Part of the normal service provided by a professional recruiting firm is a thorough investigation and verification of an individual's background and credentials, including college degree(s).
Verification of a college degree is usually quite a simple matter. When provided with an individual's social security number, birthdate and year of graduation, most college and university registrars will provide the information by phone, at no charge.
While most people do have the degrees they claim, the number of individuals in the professional and executive work force who falsify academic credentials is on the rise.
Nobody Bothered to Check
On paper, Harry is a leading candidate for a top marketing position with a prominent oil services organization. His resume says that he has a solid history of employment progression with the right companies and the right degree from a top school.
Recruiting someone with Harry's credentials is normally an exercise in persistence and persuasion, and he was no exception. However, after several phone conversations, it seemed clear that he knew his stuff and was well qualified for the position.
At the conclusion of our last conversation, Harry was casually asked if he would give his social security number so we could verify his college degree, something we do as a matter of routine at this point in the search. I knew from the inflection
of Harry's voice that something was not right. He asked if I would hang on while he got to another phone and asked his wife to hang up the extension. When he came back on, he confessed that he had not, in fact, graduated from college. He said that
he had completed three years but because of family financial pressures, never graduated. He explained that he had always assumed that, because of his high level of performance at the three companies where he had worked, no one had ever bothered
to ask about his degree. He saw no harm in saying he had a degree because at this point in his career, he rationalized, what difference did it make anyway? And, by the way, he added, there were two jobs of very brief duration early in his career
that were not on his resume.
Problem Seen Increasing
Harry's story is not unique. Over the last 10 years we estimate that about 15 percent of candidates for executive and professional positions unexpectedly withdrew from consideration or eventually admitted they did not have a degree when asked for
their social security number so we could verify their degree(s). During the last two years the occurrence of this problem has shown a marked increase.
Harry's story is unusual only because of his candor in admitting he did not have the degree he claimed. More commonly, individuals confronted with the question suddenly decide to "think things over" before they give their social security number.
Thinking it over is usually followed by a letter, e-mail, or fax, explaining the applicant's withdrawal from consideration for personal reasons.
With equal frequency, individuals will give their social security number or birthdate and bet we will not follow through with the verification, because no one ever has before. When we do, and get back to them with the problem, sometimes they admit it but
most often will respond that there must be some mistake. At this point, we usually give them the name and phone number of the person at the college to whom we spoke and suggest they clear up the matter or ask that they send us a copy of their
transcript or their diploma. Occasionally, there is, in fact, an administrative problem with records at the college that can be resolved. However, most often, candidates simply state that they are too busy to worry about such things and withdraw,
explaining that they are not "that interested" in the opportunity after all.
While the example of Harry involved a marketing executive, it is our experience that the percentage of individuals faking academic credentials remains pretty constant across most professional disciplines and executive levels. What this means is
that for every five candidates we develop for a position, we can expect to have one eliminated when we start verifying academic degrees.
When caught in the bind of falsified academic credentials, people will often ask a very difficult question: "If my many years of performance and experience qualify me for the position, what difference does is make that I never finished my degree?"
From our perspective it makes no difference. However, it is our experience that 95 percent of the time our clients hired individuals with the academic credentials specified and have never hired any candidates who were discovered to have falsified part of their employment or academic history.