The recent bribery scandal involving admission to elite universities is just the latest data point reminding us how careful we must be when we hire people. Credentials don’t tell the whole story.
In case you somehow missed the news, the FBI is bringing charges against wealthy parents, coaches of non-scholarship college sports teams, test administrators and an admissions consultant. Allegedly, the parents paid large sums to the consultant who then used a portion of the money bribing coaches and paying for falsified admissions test results.
The coaches receiving bribes would designate the parents’ children as non-scholarship recruited athletes for sports such as sailing, crew, tennis and water polo, even faking photos of them participating in the sports. The recruited athlete designation was the ticket to jump the line and get admitted, without meeting normal admissions criteria.
There is a stunning lack of integrity exhibited by everyone involved in this scandal. If you define integrity as doing the right thing, even when no one is watching, and not doing things you wouldn’t want reported in the news, this was a pretty spectacular fail. I could easily get a full column out of that. But today I have a different concern.
This FBI investigation netted about 50 people. It might seem like no big deal. But I have to believe that cheating on admissions tests and other workarounds is much more extensive than this. And there are plenty of legal ways for students who aren’t all that qualified academically to get into schools with a boost from wealthy parents.
What these parents are buying, in addition to snob-appeal, is a credential. They want their kids to graduate with credentials, whether they are capable of earning them or not.
To be fair, trampling the truth isn’t confined to the super-wealthy. Others have scammed admissions tests. Once accepted, there is ample evidence of academic cheating and plagiarism in colleges. Anyone can fabricate credentials and experience on their resume.
How can you rely on anyone’s credentials when you make hiring decisions? The simple answer is that you can’t rely solely on credentials claimed by candidates.
This may seem obvious to some readers, but who hasn’t seen someone with impeccable credentials, who was absolutely not qualified for the job they were given? In my corporate career, I saw resumes claiming college degrees from people who went to school but never graduated, resumes listing schools that didn’t exist, and grade point averages that couldn’t be confirmed.
There is no fool-proof way to deal with this, but there are several things you can do to help avoid problems. Many businesses obtain employee screening reports from professional background checkers. These reports can check past employment claims, credit history and criminal records.
Academic credentials including degrees and grades are not difficult to verify. If you care that a claimed degree is real, request a transcript to be sent to you directly from the school. For recent graduates, ask for professors or a department head as references.
For jobs requiring specific skill sets, create a test project and ask candidates to complete it. Check whether their thinking, communication and presentation skills reflect the abilities they claim to have.
Last, but not least, use your probationary period wisely. Too often people slip through the probationary period without their skills being tested and evaluated to ensure that a good hire has been made. There is no excuse for letting that happen.
Unfortunately, not everyone is who they appear to be. Most people earn their credentials, but some don’t. Do your best to learn who your candidates really are.