False Resumes, Degrees Common

December 6, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — Quantum Services President Fred Brown is often surprised by the numbers associated with recruiting and human resources.

For instance, at a recent Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) conference, he was impressed to learn that the average annual company cost of employee turnover is $50,000.

He said it also seemed more than a little scary to encounter an SHRM statement that 40 percent of resumes are bogus.

Actually, it’s worse than that. Of over 3.7 million background checks by ADP Screening and Selection Services last year, 52 percent of employment, education and credential checks revealed inaccuracies. 

Such statistics became more real to Brown when he learned that an acquaintance had suddenly gotten a Ph.D.

“I was like: ‘When did this guy become a doctor?’”

The person had purchased a fabricated degree from an online diploma factory (see related story).

“I was surprised that it was that easy to do,” Brown said. “People really do go out and get degrees that way. And he was hired — they didn’t check it and a local company hired him.”

Since then, Brown has seen fake diplomas come across his desk as well. Only a few weeks ago, a resume trumpeted a master’s degree from an American university. Try as he might, Brown could find no trace of the school the applicant had claimed to attend.

Another example is a recent applicant for an engineering management position, a graduate of OxfordUniversity

“When a guy has a master’s from Oxford, that’s impressive,” Brown said. “Until you call and find out it’s not the one in (England). It’s one on the Web, somewhere.”

When Brown called Oxford University — the one that’s not in the British Isles —  to verify the degree, the woman on the phone was happy to provide references, dates attended and to explain the intricacies of an intensive online program that incorporates work and life experience on a credit basis.

Later that day he called the college’s Web site number, only to have a completely different conversation with the same woman.

“They started trying to sell me the degree,” he said.

“They started out telling me it cost $5,000 and before I got off the phone it was 500 bucks. You get a different line if you call up pretending to want something than when you call for reference.”

Like Brown, Sue Chu of DK & Associates is often asked to conduct background checks for clients.

Chu — vice president of human resources — said, “We do a thorough regimen to ensure that what the resume is indicating is true,” she said.

“If someone is six credits or a semester shy of a degree and they say they’ve graduated, that prompts us as a point of contention. We make sure that everything they say they are, they are.”

DK’s background checks extend well beyond college degrees into criminal backgrounds, credit scores and employment histories.

Some clients take special interest in education, however, even mandating a check on a candidate’s GPAs.

Many of DK’s clients’ concerns relate to a new hire’s access to high-value equipment, currency and secure information, which necessitates thorough checks — especially for management employees.

Verifying a college degree is actually a simple task.

Some colleges offer online databases to verify alumni. Most schools will confirm that a student attended the school if the employer provides the name and dates of attendance.

Some colleges, however, refrain from divulging graduation status unless the prospective employer furnishes the applicant’s Social Security number.

“That can be disheartening for employers,” Brown said.

“You’re not allowed to grab (a Social Security number) until you’re going to make an offer. You’ve gone through hundreds of resumes and only then can you run background checks.”

Some colleges require that employers request transcript copies to obtain degree specifics, added Chu

According to Brown, red flags to look for include an impressive school, a school located out of state or country, and a lack of information about the school — including the tell-tale absence of a direct-line phone number or address.

Accreditation agencies separate legitimate universities from diploma factories. Most such accreditation bodies — such as the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges — are approved by the U.S. Department of Education.

Although not necessarily due to the prevalence of bogus degrees, Brown explained that many of his clients now consider professional certifications as more important than advanced degrees.

Quantum Services has created a Web site to help employers with candidate screening at HRInterview.com.      

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