The Hiring Game—Resume Risks, Clues, and Sorry

Today’s Machining World Archive: July 2006 Vol. 2, Issue 07

In the last few years, the reputation of the resume has taken a severe beating.

George O’Leary wanted the plum job in collegiate sports – being the head coach of the Notre Dame University football team – so badly, he put a master’s degree he did not have and football playing letters he never earned, on his resume.

Ronald L. Zarrella, the CEO of Bausch & Lomb, lied that he had a Masters in Business Administration from New York University. Shares in the big optical company dropped three percent the day the company divulged Zarrella’s resume-fudging.

Earlier this year, David J. Edmondson, the CEO of RadioShack, was fired after a newspaper investigation showed his resume was padded with two degrees in psychology and theology, degrees he never received from a university, and the university he claimed he attended was not even accredited.

OK, you say, but these are high profile jobs and isolated cases. This would hardly happen in the fraternal machine shop world. Think again.

“I find on resumes, if someone rubbed up against it, they put it on the resume as a skill, even if they are not really experienced in the area,” said Tom Medvec, founder of Medvec Resources Group, a job placement firm in Valley City, Ohio, specializing in machine tool personnel. He said it with an uncomfortable tone, halfway between a grunt and a forced laugh. “I think over the years, it has just gotten progressively worse. I think manufacturing may be worse in this than football coaches.”

The numbers from recent surveys may well bear Medvec’s suppositions out.

ResumeDoctor.com, a Burlington, Vermont, company that helps job seekers, particularly at the mid-level, to write new resumes, wanted to discover how many of their clients were telling them the truth about their pasts.

“What we found was shocking,” said Brad Fredericks, the company’s co-founder. “We took 1,000 resumes at random and discovered that 42.7 percent of them had significant inaccuracies. Forty-twopoint-seven percent. That was unbelievable to us.”

Fredericks said that the embellishments, or outright lies, came primarily in three areas: job title, dates they held the job, and various things in education.

“What is most amazing is that these three things are easily verifiable. If someone is lying about these things, they are probably lying about a lot else,” he said.

One large Midwestern machine shop executive, who did not want his name used to keep his employee-seeking methods safe, said he now rarely looks at resumes because he has stopped believing what is written on them. Instead, he said he has devilishly resorted to the bane of unprepared students everywhere – the pop quiz.

“Before they walk into the shop, I give them a little questionnaire,” he said. “I ask things like what particular attachments have you used on this or that machine? I ask them technical terms. I ask them something little about a machine, something only someone who has worked on one will know.

“It is amazing that some people still answer questions so stupidly,” he said. “You ask them what they worked on, and they will say, ‘Well, it was a big machine.”

“Look, for the most part, people are honest,” he said. “But sometimes, people just seem to think they can lie their way into a job. I put someone like that on a machine, and my whole operation can go south.”

Matt Fitzgibbons, the human resource manager for Manth Brownell, a quality turned parts company in Kirkville, New York, 10 miles east of Syracuse, said he has been “cautious” of late, looking at resumes, particularly in the fudging of dates of employment.

“The economy here in upstate New York has been a bit rough in the last six years, so I see resumes that are more vague in when they worked. A ‘2004’ could mean they really worked last in late 2003 and then started back in 2005 because some company closed, or whatever,” he said. “It’s hard to fool me though, since I know which companies folded when. It’s a shame, but some people feel they have to do that.”

Further, Fitzgibbons said, fewer former employers are willing to give references than before. He said they are wary of potential lawsuits from ex-employees, and all that makes his resume-checking job harder.

“On the other hand, I have noticed more honesty in some areas,” he said. “Machinsts know we would know if they can’t work a certain type of machine. Some will actually say they haven’t worked on that machine but think they could do it. Sometimes, we do give people like that a chance, especially if their past work record is good. We have to be willing to do a little training to get a good employee.”

Another screw machine executive for a company nearby, in Rochester, New York, said his belief in the truth of resumes is so shaken, he has devised a three-step interview process. It is cumbersome, but he believes he has to do it these days.

“We take the resumes we like, mail them a letter and ask them to call us to schedule an interview,” said the executive, who asked not to be identified, fearing his method might lose him potential good employees. “You wouldn’t believe it, but at least 30 percent of the people never respond to that. It may be an indication of cheating, I don’t know. From that, in the phone call, we do a quick skimming of a few questions. Then we do the more formal interview.”

A lot for a machinist? In the past, maybe, said the executive.

“A few years back, employees might have been like so much meat. You sometimes hired two when you only needed one, just in case someone didn’t work out,” he said. “But we have all learned to be slimmer now in this economy. Each employee these days is vital, so you have to be more careful, just when resumes are possibly being more doctored.”

What is strange about the O’Leary, Zarrella and Edmondson examples is that they would have gotten their jobs without the lies they put on their resumes. Their track records of work performance at earlier jobs is what got them to be finalists for the positions in the first place.

On the other hand, according to Lance Solak, founder of LSI Manufacturing Solutions, a job placement service in Brunswick, Ohio, for the machine tool industry, you can’t say you worked on some machine when you did not these days. The business is getting too specialized.

“Five years ago, our business was completely different. Most everyone used the same machines, and they were not difficult to use,” said Solak, who has been working in human resources for the machine tool trade since 1982. “Then the lesser tolerance business started going out of the country, to maybe China or Mexico. Bit by bit, people had to learn CNC Swiss machines, which are just more
complicated. It is like a stick shift versus an automatic.

“So suddenly someone is out of a job where he had worked for 20 years, and knows he has to be working on a different kind of machine,” said Solak. “What would you do? Maybe you would lie too if it meant putting bread on the table.”

Yet Solak and others are baffled by the amount of lying that goes on in resumes for plant management and upper level jobs in manufacturing. Unlike machine operating jobs, which because of the CNC Swiss revolution are relatively numerous, operations and other management and executive jobs are competitive. Still, said Solak, it is often pretty easy to root out resume misbehavior.

“They leave something off, and maybe we can’t find it, but if they put something in, well, that is easy,” he said. “When someone says, ‘I have extensive experience in this,’ I can tell when it is BS. I know the companies in the business, and you had better be listing the right ones. It is pretty easy after all these years of doing this for me to check you out.”

In fact, there are a lot more people being checked out than there used to be. A 2005 survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management said that almost half of human resource specialists had significantly increased the time they spent checking out resumes in the two years prior. Further, the survey said 52 percent had started contracting out a lot of their background checking to firms like Solak and Medvec, professionals with long experience at, as Solak said, “BS” detection.

“I had one a few weeks ago that became a little embarrassing,” said Medvec. “There was a guy who was applying for a quality manager’s job in the South, but he could not even validate a PPATH. He got down there, and it turned out the engineer could do the validations better than he could. I have found now that people, even when you speak to them and look them in the eye, will embellish
what they have done or what they know. It is amazing how they think they can get away with it.”

Dr. Richard White, the director of career services at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, said he believes the upsurge in lying on resumes is a direct outgrowth of the Internet age.

“Many resumes are sent electronically these days,” said Dr. White. “It seems there is a kind of looser ethics about what appears on a computer screen. We work very hard to prepare people for the realities of the work place, where any kind of misrepresentation can be damaging to a career.

“It does not make a lot of sense,” he said. “At some point, you are going to be caught, so why not just keep it above board.”

Dr. White said Rutgers did a random survey and found that 20 percent of students submitting resumes to the career services office lied about their grade point averages, something easily detectible. Some of them rounded up to the nearest tenth, which is, to be sure, not all that bad in the scheme of things, but many, he said, just added a whole point.

“If they had a 2.6, they made it a 3.6,” he said. “It is as if they were going to pass it off as a typo if they got found out.

“I just think people are more loose about information than in what we called the good old days,” Dr. White said. “It used to be that you had to submit a paper resume every time you applied for a job. It think that it must have been that that was a tangible act, something you had to repeat physically and mentally, so you felt yourself more accountable each time. Now it is pushing a button, sending a
bunch of type on a computer screen off somewhere. It is like it just isn’t real.”

For the machine operator, too, this is a different era. In those similar good old days, if a machine operator wanted a new job, he or she usually just went down the road to a shop or manufacturer and maybe filled out an application or just talked to someone. Now, more and more, manufacturing employers are asking for formal resumes.

“Certainly, when I started, in the mid-1980s, machinists did not use recruiters,” said Medvec. “So they didn’t have resumes. They filled out applications and waited to be called. Now, with recruiting more prevalent in the skilled trades and all the job-dot-coms, suddenly these guys need resumes. They don’t know how to do them. Then they worry that they aren’t good enough, so there is more and more lying going on. It is sad, but it is true.”

The way out is either a long one of education or a short one of cutting back. Dan Walters, a plant manager for American QC Systems, a service subsidiary of American Torch Tip in Bradenton, Florida, said he looks forward to a future where machinery is so sophisticated, the skill of the operator will be in choosing the right part, not honing the tool.

“We’ve actually tried to minimize the amount of workers we need who have to know sophisticated things,” said Walters. “We’ve been hiring a lot more unskilled workers, especially on second and third shifts. We’ve been going to different kinds of machines. It has sometimes taken us years to develop the right ones with the right parts, but that way, we don’t have to worry about false resumes and
things like that.”

Part of the false-resume syndrome may be, strangely enough, the fear that American manufacturing is going through a rough patch. Headlines scream out about tens of thousands of jobs being lost in places like Delphi and General Motors, yet machine shops routinely have toolmaking jobs available.

There is a disconnect there, though, said Medvec and Solak, the head hunters. First of all, the jobs the people are leaving at Delphi and General Motors are often 25-year jobs with huge benefits, something smaller shops can’t, or hardly want to match. Second, many of those workers have been doing the same thing for many years, so they may not have the training to work the new machines at another employer. Third, there can be a geographic malaise. Someone losing a job in Ohio may not want to pick up and move to Kansas or Indiana or New Jersey for another job.

“The big thing, too, is that things are going so well in some shops that there is no time for training,” said Solak. “If I’ve got to run at full capacity now, I can’t afford my superstar machinist to spend a few days teaching someone to use the CNC Swiss.”

So the machinist lies about his qualifications and hopes he can figure things out when he gets on line. In a strange way, there needs to be a small shop slowdown, so that more people get through training on the more precision machines, according to Medvec.

“It will happen eventually, just a catch-up,” he said. “Then people won’t have to lie, I guess.”

“It may well be all out of fear,” he said. “Fear that there will be no jobs. Fear that a hole in employment will not get you the job. Fear that if you were at a company too long or too short – that isn’t good. Maybe it is the fear of the Internet, too.”

Before it was just Joe down the street competing with you for a job, and maybe you would both get one, and everything would be fine. Now, it is the guy in Iowa on the Internet looking for your job too.

“The guy on the machine, the guy who is his supervisor, the guy even in the CEO chair, all could be lying. That is why more companies are coming to us,” said Medvec. “I don’t want to make it sound like lying on resumes is good for my business, but my reputation is on the line when I see that lie on the application, so I will do my best to make sure the employer doesn’t have to deal with it.”

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