How to detect deception on CVs

Due diligence and careful interviewing are key to verifying the facts.

Is that impressive CV on your desk the ticket to the best employee your firm has ever hired, or are you staring at a bouquet of lies? You want to believe your dream employee, who has ticked off all the boxes, is a perfect match for the position you have available, but job-seekers sometimes add extra polish to their experience and qualifications to give themselves a competitive edge. When falsehoods appear, they tend to be attached to a candidate’s work experience, education, technical skills, and duties or experience gained in previous jobs.

“On their CVs, candidates may not think their experience is good enough, so they might tweak it just a little bit or embellish it,” said Jackie Fitzgerald, FCMA, CGMA, owner and coach at Alquimia Coaching & Development of Harwell, Oxfordshire. “They might change a former job title, imply they have achieved more success than they have actually achieved or taken on responsibilities they never had.”

A 2015 survey by First Advantage, a global provider of background screening analytics and identity solutions, found that nearly one-fourth (23%) of job candidates in the UK admit to exaggerating the truth on their CV or in a job interview to land a position.

Recruiting and hiring talent is a major undertaking for any organisation, large or small, and the stakes are high, according to Matt Weston, Bristol-based managing director at Robert Half UK, a worldwide organisation that helps its clients hire accounting, finance, banking, technology, and administrative professionals.

“Hiring is a costly exercise when you consider recruitment, onboarding, and training,” Weston said. “Your business is only as good as the people you hire. You must invest in the hiring process and do it right, or the consequences can be massive.”

Managers put their reputations on the line when tasked with filling a job opening, and if they are not experienced human resources professionals, the risk of a hiring mistake can be quite high.

Busy managers with many responsibilities may struggle with the additional duty of performing the due diligence that comes with hiring new employees. However, from carefully reviewing CVs to employing skilful interview techniques, there are a variety of ways to go about the hiring process that will ease the burden and help ensure you bring in the most qualified and truthful employee for the job.

Weston and other human resources professionals offer advice on how to detect CV fraud and what to do about it.

Know what you’re looking for

Katie Aldridge, a director with The HR Dept Newbury, an UK-based firm that provides human resources support for small to medium-sized companies, recommends starting the hiring process by examining your own organisation and its personnel needs.

“Clearly define the roles, responsibilities, and expectations for your new employee,” she said. “Consider the type of person you are seeking and list the tasks and activities you expect them to perform.”

Use benchmarking to measure your hiring practices against industry standards and to create consistent processes and procedures for managers to follow that might include standard background checks and standard job descriptions used for comparison against the skillsets listed on a candidate’s CV to ensure they are realistic. Having good, standardised practices in place helps you avoid taking the job candidate’s list of accomplishments and experience at face value by applying your own firm’s hiring polices to the process and smoothing the way to making effective hiring decisions.

Interview smart

Fitzgerald advises hiring managers to probe the depths of a candidate’s career experience during the interview process. She suggests that hiring managers consider using behaviour-based interview techniques as an ideal way to verify qualifications, education, skills, and other important aspects.

“Ask questions about the candidate’s experiences,” she said. “Pull those experiences from their CV and ask how it felt when they achieved success, met a specific goal, won an award, or earned an advanced degree.”

Weston recommends conducting competency-based interviews. “Sometimes job candidates manipulate their roles. They may have been part of a team but might infer that their role was to lead the team,” he said. “Ask for examples of their achievements and the specific roles they played in those achievements.” Comparing their descriptions of their accomplishments and the roles they played on their teams to the actual competencies they need to achieve success will provide useful insight.

Use your instincts

If someone is not truthful, they may overexplain or hesitate a few seconds before answering a question, Fitzgerald said.

“If you detect hesitation, that might mean the candidate is experiencing uncertainty, so probe a little deeper,” she added. “Silence is also a good tool. Humans are wired to hate silence, and so they seek to fill it. If they don’t respond to your questions immediately, give them two or three seconds, and they’ll start talking, often bringing in new issues to explore and talk about.”

Watching body language for signs of deception when you ask job candidates to discuss their CV might provide clues they are hiding something, she added. “For example, they may not look you in the eye,” she said. “Be curious. Pay attention to anything that strikes you as unusual or odd.”

Seek proof

Robert Half relies on referrals, according to Weston. “We find that 60% of our job candidates are trusted referrals,” he said. “Through these referrals, we can learn a lot about candidates before we even see their CV.”

Aldridge recommends asking for documentation of qualifications, education, and other specifics. Along with probing skills and experience during the interview process, “Ask for copies of degrees, certificates, transcripts. Check references and do background checks, and make any offer conditional on the candidates satisfactorily completing these checks, including their eligibility to work in your country,” she said. Using online search engines and comparing résumés with LinkedIn profiles to look for inconsistencies are other tools available for verifying CVs.

Educate yourself on good hiring practices

Websites for firms such as Robert Half and The HR Dept offer informational blogposts, articles, and hiring tips. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and Society for Human Resource Management also have tools, programmes, and resources to help you hone your hiring and management skills.

“As an interviewer, it’s all about confidence and how you come across to your prospective employee, and curiosity is an asset,” Fitzgerald said. “If you catch an untruth on a CV, just ask the candidate or employee why they felt they needed to lie. Sometimes errors are genuine mistakes, and most people are horrified and are keen to correct them immediately.”

Teri Saylor is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at