You’ve advertised for an open position and have recieved numerous applications.  After spending a week sifting through resumes and interviewing candidates, you feel you’ve found the right candidate.  He seems to have the right qualifications, the right work experience, and the right references.

Do you check further? Should you check further?  The answer is “yes” – during the years that I was Head of a Human Resources Department, I had personally come across instances where candidates misrepresented their salaries, extended their tenure with their employers, glorified their designations and responsibilities, and falsified their educational qualifications.  Even large organizations and governments have been caught off guard by employing people with fake credentials (see Banned Dentist Practicing in Singapore,  NZ Government Embarrassment and Pilots in China Fake Experience).  I’ve learned that it never pays to be complacent when hiring a new employee.

Amazingly, despite regular news of such incidents, the large majority of employers still take a candidate’s resume at face value.  Most interviewers are complacent enough that “it won’t happen to us” and confident enough to be able to spot fakes through the hour-long interview.  Companies that do further checks inexplicably only call up referees provided by the applicant – and logic tells us that the applicant will only provide referees that will corroborate the resume, and say positive things about the candidate.

As HR professionals, we owe it to the organizations we work for, our colleagues, our customers, and our business partners to ensure that only people with the right qualifications are employed.  In some cases, hiring the wrong person may not result in any serious consequences, in others, the decision may result in death, as in the case of under-qualified pilots being allowed to fly commercial airliners.

So how do you conduct a proper pre-employment check? A proper pre-employment check should cover at least the following:

  • Educational qualifications – the prevalence of distance learning, private institutions, and degree mills means that you will see many different educational certificates – some genuine, and some not.  It is important to check further to see if the paper you are holding is authentic, or if it is issued by a degree mill.  A further twist occurs when the document is valid, but rightfully belongs to somebody else – this is rare, but possible with ethnic names – think of the number of “Tans” in China, or the number of “Mohammeds” in Indonesia and you get an idea of how possible this is.  Remember also that attending a course or programme is different from actually getting a degree or a certification.
  • Work experience – some candidates have been known to pad up their resumes either by extending their tenures or by declaring a designation that emphasizes their authority.  I’ve seen cases where candidates try to pass off “Dec 1999 to Apr 2001” as “1999 to Apr 2001” and “front desk executive” as “client relationship executive”.
  • Salaries – the salary is usually an indication of job worth and are often targets of intentional inflation.  People are generally coy and ambiguous about their salaries – make sure you get a proper breakdown of what was basic, how much allowances there were, and what were the variable components.

All of the above checks can be done by contacting the educational institutions and previous employers for validation.  Most organizations keep sufficient records and will cooperate with the screening process.  In cases where records do not exist, or where employers or educational instiutions do not cooperate, then be sure to ask for supporting documents such as payslips, bank account statements, letters of appointment etc.

Other checks you might consider, depending on the type and sensitivity of the job in question are:

  • Financial and Credit checks;
  • Political exposure; and
  • Criminal checks

If you feel this is all too much work, there are many service providers who can perform these functions for you.  The advantage of using these service providers is that they usually have an international presence, making international validations more accurate; and have better networks with governments and educational institutions to validate information.

As you implement these new changes, it would be prudent to amend your HR policies to take these into account.  Specifically, you should include an additional term in your employment contracts or letters of offer that makes employment conditional on the successful passing of pre-employment screening.  Also, in some jurisdictions, it is a legal requirement for you to declare in your job application form that the information will be used for pre-employment screening purposes.

On a final note, please contribute by supporting reference checks made by others on your own ex-employees.