The departure of Vish Nandlall from the CTO role at Telstra caused a stir due to allegations that his resume was partly falsified and that he had plagiarised presentation material.
Nandlall denied the allegations, saying he was returning to Canada for personal reasons.
But Telstra is hardly the first ICT company to have had alleged issues with a senior employee’s resume.
Yahoo! CEO Scott Thompson stepped down in 2012 after it was claimed that he did not hold the computer science degree mentioned in his resume. Veritas Software CFO Kenneth Lonchar left that company in 2002 after allegations that he had falsely claimed to hold an MBA from Stanford University.
Also in 2002, Lotus Development CEO Jeff Papows left the IBM subsidiary following the Wall Street Journal’s [paywalled] report that he was a Marine Corps lieutenant not a captain, and that he did not hold a PhD from Pepperdine University.
So how can organisations -- and employees – ensure they don’t hit the headlines for the wrong reasons? The solutions are relatively simple.
Rule number one: check resumes
For employers, these HR debacles should be a reminder of the need to check the resumes of all shortlisted applicants, particularly for senior positions. It’s relatively straightforward to have an education institution confirm that a candidate really was granted the degree or qualification they claim to hold.
Career history can be trickier. Some organisations are extremely reluctant to provide anything other than the most basic details – that a person occupied a certain position at a particular time – but that does provide a starting point.
The further back in time you go, the harder it is to find someone willing and able to comment on the person's actual job performance. Even if the candidate does provide a referee relating to a position they held a decade or more ago, it is not a simple matter to check that the person you contact really is who they purport to be, especially if (as is likely) they are no longer with the relevant organisation.
Personal data can be found online and used to cross-check claims made in applications or resumes. Premium access to LinkedIn makes it easier to track down people who can confirm or deny claims made by applicants. Or you may discover someone else claiming to have held the same position as the candidate during the relevant period. That wouldn't necessarily mean either were being untruthful (they may have been peers), but it may indicate further investigation was called for.
The more senior – or more sensitive – the position, the more important it is to check the claims made in the course of a job application.
If you can’t do the work yourself, specialist services such as First Advantage, Reality Check and Verify will do it on your behalf. And recruitment firms should be able to include these checks as part of their service.
Rule number two: don’t lie
From job seekers’ perspective, it’s understandable that they want to maximise their chances of being hired. But the things people seem most likely to consider lying about – qualifications and employment history – are among the easiest to check. And those checks are increasingly being performed at earlier stages of the hiring process.
If you're worried about a gap in your resume, recruiters generally advise not to fudge the dates of the surrounding jobs. If it's too long to put down to an extended holiday or long service leave, treat it as an opportunity to mention volunteer work, training courses, private projects or the like. But make explicit the relevance to the job you're applying for, and stick to the truth.
Another practice that seems to get a bad reception from recruiters is making a vague reference to having studied at an institution without actually claiming to have received a degree.
Recruiters suggest that if you only did a short course, say so; if you didn't complete a course, either omit it completely (especially if it was in the distant past in career terms and hardly relevant to the position sought) or indicate the requirements you met while making it clear you were not awarded the degree.
One of the problems facing job seekers is the widespread use of keyword filtering for initial screening. While better screening systems allow for synonyms, there's no guarantee that any two terms will be correctly matched.
That can be a particular issue for applications who need to – or want to – use specific terminology. For example, a person's formal title at their current employer might be IT Director yet their duties correspond to those of a CIO at many other organisations. Or they may have been awarded a Master of Administration degree but the university subsequently renamed the qualification to MBA without significantly altering the content. That person may miss out if the recruiter is merely looking for a CIO with an MBA.
One way around this is to include both terms, while being careful to stick to the truth, such as "Master of Administration (MBA)" or "IT Director/CIO".