The Kansas City Business Journal

May 12, 2000


Sylvia Patillo, human resources director for the Kansas City Royals, has a stack of resumes on her desk, nearly a hundred in all. She’s – searching for a sales manager for the organization. “A lot of applicants think the main requirement is to be a fan,” she said, chuckling. “It’s always right near the top of the resume — ‘I’m a big fan of the Royals. Or, “My love for the Royals began when I was in high school” Or, “I’m passionate about baseball.” Or, “I have some experience, but I LOVE sports.”

Patillo finds the comments amusing, but what she really wants to know is whether someone has the skills and experience to get the job done. And whether applicants are being honest about their credentials. After a dozen years working in human resources, she has seen her share of resumes that are embellished, fudged, exaggerated or stretch the truth.

So, too, has Kathleen Boas, CEO of Boas Associates, a Kansas City-based human resources and career development consulting firm. She once received a resume from a person who claimed to be an officer of a particular organization. But she knew the organization and knew the person wasn’t associated with it. “Be careful what you put on your resume, Boas said. “You never know who’s going to be looking at it.”

Real lies, fake diplomas

Apparently, those words aren’t chilling enough to keep everyone on the up-and-up as far as their resumes go. Human resources experts say that although some businesses do a good job of checking up on applicants, many companies still don’t screen as well as they should. And in today’s tight labor market, companies desperate for workers often hire based on the contents of a resume alone.

Michael Kessler, who leads the New York-based corporate investigative firm, Michael G. Kessler & Associates Ltd., said that embellishing, exaggerating and outright lying on resumes takes place quite often.

The firm, which provides applicant screening services for big corporations, conducted a study two years ago and found that 25 percent of the 1,000 resumes it examined were fraudulent in some way. Kessler said that in many cases the false claims were supported by fake documentation — college transcripts, degrees, certifications — obtained via the World Wide Web. Resume fraud has become more sophisticated, he said, thanks to technology.

“The Internet has made it easier for people to lie,” Kessler said. How do recruiters spot these lies? HR practitioners say there are a couple of areas in which people commonly fudge on their resumes: job duties and accomplishments.

The Apollo Syndrome

Patillo said recruiters should examine carefully what people put on their resumes in terms of accomplishments and not always take the words at face value. Ask questions. Dig a little deeper. She said an applicant might claim to be the top sales person at his other company, but the applicant might be the only sales person at the company. The resume entry isn’t necessarily a lie, but it certainly is misleading, she said.

In fact, Patillo said the words a person uses on a resume are strong clues as to whether the information is accurate. Industries have their own lingo and the correct-or incorrect–use of that terminology is a good indicator as to whether the applicant really has the experience he or she claims to have.

What’s more, the words “responsible for” always raise a red flag in Patillo’s mind. They’re vague and can be misleading, she said, and reminds some in human resources of something known as the Apollo Syndrome. As the story goes, a clerk at Cape Kennedy claimed to be “responsible for” the first Apollo mission by providing key support to top scientists. Further questioning revealed that his contribution was serving coffee to the scientists, to help keep them awake.

Kessler said recruiters need to watch out for phony college degrees, transcripts and certifications that can be bought easily on the Web. He has found Web sites that mail out gold embossed certificates for a fee. There also are Internet companies that peddle the special paper on which college transcripts and diplomas are printed.

“For as little as $150, you can become certified in just about anything,” he said.

Human resources practitioners stress that resumes are simply a tool, a way to dig for more background information. They say the onus is on the company to determine whether the information is embellished or wrong. Their advice for companies? Check, check, check.

Verify education credentials by calling the schools listed on an applicant’s resume. Verify employment history by calling previous employers, and check employment dates, job titles and duties.

“Find out when the person worked there and what position the held,” Boas said. “Some companies may not be willing to divulge much, and you may not always get specific information about an employee. But you can at least get their name, rank and serial number. If that’s not correct on the resume, then everything else becomes suspect.”

If a business too busy to screen applicants, it should consider hiring an outside company. To handle background checks, Kessler said. Costs can range anywhere from $150 an applicant to thousands of dollars, depending on what position the person is applying for.

“Screening applicants for the position of CEO of General Motors is going to cost you,” Kessler said.

And, he said, if applicants claim to have particular skills, such as computer skills, check that out. Put them in front of a computer and ask them to demonstrate.

“I’ve always wondered why people would lie about their credentials,” Kessler said. “It’s funny that they would want a job they may not know much about and which they probably can’t do.”

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