Sentiment analysis: From the consumer world to the workplace


Jo Faragher

Jo Faragher

Jo Faragher is a writer and editor, specialising in HR and employment issues. She is a regular contributor to Personnel Today, People Management, First Voice (Federation of Small Businesses magazine) and Times Higher Education. She was awarded the Towers Watson HR Journalist of the Year prize in 2015 and was Highly Commended for the same award in 2019.

A ‘white lie’ on a CV or a candidate elaborating their experience in an application is not just a black mark against their honesty, it could also spell future trouble for your organisation. In 2018, an investigation by the BBC Radio 4 File on Four programme found that NHS consultants and nurses had been buying up bogus degree certificates from non-existent universities via diploma mills in Pakistan 1. In this case, the falsification of qualifications could seriously impact lives, but there are many other potential consequences of failing to do a thorough background screening of a potential candidate, including exposing your business to security breaches or serious crime.

Background checksDuring 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic increased pressures on HR teams to ensure they screen candidates adequately and avoid these risks. Jamie Allan, background checking consultant at Experian UK and Ireland, explains: “Sectors that did not have a significant requirement for background checking until recently now have significant volumes of work to get through. The increase in workload is particularly pronounced in sectors where there has been a rapid increase in vacancies, creating a labour shortage in that area of the market.” Allan describes a two-fold impact: some teams will struggle to keep up where it’s hard to find talent or there are a lot of vacancies, while in others there may be ample work so candidates “reach for roles beyond their ability, experience or qualifications and become tempted to fake aspects of their CV to reach the interview stage”. The fact more people have been working from home than usual also creates a security risk of people having access to sensitive data while off-site.

There are multiple points during the recruitment process at which a candidate can provide information or documentation that is not an authentic reflection of their experience, qualifications or right to work in the UK. This can take many forms – from the relatively harmless act of a candidate elaborating their levels of experience on their CV to fake qualifications and documents. A study by recruitment site CV Library, for example, found that more than 90% of applicants had lied on their CV, with two-thirds admitting to an attempt to make themselves look more experienced 2. If this fraud is uncovered later on in the employee lifecycle, it could mean your organisation is at risk of reputational damage, or worse – legal action. Former CEO of Yahoo! Scott Thompson was forced to step down after an investor challenged his claim that he had a computer science degree. While he had not been hired on the strength of his claimed degree, his public position as CEO meant he had a greater responsibility to be transparent about his employment record.

Background checksWith hiring managers often facing large volumes of applications or CVs to wade through on top of their day job, it’s perhaps not surprising that these embellishments are not always detected. Research by recruitment specialists Alexander Mann Solutions in 2019 found that 53% of recruiters do not detect fraudulent CVs until the interview stage, and 49% during the background checking phase 3. Common falsifications included altering employment timelines, inflating job titles and listing fake qualifications. If someone has faked documents or references, they may also pose a higher risk of committing a crime within your business, says Tony Machin, CEO of verification technology supplier TrustID: “Internal crime is one of biggest concerns for businesses but they don’t like to talk about it,” he adds. “If someone has fake documents, you will struggle to find them.” Furthermore, in certain roles working with children or vulnerable people where a DBS check is required, an applicant providing a fake document could create a dangerous safeguarding issue, so having a system in place to keep an audit trail of checks and balances made during the hiring process is crucial. This could be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet to bespoke screening software or services such as TrustID that work alongside your organisation’s applicant tracking and HR systems.

Automating aspects of the screening process can also reduce the potential for human error. The checks and balances offered by integrating screening capability into your HR system mean that actions aren’t assumed and time-short recruitment teams don’t overlook essential parts of the verification process. Machin adds: “To the untrained eye or someone who has just been asked to look at a photocopy of a document, there may be vulnerabilities. Some organisations and sectors end up with high fake rates, such as construction, or employers are targeted if it’s known they don’t perform proper checks.” Automating checks does not mean that fakes go unchecked – if there are questions over the veracity of documents or specific regulatory requirements, they can be escalated to a manual check. For the candidate it makes the experience more seamless, too. Allan adds: “Candidates find it incredibly frustrating when they are repeatedly asked to enter the same information. This increases the risk of delays in the process or losing an applicant’s interest. Leading organisations are investing [in background screening technology] to achieve a seamless candidate journey with no need for candidates to enter information in some circumstances. In turn, this is driving process efficiency savings.”