How to spot a phony candidate
The economic downturn has meant a shrinking pool of potential vacancies for jobseekers, so it’s hardly surprising that some will go to extreme lengths to get noticed by employers. In fact, a survey conducted at the end of last year by Staffbay found that, shockingly, a fifth would lie on their CV if it meant impressing a future boss.
As a recruiter, it can be frustrating when someone who looks the perfect fit on paper turns out to not be a phony. Adrian Kinnersley, managing director of Twenty Recruitment Group, had such an experience when one candidate admitted to lying on their application. “When I asked them about a particular company on their CV, they said that actually, they’d been fired, but had since started their own business under a similar name and the majority of clients were yet to notice,” he says.
Exaggerating work experience on a CV or fabricating skills on an application form are perhaps the most common misdeeds of phony candidates, but you’ll also find this species spluttering over their facts and figures in an interview, or talking loudly over other candidates in a group assessment situation to hide the fact they don’t have the right skills or qualifications for the role.
So what can recruiters do to root them out? Jenny Straumers, principal consultant in talent and assessment at Penna, believes a great start is a rigorous, structured interview. “A skilled interviewer will be able to go through the candidate’s CV, talk through each of their roles, the timeframe etc, but use other questions to verify these points. If the candidate’s not real, they are sure to slip up at some point,” she explains.
The candidate’s fluency when you meet them in person can be a real indicator of whether they’re telling the truth or just talking a good game, says Kay Chouhan, director of Kinnect Personnel. “You can usually tell a phony candidate because they’ll give you a really detailed CV, but when you get them to talk about it they can’t justify what they’ve done. You ask them to explain something, and they get agitated.” Averting their eyes or stumbling over facts are other obvious warning signs that they’re lying.
If you’re unsure of any aspect of the candidate’s application or behaviour, using pre-screening quizzes or psychometric tests can be another way to double-check they live up to their claims. “Look at other ways of assessing the individual as well as an interview. Psychometrics can be a good predictor of future performance, or you could include a killer question in your pre-screening questions – if they answer ‘no’, they automatically don’t go through,” advises Straumer.
Dan Russon, services director at IT services company Xceed Group, offers a leftfield tip: “For the braver hiring manager, try throwing in some nonsense facts about the candidate’s sector or role that they should know to be untrue. If they agree, you know they are out of their depth. If they correct you, then you might have a very good candidate sat in front of you.”
Few fake candidates make it past the interview, but for those really savvy ones who manage to charm their way past a recruiter to the job offer stage, then it’s crucial to follow up on references, and not just the standard ones from their previous employer’s HR department. “Talk to people who worked with them, what did they do? Have an off the record conversation with people in their network,” says Chouhan.
Ultimately, hiring someone who isn’t who they say they are can end up costing more in the long term – whether that’s through their mistakes or the need to find a replacement. By using screening, interviewing and assessment tools to back each other up, phony candidates should not stand a chance.