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Fabrication, fibbing, fiction -- more resumes have it
By DAWN SAGARIO The Des Moines Register

It was the Mensa membership that did it.

Still, there were other items on the candidate's resume that seemed sketchy to recruiter Kim Knoll.

First, she couldn't verify that he had a degree from the school he said he attended in England, says Knoll, senior information technology recruiter at Executive Resources Ltd. in Des Moines. The high-level information technology exec supposedly had a bachelor's degree in information management.

Second, he'd sent in two different versions of his resume: one listing his degree, the other not.

"He had this outstanding resume and he had all these grandiose stories," Knoll says. "And then something just clicked in my head, that something wasn't right."

Fibbing, padding, misrepresenting, embellishing, falsifying, inflating -- you name it, people are doing more of it on their resumes, says Edward C. Andler. He's in the business of sorting out fact from fiction.

Lying on resumes, Andler says, has increased significantly in the last five years.

"About one out of 10 who claim that they have a degree do not have one," says Andler, co-author with Dara Herbst of the book The Complete Reference Checking Handbook: The Proven (and Legal) Way to Prevent Hiring Mistakes. For those in sales, that number increases to one out of seven.

"People know that they have friends that have gotten by in a job market by pretty much fabricating a lot of aspects of who they are and what they can do," says Andler, founder of St. Louis-based Certified Reference Checking Co. The human resources consultants specialize in background screening and reference checking.

He's witnessed the dubious bios that include elevated salaries and extended employment dates to cover gaps due to unemployment and firings.

Andler says many employers, understaffed and in a hiring slowdown, just aren't taking the time to do thorough checks on resumes.

One of Andler's tricks to catch a fibber: Read back to the previous employer the type of work the individual described doing in his or her last job.

"You'd be absolutely amazed how many times they'll say, 'Hey, read that again,' or say, 'Hey, that's out of line,' and correct it," he says.

One faux pas Knoll often sees on resumes: People state that they're still with a company although they're no longer there.

Another problem: padding salaries.

"It's a very personal issue," Knoll admits. "But if you're going to work for someone and we're not starting off on an honest foot, it just doesn't seem like it can lead to anything. It's a scary tightrope to walk."

Some candidates put the years they attended college, omitting the fact that they don't have a degree, says Marna Hayden, former national board member of the Society of Human Resource Management.

A good employer will combine reference checking and a thorough interview to figure out whether someone is failing to tell the entire truth says Hayden, who is senior vice president of human resources at Nazareth National Bank in Bethlehem, Pa.

While lying is common, she says many times younger people are candid about sharing personal weaknesses.

Skills assessment tests can be revealing, says Corinne Seiser, director of marketing for Manpower Inc. of Des Moines.

Seiser says people often list that they're proficient in all types of different software.

"But they maybe just opened it once, or changed a word, but didn't start something from scratch," she says.

Andler has heard some doozies from stammering resume-padders once they are confronted with their lies. He told one candidate that the college he went to had no record of him receiving a degree there.

His response?

"He said, 'Well, maybe the school has moved,' " Andler says.

He's found that pressing truth-stretchers for answers is sometimes "like you're crashing through their imagination," he says with a laugh.

"They've carried that aura about them for so long that they've started to believe it."

The bottom line, experts say: Don't take chances. Play it straight.

"Sooner or later, you get things so twisted up that it falls apart," Andler says. "It's embarrassing and disheartening. Sell yourself for strengths that you have, and your accomplishments."

Also, Hayden noted, a resume littered with falsehoods could put you in a job that's not the best fit for you or the company.

When Knoll's curiosity was piqued last year by a candidate's long list of accolades, a quick call confirmed her intuitiveness. Mensa said he'd never been a member.

Weekly WorkBytes column written by and for Gen-Xers learning the realities of the workplace. Dawn Sagario and Chad Graham of The Des Moines Register take turns writing this column each week. Write the columnists at The Des Moines Register, P.O. Box 957, Des Moines, Iowa 50304-0957.