Resume fraud: Warning signs and how to protect yourself

If you have experience in the tech staffing business, you may have noticed a recent rise in the amount of fraud and dishonesty in the marketplace. This is perhaps inevitable given the high level of demand for data engineering and data science skills. So, how can you separate those candidates who can walk the walk from the posers?

We here at Dataspace have come to realize that customers work with us partly because we intensively screen each candidate. In fact, our yield rate, the number of candidates who make it through our screens, is between 1% and 2%.

So we thought it would be helpful, and perhaps a touch entertaining, to list a few of the telltale warning signs we’ve seen and some of the steps we take to protect our clients from fraudulent candidates.  

Does it really make sense?

It is clear that there are candidates and staffing firms that just gather sentences and buzzwords from the web or from other resumes, and slap them together on the resume they send you. They assume that recruiters will get lost in the mass of text but see the right buzzwords (automated keyword scanning contributes to this problem) and advance the candidate.

The end result is generally a 4-5 page resume. But, if you dig a bit deeper, you’ll find that this text frequently just doesn’t make any sense. For example, you might find:

Competing technologies appearing on the same assignment – A recent applicant detailed a project built with Microsoft technologies on the Microsoft Azure cloud database service. But if you read closely you’d notice a single bullet point describing experience with Amazon’s Redshift. Now, it’s not impossible to have a project using both Microsoft and Amazon cloud databases, but is it likely?

We’ve seen the same when it comes to ETL tools. It’s possible for a company to use Informatica, Data Stage, and SSIS but, is it likely? And, is it likely that a consultant used them all on a six month assignment?

Statements about an assignment that make no sense for that industry – Earlier this year a candidate detailed his experience for a state government. One of the resume’s bullet points, however, detailed writing data movement jobs that handled multiple kinds of SKUs. Now, SKUs, or stockkeeping units, are a retail concept and not something that makes sense in most government environments. This was clearly a bullet point grabbed from somewhere else and thrown onto this resume.

We control for issues like these by doing a few things.  To start off, we are now very cautious about resumes that run longer than 2 pages. We don’t automatically reject them, but we do pay special attention to them. We also critically screen each line of a resume, looking for logical inconsistencies. And, finally, even if the candidate passes through those screens, we dig deep during the interview phases, forcing candidates to uncover which skill sets they really have and which terms were sprinkled onto the resume, like lemon on a five-day-old old piece of salmon to make it seem palatable.

Can the candidate answer very basic questions about where they worked?

We once interviewed a candidate whose then-current assignment was listed as “Walmart in Bentonville, AR.”  During the interview, when we asked him where he was calling from he said, “I am currently in Bentonville, Arizona” (AR is of course, the state abbreviation for Arkansas and Walmart is famously headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas).  

In another case we asked a candidate about the street on which their recently-ended New York City assignment was located. Lo and behold, they couldn’t recall. We had to wonder, how one can commute to an assignment every day for 18 months and not know the street on which it was located? Interesting.

Asking simple questions about the weather or the commute can often be revealing and may give an indication that the candidate is fibbing about their assignment, or maybe even posing as a different candidate, which brings us to our next point.

Are you even interviewing the candidate who’s going to show up at your office?

Occasionally things will happen during the course of an interview which lead you to believe that the candidate is simply not who they say they are.  We’ve found that it’s commonplace in the staffing business for qualified candidates to participate in interviews for those that aren’t as experienced or polished.

We do all of our initial screening via Skype video calls. Why? because in the distant past we had a situation where the person that arrived at the client location was not the person we evaluated and contracted. This became instantly clear when the consultant who showed up had only the barest grasp of English and Business Objects, which was funny because, on the phone they spoke perfect English and answered advanced Business Objects questions.

We recommend that at least one stage of the interview process be conducted via video calls and that the call include someone who will be working directly with the contractor. Doing this will help ensure that the contractor who arrives on day one is the same one you interviewed.

Did the candidate actually work at the places listed on their resume?

Just last week a candidate had their most recent assignment listed as at a financial services firm and when we asked for a reference at said firm, the candidate hesitated.  After continuing to hesitate on three subsequent requests, we gave him an ultimatum at which point he provided us with a Gmail account for a contact who had no real association with the company. In addition, the candidate didn’t count on the fact that we’d done business with that firm and could ask our contacts if they knew him. In the end, despite his strong qualifications and interview performance, we had to pass.

Along these same lines, we have noticed that some contractors provide other contractors they know as references. So it is worth verifying that the person providing the reference is credibly associated with the company itself – make sure that the reference’s email address comes from a valid corporate domain and that there is a LinkedIn profile backing up the reference’s identity.


In the past month, a number of clients have mentioned that few vendors apply the level of scrutiny we document here to their evaluation process.  Many play a numbers game, simply finding and flipping resumes in their eager rush to fill roles as quickly as possible, neglecting to use even the smallest amount of professional care.

We’ve built a business on applying thorough due diligence to each candidate we present to our clients.  If you are in need of contractors, or employees, in the data science or broader big data and analytics space, and you’re sick of the subpar talent your current vendors provide (or if you just have some other, cool war stories), let’s talk! You can reach us at 734-761-5962 x504.  Thanks for reading!

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