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LinkedIn Profiles: Puffery Or Outright Fraud?


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Scott Thompson was forced out of Yahoo after his resume embellishment was discovered.

There’s been an unsettling trend in business over the last decade or so to make every member of the workforce appear and feel just as important as the president or CEO. Receptionists are now the “Director of First Impressions,” while our janitors became “Custodial Engineers.”

Now I truly have all the respect in the world for the hardworking people who hold these challenging and important positions but let’s keep it real — directors and engineers they are not. Not surprisingly, this phenomenon of rebranding, and exaggerating basic functions has now spilled over to the average resume and, in particular, on LinkedIn profiles.

I do not mean to disparage LinkedIn; in fact, my company uses it a lot. But there are flaws in the system that both hiring companies and job seekers need to be aware of.  At the core, there simply seems to be no methodology in place for monitoring accuracy, and frankly, with almost 200 million subscribers, maybe that’s just not realistic.

Flagrant Misrepresentations

Let’s be honest, anyone with half a brain is going to produce a resume that paints them in the best light possible. As a recruiter, I would encourage them to do so. There is indeed an art to a properly crafted professional profile that can mean the difference between getting the interview or not. But that’s a far cry from what I’m seeing, which I would politely label ‘flagrant misrepresentations,’ and more directly, flat out fraud.

Titles are exaggerated to the point of pure fiction. Job functions and experiences are grossly overinflated. Work dates are incorrect or worse, complete fabrications. References are even bogus or at best guilty of the “I’ll endorse you if you endorse me” game. I often can’t tell if some of these people just have amazing, albeit misguided, imaginations, or if they’re in fact that delusional.

Question Everything

Consider this a wake-up call.

First, to recruiters and hiring managers:  Take nothing at face value. Crosscheck references and throw out the tit-for-tat love fests in favor of real conversations and fact-finding with former employers. Probe deeper than ever before with questions that quickly weed out exaggerations and fiction. Funny thing, the worst liars almost always choke at the slightest confrontation. (I see you were a manager. How many people did you manage? What was the first name of your top producer? That silence or stumbling you hear is the sound of lying.)

Candidates: I beseech you to cut out the dramatics. Get real about who you are, what you’ve done and where you’ve been. Endorsements from your fellow cube mates mean nothing to me. And if you failed at something along the way, be honest about it. One of my favorite questions is to ask candidates to describe one of their failures. If they can’t come up with one, I know I’m dealing either with an ego bigger than the both of us, or a person incapable of insight and self-reflection. Either quality is too toxic for me to hire.

There’s a somewhat sarcastic saying that goes, “This I know, because the Internet tells me so.”  Given the current environment and resulting difficulties, recruiters have to be cautious, sharper, and on top of their game more than ever before. Ronald Reagan’s signature phrase was “Trust, but verify.” While that has always been a mantra of the recruiting industry on some level, today I’m afraid we must make it our standard policy.

Debby Millhouse is the Owner and President of CEO Inc. Founded in Charlotte, NC in 1994, CEO Inc. is a full service recruiting firm providing direct hire placement, temp staffing and human capital services for clients nationwide. Millhouse has been honored as one of the Top 50 Most Influential Women by The Mecklenburg Times, inducted into the Business Leader Hall of Fame as one of the top entrepreneurs in the Charlotte area, and given the Women in Business Achievement Award winner by the Charlotte Business Journal. CEO Inc. has also been honored with the Charlotte Ethics in Business Award, Charlotte Best Places to Work Award, and recognized as one of the top 50 diversity-owned businesses in the state of North Carolina. She is a Certified Staffing Professional (CSP) as designated by the American Staffing Association, Certified Personnel Consultant (CPC) and Certified Temporary Staffing Specialist (CTS) as designated by the National Association of Personnel Services. She can be reached at 704-372-4701 or visit CEOHR.com for more information.