Résumé fraud has been a hot topic in the news in recent months. Several high-profile South African executives have been exposed for having lied about their qualifications, skills and achievements on their résumés – in some cases, leading to their dismissal or resignation following intense public scrutiny.

It may seem astonishing that leaders of this calibre honestly thought they would be able to get away with it. Unfortunately, however, incidences of senior executives being economical with the truth on their résumés is on the increase. It is human nature to want to put on a good show, and intense competition for top jobs does lead to some believing that ‘little white lies’ may be overseen or even go undetected.

What do people tend to be untruthful about? The most common résumé lies include misrepresentations about education and qualifications, past job titles, salary history, gaps in employment, age, references (who may not even exist), credit and criminal records, and even past relationships. And it’s not just on CVs that people bend the truth – in our experience, more than half of the information on LinkedIn about a candidate is completely unreliable: it is either out of date, inaccurate or exaggerated.

The problem is that people don’t realise just how career limiting résumé fraud is – the information age we live in makes it highly unlikely that embellishment of skills or experience will remain undetected for very long. And the more senior the position, the more important the level of honesty and integrity of the candidate. The days where poor behaviour would be disregarded if you were a high performer, are long gone. From an organisation’s point of view, false résumé claims waste time and money in selecting the right candidate, but it can also result in embarrassing publicity and unwanted reputation issues.

So what steps can employers take to combat résumé fraud?

  • Eliminate as much risk from the appointment process as possible, by investigating proper references, doing criminal and credit checks, and obtaining evidence of tertiary qualifications from the institutions themselves.
  • Contact previous employers and confirm dates and salaries, and enquire about any disciplinary actions or grievances during the candidate’s tenure. Confirm claimed promotions.
  • In short, you can never do enough homework before appointing a top executive in your organisation. Never rush it because you are eager to fill the position – check everything, however unimportant it may seem.

In our view, the best way employers can ensure candidates for top executive positions are who they say they are, is to employ a professional executive search firm like Odgers Berndtson to take care of the due diligence essential for appointments at this level. One assumes that most portrayals at this level are accurate, but we are surprised from time to time, so we always thoroughly investigate every possible element before recommending a candidate.

Our robust process of speaking to at least five senior executives whom we know or have worked with is the first step towards limiting risk. Screening and verification processes are thorough and no stone is left unturned. This includes everything from checking qualifications and identifying irregularities to independent background checks (financial/credit and criminal checks). To corroborate what a candidate tells us about themselves or their behaviour, we also reference online activity on social platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.

South Africa is a small country where at executive level, everyone knows everyone, and a reputable search firm will have all the necessary contacts to put together a well-rounded view of an executive candidate – effectively reducing a substantial amount of risk on the part of the employer.

Lauren van Halderen

Lauren van Halderen is an Executive Director for the Sub Saharan Africa business where she is the lead Partner for the Board practice, based in Johannesburg. Her search experience includes senior e...

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