Overachievement Without Achievement

Forbes

A renewed fascination with fakers might be just around the corner.

Universal Pictures is working on a film based on the Milli Vanilli lip-syncing catastrophe that ended in the early 1990s. The movie is in production, but a release date has not been set yet. Faking it is also the topic of the recently released book Personal Days. It's the story of an efficiency expert who shuffles staff around and fires people at random until an employee eventually realizes the "expert" was never hired by the company. He literally walked in off the street.

But faking isn't just a skill reserved for fictional characters. It may be more common than expected. In fact, 53% of people lie on their résumé in some way, according to research from the Society for Human Resource Managers.

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Some college students are encouraged to embellish items on their résumés. "They are taught to use the highest-level verb," says Nancy Davis, a psychology professor at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. For instance, an intern who ran copies of an instruction manual might say he "created" the manual on his résumé, Davis says.

But the step from résumé embellishment to outright faking isn't a long one. Awareness of résumé cooking could make job applicants feel they must push the envelope on their application, if only because everyone else is doing it (a frame of thought psychologists call false consensus).

Melinda Blackman says that this is already common and that the recent scarcity of jobs encourages résumé flexing even more. Blackman, an industrial and organizational psychology professor at California State University at Fullerton, said she had a graduate student say he had completed an undergraduate program he hadn't attended. She found this out two years after accepting him into the program.

Many candidates lie on applications because they don't think they'll get caught. Sure, some companies shell out thousands to vet candidates: Blackman has seen employers pay as much as $7,000 to thoroughly check a candidate for a high-level position. Such costly checks usually include a drug test, background check and credit check; some firms even hire a private detective. But most companies don't have the time or money to invest.

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Experts say the education section of an application or résumé is the most likely to be fraudulent. The amount of time it takes to confirm the details depends on the university. Some use efficient systems that take a matter of hours, while others need several weeks to process and confirm the résumé. Meanwhile, employers worry that their job candidate of choice will find a position elsewhere.

Background checks are not only important to prove the employee is who he says he is. They're also a way to avoid a negligent-hiring suit, which could happen if, say, the company hired someone with a history of violence and that person attacked another employee. Blackman also suggests multiple interviews (formal and informal) to give a candidate more chances to raise suspicions. For the formal interview, another person should sit in with a copy of the résumé, to check what the candidate says for contradictions.

Maybe employers should start hiring fakers to find the fakers.

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