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The Hiring Game – Resume Lying: Risks, Clues, and Sorry

By Robert Strauss, Contributing Writer

[As seen in Today’s Machining World, July 2006]

In the last few years, the reputation of the resume has taken a severe beating. George O’Leary wanted the plum job in collegiate sports – being the head coach of the Notre Dame University football team – so badly, he put a master’s degree he did not have and football playing letters he never earned, on his resume. Ronald L. Zarrella, the CEO of Bausch & Lomb, lied that he had a Masters in Business Administration from New York University. Shares in the big optical company dropped three percent the day the company divulged Zarrella’s resume-fudging.

Earlier this year, David J. Edmondson, the CEO of RadioShack, was fired after a newspaper investigation showed his resume was padded with two degrees in psychology and theology, degrees he never received from a university, and the university he claimed he attended was not even accredited. OK, you say, but these are high profile jobs and isolated cases. This would hardly happen in the fraternal machine shop world.

Think again.

"I find on resumes, if someone rubbed up against it, they put it on the resume as a skill, even if they are not really experienced in the area," said Tom Medvec, Founder of Medvec Resources Group, a job placement firm in Valley City, Ohio, specializing in machine tool personnel. He said it with an uncomfortable tone, halfway between a grunt and a forced laugh. "I think over the years, it has just gotten progressively worse. I think manufacturing may be worse in this than football coaches."

The numbers from recent surveys may well bear Medvec’s suppositions out.

How Many Tell the Truth?, a Burlington, Vermont, company that helps job seekers, particularly at the mid-level, to write new resumes, wanted to discover how many of their clients were telling them the truth about their pasts. 

"What we found was shocking," said Brad Fredericks, the company’s Co-founder. "We took 1,000 resumes at random and discovered that 42.7 percent of them had significant inaccuracies. 42.7 percent. That was unbelievable to us."

Fredericks said that the embellishments, or outright lies, came primarily in three areas: job title, dates they held the job, and various things in education.

"What is most amazing is that these three things are easily verifiable. If someone is lying about these things, they are probably lying about a lot else," he said.

One large Midwestern machine shop executive, who did not want his name used to keep his employee-seeking methods safe, said he now rarely looks at resumes because he has stopped believing what is written on them.  Instead, he said he has devilishly resorted to the bane of unprepared students everywhere – the pop quiz.

The Pop Quiz
"Before they walk into the shop, I give them a little questionnaire," he said. "I ask things like what particular attachments have you used on this or that machine?  I ask them technical terms. I ask them something little about a machine, something only someone who has worked on one will know.

"It is amazing that some people still answer questions so stupidly," he said. "You ask them what they worked on, and they will say, "Well, it was a big machine."

"Look, for the most part, people are honest," he said. "But sometimes, people just seem to think they can lie their way into a job. I put someone like that on a machine and my whole operation can go south."

Matt Fitzgibbons, the human resource manager for Manth Brownell, a quality turned parts company in Kirkville, New York, 10 miles east of Syracuse, said he has been "cautious" of late, looking at resumes, particularly in the fudging of dates of employment.

"The economy here in upstate New York has been a bit rough in the last six years, so I see resumes that are more vague in when they worked. A "2004" could mean they really worked last in late 2003 and then started back in 2005 because some company closed, or whatever," he said. "It’s hard to fool me though, since I know which companies folded when. It’s a shame, but some people feel they have to do that."

Further, Fitzgibbons said, fewer former employers are willing to give references than before. He said they are wary of potential lawsuits from ex-employees, and all that makes his resume-checking job harder.

"On the other hand, I have noticed more honesty in some areas," he said. "Machinists know we would know if they can’t work a certain type of machine. Some will actually say they haven’t worked on that machine but think they could do it. Sometimes, we do give people like that a chance, especially if their past work record is good. We have to be willing to do a little training to get a good employee."

Three-Step Interview Process
Another screw machine executive for a company nearby, in Rochester, New York, said his belief in the truth of resumes is so shaken he has devised a three-step interview process. It is cumbersome, but he believes he has to do it these days.

"We take the resumes we like, mail them a letter, and ask them to call us to schedule an interview," said the executive, who asked not to be identified, fearing his method might lose him potential good employees. "You wouldn’t believe it, but at least 30 percent of the people never respond to that. It may be an indication of cheating, I don’t know. From that, in the phone call, we do a quick skimming of a few questions.  Then we do the more formal interview."

"When someone says, "I have extensive experience in this," I can tell when it is BS. I know the companies in the business, and you had better be listing the right ones. It is pretty easy after all these years of doing this for me to check you out."

In fact, there are a lot more people being checked out than there used to be. A 2005 survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management said that almost half of human resource specialists had significantly increased the time they spent checking out resumes in the two years prior. Further, the survey said 52 percent had started contracting out a lot of their background checking to firms like Solak and Medvec, professionals with long experience at, as Solak said, "BS" detection.

"I had one a few weeks ago that became a little embarrassing," said Medvec. "There was a guy who was applying for a quality manager’s job in the South, but he could not even validate a PPATH. He got down there, and it turned out the engineer could do the validations better than he could. I have found now that people, even when you speak to them and look them in the eye, will embellish what they have done or what they know. It is amazing how they think they can get away with it."

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