With job-hunters desperate, employers on alert for resume deceptions

At a time when employers receive hundreds of applications for a single job opening, a glowing reference could be the difference between standing out and sitting at home.

At a time when employers receive hundreds of applications for a single job opening, a glowing reference could be the difference between standing out and sitting at home.

Enter, a website that promises to "act as your past employer" and provide you with a positive reference. "You provide us with your name, employment dates, ending salary and job titles, we do the rest!!" the site pledges.

Of course it's never OK to lie, and doing so can backfire. But some workers are desperate in what is the worst job market in more than a generation. In particular, the long-term unemployed worry that the more time they spend out of the work force, the harder it will be to land a job. Some fear their skills will atrophy or that employers will think that's the case.

And so more job seekers have turned to falsifying their resumes and references, according to some workplace experts. In turn, employers are beefing up screening of new candidates with credit checks and high-tech tools that can root out deceit.

"It's a mistake to think that you can lie about something to get in the door and prove yourself," warned John Challenger, chief executive of the outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas. "It's certainly a sign of desperation."


Besides, employment advisers say there are steps you can take to make yourself attractive to an employer -- even if you've been out of work for long time. Lying isn't one of them.

Still, websites have popped up and tapped into job seekers' anxiety. Some offer advice on embellishing resumes and getting references from friends and family pretending to be your old boss. CareerExcuse provides references for a price.

CareerExcuse did not return phone calls or e-mail. (My attempt to sign up for the service also seems to have been rebuffed.) But the founder, William Schmidt, told last year that he got the idea for the site after seeing so many people on Twitter asking strangers to be a reference.

The site says it won't be a reference for police, fire, medical and government jobs--or for loans -- but everything else is game. The cost runs $65 to $195, plus a monthly service charge. (For $35, the site will provide a funeral excuse for those who want time off for a vacation.)

CareerExcuse says it can't guarantee you won't be caught or fired. And it disavows any liability.

But employers' lawyers aren't willing to let such sites -- or those that use them -- off the hook.

"It's concerning that there are websites that would purposely sell incorrect information that they know that people will be relying on, perhaps to their detriment," said Pamela Devata, a labor and employment lawyer in Chicago who represents employers.

It can be difficult for employers to conduct thorough reference checks because former supervisors won't say much for fear of being sued by an ex-employee, said Richard Hafets, a Baltimore County labor and employment lawyer representing employers. References tend to only verify a worker's position, pay and dates of employment.


Workers know this, he said, and falsifying resumes and references has become more common.

"They feel they have more liberty to embellish and that it will be more difficult for a new employer to find out if they are embellishing," Hafets said.

More employers are resorting to credit checks on candidates. The reports reveal the job seeker's past employers and any financial difficulties, a key piece of information if a worker will be handling customers' money, employers say.

The practice, however, has come under scrutiny. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently held a hearing on the use of credit checks in hiring and whether it's fair, particularly today when those who have been laid-off a long time likely have credit problems.

Employers also hire firms to do reference and background checks, which can use sophisticated means to root out deception.

SkillSurvey Inc. in Pennsylvania offers an online program and recently added a feature that detects if the candidate's references come from the same computer or network. This could mean the references all work at the same company where the job candidate once worked. But it also could signal that the references are phony.

SkillSurvey pointed to one of its clients, The Children's Hospital in Aurora, Colo., that decided last month not to hire a candidate. It appeared that all the references were generated by the same computer using different e-mail accounts, said Randy Williams, the hospital's director of staff. The hospital couldn't verify the references, and attempts to contact the job applicant went unanswered.

Lying may be more frequent in this tough job market, but it's nothing new.


"We have always seen it," said Bonnie Windsor, senior director of human resources for Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System, one of the largest employers in Baltimore. The hospital system receives 10,000 applications a month for up to several hundred openings. Windsor estimates that nearly one-third of applications contain a fib.

The most common: a reference turns out to be an uncle or other relative pretending to be a candidate's former supervisor. And sometimes applicants make up a list of past employers, figuring Hopkins won't check, Windsor said. Moreover, with diploma mills churning out degrees, Hopkins no longer accepts a paper certificate as proof of education.

Windsor advises that if you have been out of work for a long time, don't fill gaps with little white lies. "Gaps now are not that unusual, so being honest is a good policy," she said.

And there are steps the unemployed can take to make themselves more marketable.

Be prepared to answer questions about what you have been doing with your time. If you're in the midst of a long bout of unemployment, it's important to remain engaged. If you can't find part-time work, volunteer. Take classes to keep your skills up-to-date, particularly if you're in a fast-changing field.

Debbie Shalom, owner of Amazing Resumes & Coaching Services in Baltimore County, said one client was a laid-off accountant who volunteered to handle the books for his church. That allowed him to show an employer he was using his skills during the year he was out of work. And he landed a job, she said.

Volunteering and getting involved in professional associations also prevents you from being isolated and allows you to build relationships that could generate job leads. "It's a people process. You can't just sit by the computer and send resumes out and wait for the world to find you," Challenger said.

All these activities, and the skills you've gained from them, will give you something to emphasize on your resume without having to embellish.


As far as references, they don't necessarily have to be a former supervisor, Shalom said. A reference can be the teacher of the class you took, your rabbi or pastor, or a customer with whom you had a good working relationship.

And don't underestimate yourself. "Everybody has issues," Challenger said. "There is no perfect candidate."

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