets uncomfortable enough to fill in the silence with additional information.

What the person eventually says may even be not so glowing, perhaps “however, while my supervisor did say I was a good worker, she mentioned I should work on improving in X and Y areas.

4. Notice whether the applicant gives credit to other people. In any office, people work in teams, and somebody who takes sole credit for every accomplishment is stretching the truth.

5. Look for physical cues of lying such as poor eye contact, sweating, fidgeting, or being vague or providing far too much information on something.

But do that with caution Taylor says. “Culture plays a role here. In U.S. culture, eye contact indicates honesty; in other cultures it can be considered rude. For that reason, it’s best not to look for specific body language but for changes in the body language the candidate is already exhibiting.”

For example, if the applicant has kept eye contact throughout the interview but then looks away on one question, it’s possible the answer is less than candid.

Don’t rely on physical response, but do use it as a way to identify “what topics to stay focused on.” If the candidate shows nervousness when talking about some element, keep to the subject and look for inconsistencies.

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