It's estimated that more than 85% of U.S. employers conduct some type of background check on job candidates today, yet applicants continue to embellish and fib and stretch the truth or even outright lie in an effort to land their next job. What's a hiring manager to do? Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk says having job applicants explain their thought process of solving a problem helps him figure out if they are qualified for the job - and if they are being truthful about their stated accomplishments.2990538

"When I interview someone I ask them to tell me about the problems they worked on and how they solved them," he told the audience at this recent Ignition conference sponsored by Business Insider. "If someone was really the person that solved it, they'll be able to answer on multiple levels. They'll be able to get down to brass tacks. And if they weren't, they'll get stuck. And then you go, 'okay, this person is not really the one who solved it.' Anyone who struggles hard on the problem gets it."

"I ask them to tell me about the problems they worked on and how they solved them."

TempWorks founder and chairman Gregg Dourgarian would likely agree with this "when you struggle with a problem that's when you understand it" approach. I have heard him troubleshoot software issues with developers one piece of source code at a time. He can quickly deduce who is really good at their work, and also whether the developer has likely gone through all the problem-solving steps they may claim they did.

Over 30% of all application forms contain discrepancies about work experience or education history.

When it comes to job candidates claiming things, Aggregate HireRight screening data reveals that over 30% of all application forms contain discrepancies about work experience and/or education history, and other studies show it might be significantly higher than that. 

Here are the five most common falsehoods uncovered in background screening:

  • Exaggerating or falsifying past dates of employment
  • Falsifying degree or educational/training credentials
  • Title & Salary Inflation
  • Criminal Record Concealment
  • Hiding drug/substance abuse habits

And it's not just rank and file workers engaging in the practice. Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson was ousted from the job in just four months in 2012 after it was found he padded his resume with a fake computer science college degree.

RadioShack CEO David Edmondson resigned in 2006 after a newspaper reported that his two supposed degrees were invented and that he was facing a trial for DUI charges.

And former Bausch & Lomb CEO Ronald Zarrella was busted for falsely claiming an MBA from New York University.

Those might be extreme examples, but still, a temp might falsely tell you they have experience working with a particular machine or in a specific functional area, and a small business sales director might lay claim to managing 50 people.

You can check out this Staffing Talk post I wrote in 2012 that gives some specific tips on how to tell when a job candidate is lying.

If you think a job candidate is lying, turn straight to the employment verifications/references.

Steven Cary commented on that piece, and said he had a co-worker who would, when he started to think the candidate was lying, turn straight to the employment verifications/references.

“'So, Tom was your supervisor at your last job. What would he likely say about your performance, attendance and attitude?'” The candidate always answered positively. Then my co-worker would say, “'That’s great! Let’s give Tom a call and get that all confirmed, it will make a great reference!'” About 1/3 would stop him from making the call and fess up. For me it’s similar. If I get the feeling, I start drilling down to verifiable info."

Now you can add one more tool to your job interviews. Asking a candidate how they struggled with solving a problem specific to that job - or the one you are interviewing them for - might quickly take the interview another direction, good or bad.

Tags: TempWorks, Gregg Dourgarian, Background Checks, Resumes, Business Insider, Industry, Job applicants, Job Applications, SpaceX, Truthfulness in job interviews, Employment screening, Ignition conference, Elon Musk, Tesla, Embellished resumes