Thursday, October 11, 2012

How much of people's resume/CVs are checked?

One of the recurring themes of fabulists is how often they fake their credentials to gain their positions. One of my favorite ones is the 2009 case where a Texas A&M administrator claimed to be a former Navy SEAL. From the Austin Statesman:
Texas A&M's No. 3 administrator presented himself as a warrior-scholar: a former Navy SEAL with a doctorate from Tufts University. But records obtained by The Bryan-College Station Eagle indicate that Alexander Kemos never was part of the elite fighting force, and Texas A&M officials confirmed Friday that he doesn't have a doctorate or even a master's degree, which was a posted requirement for the $300,000-a-year position as the top adviser to Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin. Kemos resigned Friday morning, the day after he was confronted by Loftin in Maine, where they were vacationing.
So it comes as no surprise to anyone that Annie Dookhan, the dry-labbing chemist, was caught giving herself a master's degree in chemistry. From Carmen's article in C&EN:
Her résumé lists a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts, Boston*, but she does not hold that credential according to school officials.
Isn't it time that someone came up with a way of checking all the educational credentials that people report in their résumé and CV? If LinkedIn (for example) were to offer a "confirmation" checkmark the way that Twitter does with celebrities, I would think that jobseekers would be forced to verify their credentials (for a nominal fee, of course.) Are there résumé checking services? That'd would be a cheap way to avoid credential fabulists (or at least filter out the dumb ones...)

Readers, ever seen people claim to have things on their CVs that were not true?

(What's to stop someone from inserting their name into articles and padding their publications sections? "The Chemical Development of the Commercial Route to Sildenafil:  A Case History." Dale, D.J.; Dunn, P.J.; Golightly, C.; Chemdued, F.A.K.; Hughes, M.L.; Levett, P.C.; Pearce, A.K.; Searle, P.M.; Ward, G.; Wood, A.S. Org. Proc. Res. Dev., 2000, 4 (1), pp 17–22.) 

*There's a Sean Connery quote from "The Untouchables" that comes to mind.


  1. Verifying credentials is a very long and expensive business. To verify degrees, first you'd have to get my permission for the schools to release the information, then you'd have to contact the schools and wait for their reply. All this would probably be done by an outside contract firm (meaning real money is being spent). For a big profile position, that's not much of a concern, particularly if a scandal is a PR nightmare such as the Massachusetts Crime Lab case. But if a company (big or small) suddenly found out that a person didn't have a certain degree, they could then either 1) fire them, 2) pressure them into leaving, or 3) do nothing. None of these options would be a PR nightmare (there's not going to be any above the fold article for this) and so is the cost of knowing the truth ever really worth it?

    I think in most cases, the burden largely falls on the first (and maybe the second) employer. After that, the person's performance is all that matters.

    Imagine the nightmare of trying to verify degrees from schools outside of the country where English isn't spoken.

  2. Verifying credentials is a very long and expensive business. To verify degrees, first you'd have to get my permission for the schools to release the information, then you'd have to contact the schools and wait for their reply.

    If you didn't have the degree you claimed to have, and your potential hiring company asked you to sign off on permission to verify your credentials, the process would actually be a pretty short one. How many people would call that bluff?

    In the digital age, getting transcripts and educational information isn't as slow as it used to be. There's no excuse not to verify someone's credentials, especially in a government position where you are providing evidence of criminal activity.

    I've had colleagues who had to produce their diplomas (PhD) as partial evidence of their degrees.

    Then again, given the recent information about Abbott's pharma spin-off, AbbVie's future CEO not having any degrees, despite his biography saying he had a BS and MS in biochemistry for years, maybe lying does pay off in the long run...

  3. I've heard the head of Ph.D-hiring at a major company say, when interviewing a candidate, he would look over the list of techniques/expertise the candidate claims to have. Upon identifying the one he was most familiar with, he'd briefly quiz the candidate about the topic, as a spot check. If the candidate demonstrated competency, that was good enough. If not, the interviewer was inclined to assume that line, as well as most others on the resume, were fabricated.

    Not sure how one would apply such a spot check to the SEAL credential, though. Spar? Survival skills? Do SEALs have a unique tattoo?

    1. SEAL classes and teams all have distinct designations. Those are really easy to look up on line as there are alumni groups and fan groups with open-access web pages. The man in question, above, gave the wrong years with the wrong unit. Anyone who's been through SEAL training and who has actually served would know that information in their sleep.

      Additionally TAMU has a military tradition and a Corps of Cadets, therefore they have daily interactions with the military. Actual SEAL team members come to campus regularly for a variety of reasons. Several (not one or 2) noticed the person in question was obviously not a SEAL based upon mannerisms and the way he talked about it. They attempted to point this out to the president of the university (it became a joke). But nothing happened, that any of us knows about, until the story hit the newspaper.

    2. You can easily and cheaply find out who is or isn't a legit Navy SEAL. Asking about which BUD/S class they attended is a start, if they fudge that or they don't pass the sniff test email Don Shipley at In less than 24 hours and for 20.00 that goes to charity you have an answer. Save yourself time and money to avoid hiring a liar.

  4. TAMU now verifies credentials for all administrative and faculty positions. Some jobs require transcripts be forwarded along with the electronic job application. Most require transcripts be sent in the time between an official interview and a job offer. The graduate school always has demanded these for incoming students - ironic when you factor in the whole "Navy SEAL" debacle. When all this happened the top brass contacted the entire faculty and staff and requested verification of all credentials. I never heard if anyone else was caught with a fabricated CV.

    And to answer your question, yes, I've seen a completely fabricated CV. We hired an applicant because they listed a skill that we specifically needed right away. When they started working we found out the truth, in addition to finding out the person wasn't adaptable enough to learn the skill in spite of numerous people attempting to teach them. It ended up being a nightmare for all involved. Never lie on a CV or resume. Use pompous language, sure ["proven leader", "creative problem solver"]. But never lie.

  5. Anyone writing a thesis or a dissertation ought to be found on ProQuest. For those of us who help conduct job searches this has certainly made me more diligent about checking an applicants credentials.

    On the other end, does anyone know why degrees conferred cannot be public record? Is there a FERPA (Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act) issue? i can see grades being private, I don't care if people know I earned a chemistry degree from X university in Y year.

  6. While interviewing for jobs somewhat recently, one of the questions that seemed to come up often was "Do you REALLY know this skill?" It seems there's a lot of skill inflation these days in the job market. Along the lines of what anon11:33 said, I came to expect mini-quizzes testing the actual depth of my knowledge with specific key techniques that employers were interested in.

    After Osama Bin Laden was assassinated, I recall reading several articles about people falsely claiming to be SEALs for a variety of reasons. In agreement with what anon11:52 said, many commenters replied that asking for the person's squad number (don't know the proper term for this, sorry) is an easy way to sniff them out. Most can recite theirs in their sleep, even long after they've left the service.

    1. Yes, it's their BUD/S class number that will always be remembered.

    2. As you shout it out many times a day for 6 months!

  7. The other issue of checking credentials is that they may be bought and paid for. Someone might be staffing the "registrars office" and printing out bogus transcripts from what appears to be a legitimate institution. So now, you need to check the candidate AND the school they claim to have attended. Would a linkedin or 3rd party verification service vet the schools as well?

    Take a listen to the Freakonomics Podcast on the subject:

    1. As I said, with this, you'd stop the dumb fabulists... not necessarily the smart ones.

  8. Maybe academia really *is* an ivory tower, but applicants for faculty positions in my department had to arrange for their official transcripts to be sent to us (by the schools, not by way of the candidate). And we actually got on the phone to call the writers of letters of recommendation for our finalists (you know, to actually make sure they were written by the people the appeared to be written by).

    Human labor: it can get the job done!

  9. I once checked up on a co-worker of mine, way back 25 years ago when I got my first job as a BS chemist at a chemical company. That was back when companies didn’t check up on a person’s background very much.

    The relatively new Ph.D. I worked with was always bragging about how hard he worked in graduate school, etc. But he wasn’t so productive in the lab we shared. When another coworker hinted that Mr. Ph.D. did not actually have his degree, I decided to sleuth about.

    So I called up the registrar’s office at Mr. Ph.D.’s university, and said that I was from the membership section of the American Chemical Society and that I was verifying that Mr. Ph.D. had actually earned his degree in 19XX. The registrar’s office did not ask for my credentials, or anything (I must have sounded very young). The woman on the phone said that Mr. Ph.D. had attended the university, but that he had not earned a degree. On behalf of the American Chemical Society, I thanked her.

    I didn’t tell anyone what I had found out. Eventually, the company figured out that Mr. Ph.D. had failed his defense the first time around; they let him have some time off to prepare himself again, and he did pass the second time. But by then, his research career was pretty much done with, and he ended up in sales.

    I’m sure I’ve since worked with others who have dodgy credentials, but I’ve never checked up on anyone since.

  10. If companies or institutions aren't checking up on degrees it is simply a function of laziness, nothing more. There is practically zero cost to do this. Every fed lab and most academic institutions require official transcripts to be sent at some point in the process directly from the university in question, not from the individual. Now if hiring managers are too stupid to realize the difference between a real university and a diploma mill, that's another question, but again one that can usually be solved by less than 5 minutes of work using something called the internet. The only exceptions are some foreign universities, but even most of those you can find information fairly readily these days by finding the right colleague who has connections.

    I sat on a hiring committee at a university a few times and it is true that some people just randomly make up publications and other things. But likewise, it is easy to check up on a publication list these days compared to the pre-internet era. Harder to check up on a presentation list, but then that counts for far less anyway. But frankly, most of these people never make it to the short list if you're vetting them correctly. It's usually fairly obvious when comparing the layers of fluff to what the reference letters say. The people needing the fluff need it for a reason.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20