Resume Fraud Research by Krannert's Brian Dineen, a professsor of organizational behavior/human resources, examines the social components of resume fraud as part of his ongoing research on matching job seekers with companies. (Stock image)

Truth or Consequences

Krannert research measures intentional resume deception among job seekers

Resume fraud is increasingly common in today’s competitive job market, typically garnering the most media attention when it involves top-level executives like former Samsonite CEO Ramesh Tainwala, former Wal-Mart vice president David Tovar and former Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson, all of whom resigned following revelations they had misrepresented their educational backgrounds.

According to Brian Dineen, a professor of organizational behavior/human resources in Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management, it’s even more prevalent among rank and file employees, with some staffing agencies reporting erroneous information in more than half of their screened resumes.

“Resume fraud is pervasive and hurts organizations in numerous ways,” Dineen says. “It’s unfair not only to qualified applicants who don’t pad their resumes, but also can tarnish reputations, increase hiring and training costs, promote unethical work cultures, detract from job performance and ultimately expose companies to legal liabilities.”

Dineen’s most recent paper on the topic, forthcoming in the Journal of Business & Psychology and titled “Assessing Intentional Resume Deception: Development and Nomological Network of a Resume Fraud Measure,” was co-authored by Christine Henle, an associate professor in the Department of Management at Colorado State University, and Michelle Duffy, a professor and the Vernon Heath Chair at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management.

While prior research by Dineen looked at resume fraud from a broader employer and staffing view and found that it’s more likely to occur the longer applicants have been engaged in a job search, his current paper approaches it from a job-seekers perspective.

“There’s an important social component to resume fraud because people tend to compare themselves to others,” Dineen says. “Within that context, our focus in this study was to develop an empirically valid measurement for investigating resume misrepresentations that are intentionally designed to mislead recruiters.”

The researchers begin by defining three different categories of resume fraud: fabrication, embellishment and omissions.

“Intentional fabrication is knowingly stating false information, like an educational degree you never earned,” Dineen explains. “Embellishment is more of an exaggeration, such as misrepresenting your involvement in a project.”

The third category — an intentional omission of information — can be more difficult to gauge, he says.

“Some job seekers leave things off their resume simply to try to keep it to a single page, but the key is whether or not you’re trying to deceive potential employers,” Dineen says. “Not including summer jobs you had in high school is much different than excluding the dates of your employment to hide large gaps or omitting a job from which you were terminated.”

The researchers further refine their focus to determine which individuals are more likely to commit resume fraud and whether resume fraud relates to critical work behaviors — including the hiring process itself.

Because no other valid measurements of resume fraud existed prior to their study, the researchers used interview faking behavior (IFB) as a baseline for comparison. As defined in research co-authored by Mike Campion, Purdue’s Herman C. Krannert Professor of Management, IFB involves the conscious distortion of answers to interview questions in an effort to create a more favorable impression.

Although similar to resume fraud, IFB is verbal and takes place in a two-way, interpersonal context. In contrast, resume fraud is written, one-way deception that’s committed privately. While both are associated with poor performance and workplace deviance once someone is hired and on the job, Dineen’s study found that resume fraud is independently related to such outcomes and should be considered separately.

The study also examines how different personality types are predisposed to resume fraud, particularly through links to the integrity traits of Machiavellianism and moral identity.

“Machiavellianism describes someone who tries to attain self-oriented goals through manipulation and the abuse of power, while moral identity is how people define themselves around such characteristics as compassion and honesty,” Dineen says.

In addition, the study looks at resume fraud as it relates to the personality traits of conscientiousness, emotional stability and agreeableness. “Taken together, we found that job applicants who lack these traits are more willing to misrepresent themselves on their resumes,” Dineen says. “They also are more disposed to continue behaving deceptively through work behaviors like theft, sabotage, lateness and lackadaisical performance.”   

Dineen says the implications for further study are numerous. “Some of the data we have gathered in another study suggests that people's level of fraudulent or counterproductive behavior tends to co-occur with others in their environment,” he explains. “In other words, if you have close friends and colleagues who do it, it’s more likely that you do it, too. We want to look at that more closely.”

A related study that looks at ethical behavior from the employer side also is in its early stages.

“For example, we want to examine whether there are differences in job seeker reactions when  organizations portray themselves as socially responsible, compared to when third parties brand them this way,” Dineen says. “It all comes back to our big-picture goal of understanding how best to match job seekers with the companies who want to hire them.”

By Eric Nelson

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