How to Spot the White Lies in a Resume

SleuthWallander is ending. I am depressed. The fourth and final season started last week.

To watch this episode, I wrapped myself in a comfy robe, set a fire in the fireplace, inserted my earplugs and watched it on my iPad – my viewing preference. I will truly miss Kurt Wallander’s brooding, sleuthing ways. (Not to mention that I’ve loved everything Kenneth Branagh has ever done in his career.)

Until a few years ago, I was never a big murder/mystery fan. My reading tended to be more fiction, historical novels, biographies, etc. My viewing tended to be in the same vein. But my sister Nancy, who reads more mysteries in one week than I do in a year, turned me on to a world of delightful sleuths, both in print and in “celluloid,” including Kurt Wallander, Inspector Lynley, Bruno Chief of Police, Enzo MacLeod, DCS Foyle, to name just a few. And, I realize now, how much sleuthing I do myself every day.

While I haven’t read as many mysteries as Nancy, I do read more resumes than she ever will. Like the characters that Nancy introduced me to, I am very adept at getting to the truth in a resume. Because, the sad fact is that while most people don’t outright lie on their resume, some do tend to stretch the truth a bit.

Little White Lies

Here are the three most common things people get most “creative” about in their resumes:

  1. Education
  2. Length of time at an employer
  3. Why they left their past job(s)

Knowing this, how can you sleuth to the truth when assessing a candidate? Here’s how to proceed on these three very important points.

  • EDUCATIONWhen phone screening or interviewing in-person, simply state that the first step in the hiring process is to verify education. Ask them for confirmation on the year of their undergraduate degree. If they have a graduate degree, ask them for confirmation on that date as well. It’s amazing how many candidates will list an MBA or similar graduate degree when they are really “in the process” of getting one. An MBA should not be listed on a resume until it has actually been awarded, by the way. Asking for these dates and indicating you will be calling a Registrar’s Office will usually reveal the truth about that degree.
  • LENGTH OF TIME OF EMPLOYMENTAsk the candidate for the actual month that they started and ended their employment. This simple fact can be extremely revealing. For example, an entry that states 2012-2013 could mean they started on December 15, 2012 and were terminated on January 5, 2013. This would mean three weeks of employment! Conversely, that same date range could mean a start of January 1, 2012 and end of December 31, 2013 –that’s two years of employment. A very different picture indeed. Make sure you get those exact dates. (Kurt Wallander would.) If your candidate seems squirrely on this, take it as a sign there may be issues for further exploration about their employment.
  • EXACTLY WHY THEY LEFT THEIR PAST EMPLOYERSIt can be tricky, but not impossible, to get at the truth of why someone left their former jobs. Sometimes even the best candidates feel they have to hide the truth-rightly or wrongly-in order to be considered for your job. That being said, if you feel like you’re getting a “story” when you ask why the candidate left their position, don’t be afraid to probe more deeply about the circumstances of their leaving.

    Here’s a question that will go a long way towards revealing the real circumstances:

    Do you have a reference from your former manager?”

    Framed this way, it begs a “yes or no” answer that should illicit the true story of why they left. However, there could very well be legitimate reasons why a candidate left a job yet does not have a reference from the manager or company. You’ll have to be the judge on that. Sit back and listen carefully to the answer. And don’t be afraid to keep digging if you don’t like what you are hearing. That’s the hallmark of a true sleuth! Only be satisfied when you feel you’ve really gotten to the bottom of it.

Sleuthing isn’t really that hard, (even bungling Columbo could do it) but it does require digging deeper into your candidates resume-and with dogged determination like Wallander.

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