The six most common lies candidates tell, and how to catch them

Hiring Advice Management Recruitment Challenges Liars

Job candidates lie. It’s just a fact.

If someone has been let go and/or has been out of work for a while, finding a job becomes increasingly difficult. So, one will start messing with dates and telling fibs. Nobody who was fired is ever going to tell you they were fired, if they can help it. But people get fired all the time. So, it stands to reason that some job applicants are lying. And, since you can’t know who, you might as well assume everyone is lying – ad act accordingly, by verifying everyone’s claims.

In some cases, lying doesn’t necessarily mean that a candidate is a bad person, or even that you shouldn’t hire them. Some are lying as a matter of survival. Sometimes they were fired unfairly, by a jerk. You have to make that call.

Here are the six things candidates most commonly lie about.

Having been employed. Daniel Fallows, Executive Director of Garda Background Screening Solutions, tells me, “More and more often candidates are declaring employment that they never had to bolster their chances of getting a position. As with Diploma Mills, there has been an increasing trend of companies who offer the services of being a bogus employer for a fee.”

Hiring a company to do a background check would flush this out. You can’t actually do this without getting the candidate’s permission, but if the candidate won’t give permission, I would think that would be enough of a warning that they wouldn’t be a good hire.

The conditions under which they left their previous job. Poeple say they were laid off, their contract ended, or that they left voluntarily – never that they were fired.

Obviously you have to check references. Still, most companies won’t tell you they fired someone for fear of lawsuits, so even if the employee is the worst possible thing that could happen to your business, they won’t tell you. This Forbes article basically encourages people who were fired to sue anyone who tells the truth about them.

However, an HR specialist tells me you can ask if the person is “eligible for rehire.” A “no” means they wouldn’t hire that person again, and you probably shouldn’t either.

Also, listen for what is unspoken. If a former employer doesn’t say anything good, they probably have nothing good to say. This silence speaks volumes and is really all you need to hear.

Dates of employment: Candidates will fudge dates to make it look as though they were working when they weren’t. This happens all the time. It’s easier to find a job when you are employed, so candidates will claim to be still working for companies that have let them go. And again, they will want to hide the fact that they were let go.

They cover this lie by asking you not to call the “current employer,” saying they don’t want that employer to know they’re looking. I have a friend who did this and was hired, no questions asked, at a major corporation with a big HR department and a well-known name. So, even people who should know better are falling for this lie.

Avoid getting snowed by telling candidates that all offers will be contingent on verification of employment history. In other words, you will agree not to call that employer for now, but make it clear that if the candidate is lying, everyone’s time will be wasted in the end. Also, you can simply call the company in question and ask to speak with the candidate. If anyone asks why you’re calling, say you sent an email and it bounced, or you’re updating your contact list.

University degrees. Fallows mentioned diploma mills, which set themselves up to look like legitimate academic institutions – with websites, phone numbers and addresses – then sell degrees. An operator will “verify” the degree if you call.

Some telltale signs of a diploma mill include: no contacts for faculty or no faculty list; prices listed by certificate or degree; and the promise of a degree in weeks or months, rather than years. You might also verify whether an institution is accredited.

Something else to watch for: candidates who say that they “studied” at a school and leave the degree part ambiguous. Ask to see an official transcript. Schools also have information on their websites about how to verify someone’s degree, like McGill in Montreal.

Job titles: The HR specialist tells me someone once told her he was the VP of marketing at his previous job, but when she called, she was told he was an inside sales rep.

This is easily verified by a call to the employer. Again, if you can’t call the current employer, make the offer contingent on verification of employment history. This information should come out in the background check.

Salary historyPeople often inflate their previous salary (my same friend who lied about being still employed also inflated her salary and got the salary she was looking for in the new job), obviously because they want to get paid more. The previous employer can give you salary information.

Some people might wonder why you need to know a previous salary. You don’t, really. The job pays what it pays and what the person made before doesn’t really matter.

It is, however, another way of verifying a candidate’s honesty. Salary can also speak to skill level.

Final point: A friend I was discussing this with told me that suspecting a potential hire of lying is “starting off on the wrong foot.” I say hogwash to this. It’s just good business sense. People who have been married for decades lie to each other. And you’re just supposed to absolutely trust someone you’ve met, what, three times, with a portion of your business, no questions asked? That’s a terrible plan. If you suspect something, dig into it. If you don’t suspect, dig anyway.

Be discrete about it, but make sure a candidate is everything they claim to be. So you won’t be surprised later.