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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 14, 2002

Honesty best policy for job applicant

By Susan Bowles
USA Today

Your resume is polished, your portfolio complete, and you just aced the interview. What more could a company want before hiring you?


Before it extends an offer, chances are the company you want to work for will comb your resume and job application to verify every claim. Depending on the job, hiring managers may look at your driving record or credit history. They may even check the courts to make sure you don't have a criminal record.

What turns up could cost you an offer or lead to your firing.

Why the scrutiny?

• Job candidates lie. Of the 2.6 million background checks that ADP Screening and Selection Services conducted last year, 44 percent of applicants lied about their work histories. Twenty-three percent fabricated credentials or licenses, and 41 percent lied about their education.

• Companies are liable. If a job candidate with a history of drinking and driving is hired as a courier and injures someone while driving impaired, a jury may find the company negligent if it didn't review the candidate's driving history. "That's a huge legal reason" for background checks, says Wendy Bliss, principal of Bliss & Associates, a Colorado-based human resources consulting company.

• Bad hires can affect morale and productivity. Hiring someone with a propensity for substance abuse or workplace violence can wreak business havoc, Bliss says. So can hiring someone who claims to have certain skills but doesn't.

Job candidates can expect such attention to increase. While a study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) showed 69 percent of companies surveyed in 2000 did background checks, anecdotal evidence suggests a significant bump since Sept. 11.

"Since 9/11 there's a much larger awareness out there," says Dean Suposs, vice president and general manager of ADP Screening and Selection Services. "We have seen a tremendous growth in our products and services since."

What, then, can you expect when applying for a job? How do you cope with a black mark in your past?

1. Be prepared. Assume companies will verify previous employers, job titles, salaries and how long you worked at each job. Most companies check references beyond those you provide.

Depending on the position you're applying for, expect prospective employers to look at your criminal record, verify your education and other credentials, pull your driving record and credit reports and confirm your Social Security number.

"Really, job seekers should be expecting to run the application gauntlet," Bliss says.

2. Don't embellish. Dishonesty is the top reason people don't get hired.

"It comes down to the veracity of the candidate," says Susan R. Meisinger, an attorney and president and CEO of SHRM. "People generally have enough good stuff in their background they can highlight that they don't have to inflate."

Besides, if falsehoods aren't discovered during the interview process, they could be after you're hired. Then you'll probably be fired: Providing false information is grounds for firing at most companies, Bliss says.

Almost everyone has some sort of blemish in their past. The key, Bliss says, is knowing how to deal with it.

3. Before interviewing, assess your strengths and accomplishments. Also take stock of anything a potential employer may wonder about. Did you once walk off a job? Were you ever fired? Study those scenarios to see what you learned.

"How can you turn the lemons into lemonade?" Bliss asks. Employers aren't necessarily looking for a perfect candidate, but one who learns life lessons, Bliss says.

If your past contains something more severe — a drunken driving citation, for instance — be prepared to discuss the incident. Most job applications ask about criminal convictions. Note the infraction, Bliss says, then offer a brief, written explanation or indicate that you'll discuss the incident in the interview.

"If you're not asked on the application, you don't necessarily have to offer it up," Meisinger says. "But if you're asked, be up front."

"Honesty is the best policy," Suposs says. "Typically, if it has no bearing on the function of the job and you don't bring it into the workplace, they don't care. They do care if you lied to them."