No recruiter will deny that they have come across candidates who have fudged their résumés. Many potential employees don’t really think twice before pretending to have worked in fictitious companies or stating incorrect tenures. So multinational companies and foreign companies in India, as well as Indian companies across sectors, are leaning towards employee checks for all types of potential hires: from lower to middle management.
Background Screening Trends—India April to June 2011, a survey by First Advantage, a global risk mitigation and business solutions provider, states that the overall discrepancy rate for background checks fell from 10.9% in the last quarter to 9.6%. But “misrepresentation related to previous employment increased to 80% of those discrepancies,” says Wayne Tollemache, executive managing director—international at First Advantage, Mumbai. To illustrate, of every 1,000 background screenings done in India, 96 were found to have discrepancies. Of these 96 cases, nearly 77 were found to have differences in the employment-related data while three were found to have reported education-related data incorrectly. The remaining 16 cases can be attributed to discrepancies in, or misrepresentations of, information related to address and criminal record checks, etc.
The report categorizes and quantifies discrepancy trends in background checks on existing and potential employees in India. First Advantage has been releasing quarterly trend reports on the industry since 2008. They are available to anyone on its website.
On the rise: More and more companies are now going in for background checks on potential hires.
Applicants providing incorrect tenures of past employment remain the single largest reason for employment-related discrepancies in India. In the second quarter, travel and hospitality, education, healthcare and pharma sector companies had the highest number of employment-related discrepancies. Middle-management-level applicants accounted for 21% of discrepancies in the second quarter compared with 19% in the first quarter.
The concept of background screening was introduced in India around a decade ago. Says Tollemache: “Primarily, it was triggered by the changed security environment after the 9/11 attacks in the US; more Fortune 500 businesses set up shop in or outsourced work to India, and they expected their India-based entities/partners (mainly information technology or IT and business process outsourcing and IT-enabled services or ITeS companies) to follow processes which were integral to them back home.” More than 90% of Fortune 500 companies have a formal policy on background checks. This has led not only to background screening of their employees in India, but also background screening of employees of their outsourcing partners.
Clifford Dweltz, director, Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations India (Pvt.) Ltd, New Delhi, says: “Background screening in India is on the sharp rise month after month. It’s a small investment to mitigate a risk which might result at a later stage as a background screening helps in pre-empting a wrong hire from jeopardizing the organization in future which could be very critical and result in a huge embarrassment/financial losses too.” Pinkerton offers organizations security services, identifies risks in potential employees, and partners in effective solutions.
“Nowadays companies want to verify employee credentials because they understand misrepresentation by an employee can impact the company’s brand, status and values,” says Deepankar Sanwalka, head, risk and compliance group, KPMG, India. Third-party verification across sectors is carried out by several agencies such as KPMG, First Advantage, Pinkerton and Matrix. “Background checks are often requested by employers for on job candidates, especially when seeking a position that requires high security or a position of trust, such as in a school, hospital, financial institution, airport, and government,” says Udit Mittal, managing director, Unison International, an HR solutions company, New Delhi. “When all the credentials of the candidate are not fully verified and it requires some time to do so, the candidate on board is put on amber status. It means full information is not available. When employee-submitted information is found to be suspect, the agency informs the company, which then takes whatever action it deems fit,” says Sanwalka. Typically, the amber status doesn’t last for more than a week, provided all the other information furnished is correct.
Besides this, companies carry out their own internal checks to verify employee credentials, asking the previous employer about the status and efficiency of the employee, and checking the educational details too.
The National Skills Registry (NSR) set up by Nasscom has a national database of background information, including personal, academic and employment details of individuals employed/to be employed in the IT and ITeS industry. “Organizations such as ours and many companies are members of NSR, and the data is also a source of information to us,” says Sanwalka.
We asked some organizations how they were almost fooled and how verifying claims made by potential employees helped them avoid incorrect hiring decisions.
Three candidates selected for a specific skill had submitted forged employment certificates, salary certificates and experience letters at KPIT Cummins Infosystems Ltd in Pune. These documents were verified on email with the HR head and also on phone—the contacts had been mentioned on the letterhead of the company. “However, since this was a case of one too many joining from the same firm, we decided to do a physical verification,” says Renuka Krishna, associate vice-president, talent search and deployment. A visit to the office address proved that no such company had ever existed. “We questioned the concerned employees, who admitted they had paid money to an agent to purchase the certificates. The services of the employees were terminated.”
Once bitten, twice shy: “Integrity is an important value for our company. If a candidate is able to do the job required of him/her but has got in with false credentials, we are not willing to trust such a person with the company’s image,” says Krishna.
She finds that in recent years, there has been an increase in the number of cases of fake previous employment certificates and education degrees. “The documents furnished are done so skilfully that it is difficult for any recruiter to check authenticity by just document verification. Hence, it has become important to conduct employee verification through alternate channels such as site visits,” she says.
An excellent candidate had passed all the interview processes, was scoring well, and Reliance Broadcast Network Ltd, Mumbai, was on the verge of giving him his employment letter, when a reference check showed he had not completed his MBA and was yet to appear for the finals. “This contradicted what he had claimed, and we did not hire him,” says Meenakshi Roy, senior vice-president, HR.
Once bitten, twice shy:Roy says that when an organization gets into a relationship with a prospective employee, it is best to avoid surprises in the submitted facts and information. “Employee-credential verification ensures a safe, secure and like-minded and people-friendly work environment.” In the case of remote locations being mentioned, there aren’t professional service providers to cross-check résumé details in an efficient manner. “References that are given by candidates are sometimes not very objective. Hence, we make it a point to cross-check with multiple people before finalizing a candidate (for example, ex-employees and colleagues, etc.).
“We have had an instance where a front sales manager stated that he was the assistant sales manager. We counselled the employee and told him this was undesirable behaviour which would impact his career. We terminated his services immediately,” says Rajkamal Vempati, head, HR, ICICI Lombard General Insurance Co. Ltd, Mumbai. She adds that when a candidate is being hired, he/she is not hired for short-term gains. “It is a matter of the company’s brand and service standards. Hence, right behaviour is paramount.”
Once bitten, twice shy: Falsification of employment records is the biggest challenge. Candidates inflate designations, fake organizations and do not report a break in service. “With KYC (know your customer) norms for the financial services sector, we only intensified the process of verifying employee credentials. It ensures that negative behaviour is minimized and right behaviour is reinforced in the organization,” says Vempati.
False educational certificate
J.M. Prasad, chief—human resources, ING Vysya Bank, Bangalore, says there have been cases of candidates presenting fake education certificates or false previous employment details. “While some of this may not have a direct bearing on their current role in the organization, we take such instances very seriously as it raises fundamental questions on the ethical fibre of the employee. We are not willing to expose our customers and shareholders to this risk.”
Once bitten, twice shy: Prasad says it is an important risk-mitigation activity to ensure that employees with the right background are on board. “Lack of background checks exposes us to severe reputational and even financial losses in the long run.” Since most of the colleges/universities in India do not have centralized databases, manual checks on the certificates submitted have to be carried out. At times, it takes two-three weeks to verify a single employee. Prasad says background credentials are also “a platform to independently check the credentials given by the candidate, thereby reducing any liability caused by negligent hiring.”
“Hiring processes are expensive investments. The only way to ensure the right candidates with the right qualifications and experience enter the organization is through verification of employee details. It is the only safety net,” says Manoj Menon, senior vice-president (operations), SunGard Technology Services, Bangalore. He recollects an instance of a candidate with strong credentials who mentioned working on a project at a previous company. “When we checked, it was found to be untrue. He had not worked at that job. We did not make the job offer to the candidate.”
Once bitten, twice shy:Companies often find that someone who’s good on paper does not translate to someone good at the job. With reports of people having terror links in the IT industry, it is imperative that a high level of scrutiny and security is maintained, says Menon.
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