FORT WAYNE – Facing fierce competition for jobs, some applicants are getting more than a little creative with résumés and references.
In years past, a padded résumé might have claimed five years of experience instead of the actual 3 1/2 .
Or it might have included an exaggerated title, such as executive assistant instead of secretary.
But the liars are becoming bolder. And the Internet is making it easier.
Some applicants now create fictional work histories and references with the help of Web sites that promise to create fake company Web sites, establish "work" numbers in any area code and provide someone to give glowing references by phone.
A mixture of desperation, arrogance and naiveté makes people think they can get away with it, said Ira Wolfe, president of Success Performance Solutions, a management consulting company in Pennsylvania. The firm sells testing used in hiring and deciding promotions.
Human resources professionals know résumés often include some sort of lie or exaggeration, Wolfe said.
Almost 50 percent of hiring managers reported catching an applicant lying on his résumé, according to a July 2008 CareerBuilder survey.
Problem is, Wolfe said, "you don't know what part of it is fake."
"People are getting much more savvy about trying to fudge who they are and where they worked," he said.
Wolfe turns to the Internet to double check those stories. But instead of sticking solely to company Web sites, he goes to LinkedIn and other professional networking sites, too.
He searches for the job applicant's name and reviews his profile to see whether work history listed matches the résumé.
Poking around online might take extra time, but Wolfe considers it well worth the effort.
Anyway, he said, calling references has never been a particularly quick process, especially when it often involves exchanging voice-mail messages until the two can set a time to talk.
Wolfe searches online for others who worked at the company at the same time, looking for someone who knew the applicant. If he can't find anyone who worked at the company or anyone who knows the applicant, "that's suspicious," Wolfe said.
"Some of it doesn't take CSI to figure it out," he said, referring to the popular TV franchise about crime scene investigators.
John Dortch agrees.
The president and CEO of The Preston Joan Group, a Fort Wayne human resources consulting firm, believes in old-school methods.
Two of the best detection tools sit on either side of the interviewer's head, he said.
Interviewers need to ask thorough, open-ended questions that will help smoke out anyone claiming experience he doesn't have, Dortch said.
His rule of thumb is that interviewers should spend just 30 percent of their time talking and 70 percent listening to the job candidate's answers.
Dortch worked in human resources for Parkview Health for 31 years before retiring as vice president of employee relations.
When interviewing, he asks someone to describe previous positions, including responsibilities and accountabilities. He also asks how a former supervisor would describe the worker.
Dortch asks for permission to contact that supervisor to confirm the description.
"If they are falsifying, they will freeze up," he said. "They don't want you to do that."
Melanie Thompson has conducted her share of interviews.
The human resources manager for RR Donnelley's Angola operation is a board member and past-president of the Northeast Indiana Human Resources Association.
Getting a reference on the record sometimes requires contacting the applicant's former supervisor and asking for a "personal" reference, one that speaks to the applicant's character and integrity.
Such references can skirt corporate policies that forbid official employer references, Thompson said.
"Ironically, it is best to avoid contacting the human resource department for references, unless there are no other contacts from the organization," she said.
Thompson sometimes turns to legal documents to verify work history. "Tax records, such as W-2 forms, can be a useful resource too if there are legitimate concerns about an applicant's job record," she said.
But, she cautioned, all job candidates must be treated equally.
"Employers that require an applicant to provide tax documents but do not require the same from other job seekers could face claims of discriminatory treatment," she said.
Online businesses that help people manufacture a new past include CareerExcuse.com. The company didn't respond late last week to an e-mail request for information.
On its Web site, CareerExcuse.com offers an "array of professional services."
"We will act as your past employer and have our operators standing by in providing employment and personal references, verification of employment, providing verifiable alibis for unexcused absences from work or home, Caller ID spoofing, mail forwarding, untraceable phone numbers, virtual phone numbers … (etc.)."
The company offers the disclaimer that it can't guarantee clients will get hired and won't get fired if the deception is discovered. CareerExcuse.com also specifies it is not liable if a customer is fired.
Such businesses make it harder for HR professionals to weed out unqualified candidates, Thompson said.
"The fact these services exist is proof," she said, "that it is clearly worth all the effort and procedures HR must take and have in place to protect an organization from fraud and from hiring dishonest employees."