Recently there was a news story about an individual who was discovered using a fraudulent educational certificate in an attempt to get a job in the office of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago. On the same day there was another news story about another individual who was found to have been using a fraudulent educational certificate in an attempt to gain a promotion at their place of employment and that the person had used the same fraudulent educational certificate to gain their initial employment at that organization. These news stories may sound like exceptional events but unfortunately, in today’s business world, they are not. People, when seeking to get a job, will falsify information on their application.
Hiring the wrong person can be detrimental to an organization. There is the cost involved in the initial hiring and then if you do find out that the person lied, there is the cost of repeating the entire hiring process. According to a survey conducted by Right Management Consultants, the replacement cost of a bad hire is one to five times the salary of the job in question. Among the extra costs are the direct and indirect cost of recruiting and hiring, the direct and indirect cost of training, and the wasted wages and benefits. If the person that was hired turns out to be dishonest, there is also the potential direct and indirect cost of stolen funds, materials, equipment, disruption of the work environment, loss of customer goodwill and employer reputation.
Educational credentials are frequently falsified on resumes and applications because applicants assume that most companies will check on past employment but will not check educational credentials. In addition, job candidates are more likely to lie to small businesses because they assume that those companies are even less likely to perform background checks on their candidates. Among the common methods of falsifying educational qualifications is to claim that they graduated from a particular school when in fact they never attended it or only attended for a short time. Another method is to claim that they earned a particular degree when all they did was to take a few classes in that field. In some cases applicants will show a degree that was really earned by another family member or show a degree that they purchased from a diploma mill, which will award you a degree once you pay the required amount and list some life experience. Another technique is to show a degree from a university that they actually attended, but the degree they really earned is different from the degree that they show on their resume.
In most job interviews or pre-screening interviews, it is normal to ask to see evidence of a person’s educational attainments. It is equally normal for the applicant to state that they have brought copies and to hand over those copies. Over the years, I have formed the habit of asking to see the originals. However, with the plethora of educational institutions that are available today, can you really tell what the original certificate/diploma/degree is supposed to look like? With scanning technology so readily available and the advances in personal printers and photocopiers, how can you tell that what you are looking at is a genuine certificate? Are you in a position to know what the signatures on those documents are supposed to be, especially if the person claims that they did their course of study several years ago?
So how do you go about checking educational credentials?
The first step is to look carefully at the resume and see if anything is out of sequence. Most people follow a traditional progression to get their educational qualifications. There would usually be high school, followed by a bachelor’s, then a master’s and, finally, a doctoral degree. If on the resume there is no bachelor’s degree but there is a master’s degree that is a red flag. It does not mean that the person is being dishonest, simply that more investigation is required.
It takes some time for a person to earn their degrees, with a bachelor’s usually taking three or four years, a master’s taking two years and a PhD even longer. If the time period shown for the person’s degree(s) is less than that, then that is another warning sign warranting further investigation. The person may be falsifying their credentials or may have bought the degree from a diploma mill. Now diploma mills can be difficult to identify, especially because they often use names that are close to or sound like those of well-known colleges and universities.
The next step in verifying educational qualifications is to contact the university. Most college registrars will, upon request, confirm dates of attendance and graduation, as well as degrees awarded and majors. When doing interviews you should always get written permission from the applicant for you to do a background check including educational qualifications. Once you have the written permission, university registrars can provide a certified academic transcript. Unless you are very familiar with the particular school, you should not stop your investigation simply because someone answers your questions on the phone or responds with a letter. Some diploma mills offer a “verification service” that will send a phony transcript to a prospective employer who calls.
Another step is to research the school on the internet. You should check to see if the school is accredited by a recognized agency. Colleges and universities accredited by legitimate agencies generally undergo a rigorous review of the quality of their educational programs. If a school has been accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency, it’s probably legitimate. You should be aware, however, that many diploma mills claim to be “accredited,” but the accreditation is from a bogus, but official-sounding, agency they invented.
If all of these efforts sound like time-consuming work, it can be, but it is better to invest the time up front and get the right person, than to hire persons with falsified documents and regret it later. You can also hire a firm that specializes in background investigations and have them do the checking for you.