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Brian Williams and the Ever Growing Trend of Resume Fraud

The Society for Human Resource Managers (SHRM) defines resume fraud as a "job seekers’ intentional inclusion of false information (fabrication), overstatement of otherwise accurate information (embellishment), or omission of relevant information (omission) on resumes in an effort to deceive". Although Brian Williams may not have been actively job hunting the overstatement of his credentials would certainly contribute to deceive potential employers in the future.

Recent news of Brian Williams’ exaggerations places him among the pantheon of high profile executives who have been caught over the years in the web of embellishing or overstating their accomplishments. A few examples include the infamous case of Notre Dame Football coach George O’Leary who resigned after it was discovered that he had lied for years about lettering in college football and obtaining a master’s degree from New York University, and Sandra Baldwin, President of the United States Olympic Committee, who stepped down in 2002 over educational inaccuracies on her resume. There are many others, too many to be listed in this article, but you get the picture. Unfortunately, the problem is much more pervasive than most people think, and not just among high-level executives, but among the rank and file workforce.

In a 2012 study, SHRM reported that 53% of resumes and job applications contained falsifications. [1] In the same year, ADP reported that "46 % of employment, education and/or credential reference checks conducted revealed discrepancies between what the applicant provided and what the source reported." [2]. Two of the 2012 SHRM study’s key findings stood out for me:

  • Job seekers who had committed deviant acts in the past were more likely to have fraudulent resumes, and
  • Job seekers with lower levels of moral identity were more likely to commit resume fraud.

In comparison to a 2002 survey conducted by executive search firm Christian & Timbers which revealed that “23% of executives misrepresent accomplishments”[3], the numbers have practically doubled.

So what is the cost to business? According to Corter Consulting, the cost for these deceptions can range from $3,637 up to $532,500 per employee, depending on their job level! [4] This reflects the estimated cost of turnover only and not the impact to a company’s reputation, its customers, and company morale. Interestingly, they quote the Harvard Business Review who found that “80% of employee turnover stems from mistakes made during the hiring process.”

These findings highlight the necessity to expand pre-employment background checks beyond the scope of criminal records to include education, credential, past employment, and reference verifications. Only then is it possible to gain a complete picture of the person you are hiring.

Albert Einstein once said, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters”. If a person lists a job, degree, or experience on their resume, even if it is not required for the job they apply, verify it. If an applicant is willing to “exaggerate” about any of this, what else will he “exaggerate” about?

[1] Resume Fraud: Investigations of the Antecedents and Consequences of Fabrication, Embellishment, and Omission

[2] Resume Falsification Statistics

[3] With a Surge In Hiring Around The Corner, Companies Need To Be On the Lookout For Resume Falsification

[4] INFOGRAPHIC – What’s the Cost of Employee Turnover? Corter Consulting

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