I write a lot about lying, mostly because it is happening all the time. Candidates lie to recruiters for a variety of reasons. Recruiters have to expect a certain amount of lying. Some of it is even understandable. Here are some examples:
George says he is willing to relocate, no problem. Weeks later, many obstacles materialize that would interfere. These aren’t sudden changes in his life. Why did George lie? Because he didn’t want YOU to rule HIM out for the opportunity. He wanted to be in the driver’s seat to judge if this would be a compelling position for him. Is there a way to get at the truth? Yes. You must be willing to go right up to the line, right up front, and ask, “What obstacles could there be to your ability to relocate?” Most candidates will then be truthful, and when they open the door to those issues, you can explore them.
Mary tells your researcher/recruiter (first line point of contact) that she is making $150K. Your position pays $130-140K, so you think perhaps you should rule her out. But she is so qualified, you take her through a few more steps. When you, the person in charge of the search, talk to her in more detail, Mary reveals her base salary is $127K, but with bonus (not paid in the last year) and stock options (which are on a vesting schedule), her PACKAGE is $150. However, last year, Mary made about $125K without bonus, before her raise, and with minimal option vesting. So, your opportunity at $140K, with a targeted 20% bonus indeed represents a step up. Why did Mary lie? She didn’t want to undersell herself. She thought if she said $127K, it might lower the ultimate offer she’d get from the employer. When a candidate talks about comp, train your recruiters to ask, “So your base salary is….? And your bonus potential is…? And the actual amount of bonus you’ve received in the past three years has been …?” This detailed line of questioning must be asked congruently – as if you expect the truth. Don’t waffle. Make sure the candidate knows you mean business, and that the employer expects the exact amounts.
Harry says he was recruited to his last two positions. Later on, in exploring his job changes in detail, he reveals that his departure was a “mutual decision.” Probing, you learn he was let go, then contacted recruiters, and found jobs through those recruiters – not quite being “recruited.” Why did Harry lie? This one is obvious: He didn’t want you to rule him out because of a spotty track record. We ask, “What were the circumstances of your departure from Company A?” If the candidate takes more than 2 sentences to answer, and if you are unclear on what they are saying, odds are they were fired. Probe, probe, probe, with questions like: “Who made the ultimate decision? What would your boss say about the circumstances of your leaving? Did you receive a severance package? Did you have the new position before you left Company A? Will your ex-boss from Company A be a reference for you? No? Why not?” Get the details.
Unfortunately, these patterns occur all the time. Mostly, candidates are trying to protect themselves from harm – the harm of being deselected too soon – before a recruiter really knows the whole story. What candidates DON’T always understand is that many of these facts won’t necessarily rule them out. If they have all the qualifications, employers have learned to not always judge the fine print in the past, especially if the candidate has been forthcoming and truthful.
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Mark: Great insights. Good for you. Candidates always include bonus (potential) in their salary even when not paid. I always ask the base, but I love the idea of asking for the past several years of bonus. Candidate's gloss over being terminated and your technique is excellent. The relocation issue is common, but one which is rarely an issue in my practice.
However, one area candidates always lie about is their specific experience. We are advertising recruiters and I have learned to probe. I had a candidate just today tell me she had done lots of television production as an account manager. When I probed, I learned: she had never been on a "shoot"; she had never been responsible for budgets; she had never attended a "pre-production" meeting. These are telltale signs that she didn't know what she was talking about. When I explained that telling the truth was important because I didn't want her to get into a situation over her head which could cause damage to her career, she was thankful. The rest of the interview went very well.
One candidate gave me his salary and then said " well everyone fudges 20%, right?" It was a brief phone call.
Possibly one reason why candidates engage in 'Puffery' (with the exception of 'Harry' I wouldn't call any of the above actual lying, 'Mary' is a text book case of telling the truth in a way that leads the listener to reach a conclusion which may not reflect the actual situation, aka Puffery) is that they are told to. Any book on writing a resume/CV I've ever read, any podcast on writing a resume/CV I've ever listened to, any course (in school or after) on job seeking I've ever attended has told the reader/listener/attendee to 'big up' their experience, their salary, their knowledge and themselves. The argument is often that "Everyone else is doing it, and employers expect it, so if you don't you're selling yourself short."
I particularly remember one book aimed at Europeans looking for work in the US. It explicitly said that in the US applicants will claim to be expert in something even if they can only do it basically with the How To book with step by step instructions (this was pre-web) open in front of them and will automatically put Senior or Lead in front of every job title (even if they were the most junior person on the team). In Europe an applicant would only claim to be an expert if they had written the aforementioned How To book and would only claim to be Senior or Lead if that was the title their employer had given them.
Thanks for sharing this tip. It is true that not all lying has criminal intent but may be guided by misconception about what recruiters and employers expect in the job application and salary negotiation process. I am glad to learn that some recruiters - in the spirit of great CRM - will make the effort to look deeper at the candidate's qualifications. This is why I love insisting on using Challenge-Action-Result (CAR) bullets or add a Point Paper to shows the candidate really knows their craft. I further caution my clients to neither under- nor overstate their salary history or current requirements. Nevertheless, this is why many of us professional resume writers have disclaimers about lying in our contracts - If they lie, they will lose, not us
Roleta Fowler Vasquez, CPRW/CEIP