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How do you legally and reasonably ensure your candidate did not falsify items on his/her resume?

Most of this is done during the interview(s) by asking the right questions.

I'm interested in seeing how these issues are addressed:

  • Calling references which are completely false (I have heard of staged reference requests)... no actual experience with the reference, just a friend
  • Candidates can put whatever they want on the resume regarding experience/certification
  • Validating education details (degree, GPA)
  • Validating work experience

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12 Answers 12

up vote 8 down vote accepted
  • Calling references which are completely false (I have heard of staged reference requests)... no actual experience with the reference, just a friend
  • Validating work experience

Look up the phone number for the organization rather than use the phone number supplied, and ask for the relevant department or HR where you tell them you are verifying employment history. In the US, HR will confirm dates employed, title of position(s) held, possibly reason for separation, and little else. People in the department may yield more. Named references (i.e. friends, coworkers) you'll have to take at face value, though with your questions you can probe whether you're getting puffery or a reasonably straight opinion.

  • Candidates can put whatever they want on the resume regarding experience/certification

For colleges, high schools, and similar, you should be able to get a confirmation of certificate earned and date, though not much else. If, however, the person has a FERPA (that's the acronym of the enabling federal law) privacy block on their student records, the college can't even say that the person is or was ever a student. In that case, get back to the candidate and tell them that the college couldn't confirm their enrollment, ask them if they had a FERPA block, and if so, could they contact the college to remove it.

One of the local colleges here will send a transcript directly to the employer if the candidate requests a copy. I believe you can do the same thing with Microsoft certifications. –  Mitch Oct 14 '10 at 14:51

If the candidate makes it to the interview stage, the resume does not really matter. If they show 10 years of Exchange experience, but can't troubleshoot a simple routing problem in the interview then they either lied on their resume or they are just a bad candidate. Either way, what is on the resume is only useful until the interview.

Exactly what I was going to say - the resume is only useful as getting the candidate in for an interview, from then one, it's the interview itself that will reveal what the candidate really knows. Even if he has lied/exaggerated - I almost don't care if he can pass my questions, solve the puzzles, and show me that he has "common sense" and can "think rationally" about problems. –  Xerxes Jun 2 '09 at 15:42
I've always heard that the cover letter exists to get your resume read, and the resume exists to get you an interview. Your answer is just more evidence toward that fact. –  Matt Simmons Jun 2 '09 at 15:47
That is my thinking too. I use the resume in an interview to tailor questions and dig into the details of projects, but the resume itself doesn't have much value once we get in to the interview. –  Doug Luxem Jun 2 '09 at 15:48
@Xerxes Re Lying: You're going to trust this person with sysadmin access who has lied to you? Exaggeration is one thing, but lying? –  andyhky Jun 2 '09 at 15:51
@andyh_ky - arguably, any form of exaggeration is lying: which is the biggest reason I don't lie on my CV by adding things I didn't do, or inflating my role past what it really was. –  warren Oct 14 '10 at 13:08

I have found that the biggest problem is lies about a person's skills. Lies about where they worked and what they did are generally less relevant. A person can have references that check out no matter how careful you are, but they are still incompetent. They simply went from job to job being totally incompetent.

Trusting people will bring you problems. Never trust a candidate. Don't let someone deceive you because they get you involved in an interesting conversation - this could all be staged to prevent you from asking questions. Wasting time with candidates who are essentially trying to defraud you is also a problem. Be ready to end the interview early.

This is especially problematic with sysadmins. I believe that about half of candidates submitted by the best headhunters or filtered by careful HR departments are completely lying about the skills on their resume (90+% if unfiltered). They are usually telling the truth about where they worked - they just were allowed to be incompetent at the previous job. Since I've seen incompetent employees allowed to last for years at a job, this isn't a surprise.

What I do is:

Bring the resume to the meeting. Ask them the simplest possible question about every skill they mention. If it's DNS, ask what an A record is. If it's C, make them write Hello World. If they mention "Linux", ask for an example of a disk device name or name a very well-known configuration file and ask what it's for (e.g. /etc/fstab). If they can't answer a trivial question immediately and confidently, they are a liar. The interview is over, hiring a liar is always problematic. They will lie throughout the job. It's like going on a first date with someone who instantly reveals themselves to be a pathological liar. Make sure they knew it was on their resume (that a recruiter didn't add it).

If the stress of being asked a trivial question about one of their skills is something they can't handle, they're not going to be able to handle the stress of a small project, let alone a production emergency. Sometimes the undue stress is from people with poor social skills, I don't judge people for simply showing signs of stress. But if they suddenly can't function, it doesn't matter what the cause is, they won't be able to do the job. They're lying about the skill, even if they can do it in some situations they can not do it in a real-world situation. If their language skills are too poor to communicate an answer, the interview is over. They're lying about the skill. "DNS" is an abbreviation for "able to configure and maintain DNS in response to requirements", being unable to communicate with others about the requirements means you do not possess the skill. If someone is poor at communicating, I try to determine how much of a problem this is, therefore how much of an impact this would be on their ability to do the job.

Explain to HR that you will end the interview early if they are lying about skills on their resume. You don't have a responsibility to make a person who is lying and trying to defraud your company not feel embarrassed that they were caught. Your environment will dictate how to handle this. The safest way is to say that you're going to send in the next interviewer. Shake their hand, tell HR that the person was caught with material lies on their resume, and to have them escorted out of the building. This reduces the risk of a violent confrontation. Remember these people are already trying to scam you - they indeed might escalate the situation.

If they get through this, you ask the next level of question about -each- skill. (you can do it in two passes to save time if you're suspicious, one pass if they seem legitimate). Some hands-on (give them a keyboard) testing is required for the second pass. If it says DNS on their resume, ask them how reverse DNS is handled, or what a PTR record is for. If it says C on their resume, give them a keyboard and have them write a program with flow control that actually compiles. If it says Linux, give them a directory full of files and ask them to rename some and delete others. Depending on the context and the severity of the problem, you may want to continue if someone fails on the second pass - e.g. if the skill is not needed for the job. "I used to know it and forgot" should not be acceptable at this stage. You're still asking questions so simple that a person who claims to have forgotten it and listed it as a skill is lying.

The next step to making sure their resume is honest is discussing their previous job experience. If they can't talk confidently about things they claim to have done and put on their resume, they are lying. Sometimes it's extremely poor language skills - too bad, the job requires communication and an inability to communicate is a legitimate reason to not hire someone.

After you've gotten through this point, the real interview can begin.

Seems a bit harsh. –  ewwhite Mar 2 '10 at 14:03
I'd point out, too, that "trivia" questions are pretty bad as a filter - interviewing is a stressful time (for both sides), and remembering the use of /etc/fstab (in your example) can sometimes pop right out of somebody's head in an interview. I know how to change ethernet interface settings but blanked for about 20 seconds in an interview when asked (partially because Linux sysadmin experience was irrelevant to the job, so I didn't expect to be asked about it) –  warren Oct 14 '10 at 13:01
If I was interviewed in this kind of adversarial way, I'd wonder two things. Firstly, if you were behaving like this because you really believed interviews should be run that way, or if you were taking out a bad experience with a previous candidate on me. Secondly, how desperate for the job I was to work with/for someone who behaved like that. An interview is a 2 way process - while you're interviewing the candidate, they're also interviewing the company. –  RobM Oct 14 '10 at 13:24
These are great points if you really want to catch people out, but is there much time left after asking 6 "hello world" questions and digesting the answers, to differentiate between different candidates who are all on equal footing in as much as you didn't catch them out for lying in their CV? I'd hate to go through this process 6 times in a day, and then end up having to run a second round of interviews... Interviewing is exhausting... –  dunxd Oct 14 '10 at 13:28
At this point in our technical history the ability to memorize and recall arbitrary technical information is worthless. Understanding how find the technica linformation you need and how it all fits together will always be more marketable than surviving technical gauntlets. –  shiitake Oct 14 '10 at 13:50

Checking resume items can be time consuming but might be worth doing if it's a serious candidate. After all, if they're willing falsify items on their resume it calls into question their ethics. Do you want to hand system admin privileges to someone like that?

The interview is the most critical element and shouldn't be short changed because that gives you an opportunity to size the person up and see if they are the type of people you want on your team.

Things you can check with the resume: 1. Certifications - most vendors that offer certifications also offer a way to check the status. As an example Microsoft has a way for their MCP's to share their transcript with a potential employer.

  1. Degree/GPA - the only way to validate this is with a transcript from their college.

  2. Work experience - if they don't provide a reference for previous work experience, there's no way to validate this except by asking them detailed questions.

  3. References - again, ask detailed questions, press them for specifics. Can you describe a typical day? How do they handle themselves in a high stress situation? Can you describe a specific situation where the candidate handled themself exceptionally well? Can you describe a situation where the candidate was lacking and how did they address it afterward? You could also ask the reference about what they do and judge if they know what they're talking about.

There's no real way to determine with any finality if someone setup a staged reference, you just have to do your due diligence and then use your interview process to bring in the best people.

I would never ever put references on my resume. Handing out names and contact details in this way is breaching someone else's privacy. References aren't really there to be taken up until you have offered someone the job, or trying hard to differentiate between two different candidates. I read somewhere once that statistically those who get poor references perform better than those with good ones. –  dunxd Oct 14 '10 at 13:31
I think references can be beneficial if the references can speak directly to aspects of the job you're seeking. Granted, you can omit contact details and just put name/title or name/company and furnish contact info on request. I'd be interested in seeing the research that shows people with "poor references" perform better than those with good ones. –  David Yu Nov 9 '10 at 18:58

Validating education details (degree, GPA)

Have candidates provide an official transcript from their college or university. That will contain the details of their degree and their GPA, and it will probably have anti-forgery features as well (official stationary, embossing, etc.).

In general, it was my understanding that employers could fire employees for falsifying information on their job application. That seems to be the best safeguard for deterring candidates from falsifying information on their resume, and for dealing with employees who were hired based on falsified information on their resume.

fwiw, I've only been asked for this information once - and that was 2.5 years (and one employer) after college –  warren Oct 14 '10 at 13:05

Well, for validating education details, I guess he has some sort of a diploma, some sort of paper. You can always ask for that. Colleges usually have a list of their former students (at least in this part of Europe).


I've got a few things listed on my CV (resume) - all of which are accurate. I've never been called on any of them though, because none of them prove if I can do the job or not. If someone claims to have a PhD, ask them for a copy of the dissertation - if it's in a relevant field.


I agree that the interview is key. Asking behavior related questions and specific scenario questions is the best bet.

I have called references with some success as well, but I do understand that caution should be used.


Another trick is that after speaking with the "reference" you can ask the person providing the reference to provide you with two other people who worked with the applicant at this job. It takes a little more time but IF the reference provides you with other people that you can speak with you can pretty easily get better information as you move on down the line of the references' references.

  • References: Generally I think talking to the reference and getting into some detail about a project that's on the resume or came up while talking to the candidate might help. You sort of have to go with your instinct while talking to them.

  • Made up experience: This should show up during the technical interview. If they demonstrate the skills you want during the interview and feel like other experienced candidates, they probably didn't make it up. If you're interested in some skill or experience on their resume, probe it.

  • Educational details: At the in-person interview stage, does this matter? If it matters, call the school registrar.


I'd agree with most of the above, the interview is the best place to ask some probing questions, and provided you know your stuff or have someone in the interview that knows what questions to ask then you should be able to get an idea of whether the candidate is suitable.

In a modern world you could also use services like linkedin.com or plaxo to if you know anyone that you trust that knows the candidate rather than using the referee they provide, after all who would name someone that is going to give them a bad reference.

If its a candidate for a technical post lots of companies are also now asking candidates to do a test during the interview, so asking them to look at some code or do sample certification questions, but be wary of these tests as they don't often give a true reflection of a candidates abilities in the real world most of us have access to reference materials in our day to day jobs.


First of all - trust people. And they will respond in kind.

If you will try to check out all my educational and working experiences I will probably just get offended.

The world has adopted the single uniform approach of verifying people for suitability for the job as a 2-stage-process:

  1. Job inteview
  2. Evaluation time

That's it.

Anyway, how would you check the activities in other countries? It could be that it is a normal practice in US for universities to confirm their previous graduates, in some other country university secretary may not even be able to read your request or write a response in English. Or maybe nobody will bother to process your request since they are not going to be paid for. The same applies for companies (if they're not international and very open).

A university has at least some interest in verifiying a graduate. If the candidate falsly claims a degree from a university, that university could get a bad reputation if they don't refute the claim. –  Les Jun 2 '09 at 19:00
in an ideal world, this would be a valid answer - but it's non-ideal: if you'll get offended because I want to make sure you worked where you said you did, then I don't want to hire you in the first place. "Trust, but verify" is the motto du jour on this. –  warren Oct 14 '10 at 13:03

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