Written By: Reid
Feb 01, 2000
It is well established that the best predictor of a job applicant's future behavior is that person's recent past behavior. This is particularly true with respect to their employment history. Has the applicant demonstrated good reliability with past employers? Do the applicant's past job duties and responsibilities qualify as the type of experience needed for the present position? Has the applicant been discharged from a previous employer, or resigned under pressure?

Unfortunately, it is not possible to answer these questions by merely reviewing a job application or resume. A number of studies have shown that up to 1/3 of job applications are inaccurate or contain false information. Within the employment section, the three most common areas of misrepresentations are failing to list employers, the reason for leaving a job, and the job position. A smaller percentage of job applicants will falsify their salary or dates of employment while the smallest percent will list fictitious employers. This explains why employer references, who will typically only verify an applicant's employment and dates of employment, often reveal very little falsified information. In most situations, the only way to identify inaccurate information about an applicant's employment history is by conducting a face to face interview with the applicant.

Consider the following information from a job application you must interview today. The job application listed this information about their most recent employer:

Employer: First National Bank
Position: Assistant operations manager
Salary $35,000
Dates of employment: June, 1997 November, 1999
Reason for leaving: Career advancement

Many interviewers would question this applicant along the following lines:

Q: I see your last job was at the First National Bank.
A: That's right.
Q: I assume that was a full time position?
A: Yes, I worked 40 hours a week and only called in sick three days during the two years I worked there.
Q: That is quite impressive. What were your duties as an assistant operations manager?
A: I was in charge of teller scheduling and working with tellers when there were balancing or procedural problems. I also was involved in training new tellers. I made presentations during our monthly meetings and assisted the operations manager in some of her duties.
Q: It sounds as though they gave you a lot of responsibility.
A: Yes they did and I handled it very well. My performance reviews were always positive.
Q: Now you left the bank in November for career advancement. What do you see yourself doing 3 years from now?
A: I believe I have the experience and potential to become an operations manager at a larger facility, which is why I applied here. Three years from now I would hope to be working at or near that level.

If all job applications were completed truthfully, this interviewing approach may be quite adequate. But what if this was one of the 33% of job applicants who falsified their application? The nature of the interviewer's questions almost guarantees that the misinformation will go undetected. The reason for this is that the interviewer's questions are all predicated on information already submitted by the applicant. In effect, the interviewer may already be buying into the applicant's lies and is merely giving the applicant an opportunity to expand on them and make the misinformation appear more credible.

For this reason we recommend that the human resource interviewer have the employment application out of sight during an interview, and work with the applicant to develop a fresh employment history. In other words, interview an applicant as though you have no knowledge, whatsoever, about the person's background. There are a number of advantages to this approach. As already mentioned, it eliminates the possibility that the interviewer will support pre-existing misinformation on the employment application. It also forces the applicant to re-construct, from their own memory, their employment history. Using this guideline, here is how the previously job applicant would be interviewed:

Q: Are you presently employed?
A: Well, I'm a part-time waitress but it's just to carry me over until I find full-time employment.
Q: I understand. What is the name of that employer?
A: It's the Golden Gate restaurant. I didn't put it down on the application because it's not really relevant.
Q: That's fine. When did you start working for the Golden Gate restaurant?
A: December 2, 1999.
Q: And where did you work before that?
A: The First National Bank.
Q: What were your starting and ending dates for working at the bank?
A: I started right after graduation so that would be June of 1997 and I left in November of 1999.
Q: What was your position at the bank when you left?
A: Well I was hired as a teller, but I also did some administration type duties.
Q: Tell me about those.
A: I helped the operations manager train new tellers and helped younger tellers balance their drawers and stuff. I attended monthly operational meetings and had input in those.
Q: When you left, what was your title?
A: I guess a teller. They really didn't have a job description for what I did.
Q: In November, before you left, what percentage of your time was spent working as a teller?
A: I don't know. Maybe 90%.
Q: Okay. Why did you leave that job?
A: Why did I leave? Well, its kind of hard to explain. You see some new accounts that I had opened came up short and because of those discrepancies they had, like an internal investigation and stuff. Well, there seemed to be a misunderstanding and I didn't want to be, you know, caught up in the middle of it so I decided to leave. It's really too complicated to explain.
Q: Did they ask you to leave the job?
A: Well... I would consider it sort of mutual, if you know I what mean.

While this interview example was created, it is typical of the job applicants we screen everyday. Consistent with national research, about 33% of job applicants we interview have falsified their job applications to the extent that the employer (our client) considers the applicant an unsuitable risk if hired. Re-creating an employment history from scratch during a preemployment interview certainly takes more time than feeding the applicant questions derived from their existing application. However, the extra time spent in the pre-screening process more than compensates for the costs of increased liability, decreased moral and productivity from hiring one undesirable employee.
Permission is hereby granted to those who wish to share or copy this article. In those instances, the following Credit Statement must be included "This Investigator Tip was developed by John E. Reid and Associates Inc. 800-255-5747 /" Inquiries regarding Investigator Tips should be directed to Toni Overman