CEO steps down amid fake qualifications scandal

by HCA15 May 2012

It’s the stuff of HR nightmares, and as red-faced former CEO Scott Thomson left Yahoo this week amid a fake qualifications scandal, screening experts have warned it’s time for employers to up-the-ante, even for the most senior managers.

The third CEO to leave Yahoo in just three years, Thomson stepped down after it came to light that the computer science degree listed in his official company biography had never been awarded. The degree was also officially listed in regulatory filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Adding the odd qualification to a CV is more common than one might think, according to Geoff Stockton, a CV fraud detective from The Personnel Risk Management Group, who told HC last year that all it takes is a good imagination and a computer. "You can write anything you like in a CV and chances are it won’t be checked, and if nobody does any checking, you can get away with whatever you dare to write,” he said.

While qualifications checks are becoming harder and harder amid ever more advanced forgery tactics, there are three variations commonly seen on suspect qualifications, Richard Bensberg from Red Flag Screening said. These are:

- ‘Original’ forgery
- Real certificate with details changed
- Diploma Mill provided certificate

While generally fake academic certificates can be hard to spot, there are some exceptions. As such, the most effective method of verifying a qualification is to verify through the institution directly. This is where the issue of Diploma Mills is important to understand. In such cases, the awarding institute - likely merely a facade set up specifically to dupe employers - will often still exist and even be able to verify the qualification attained. In such cases it’s important to have a clear policy on the educational requirements for the position, and having a screening provider which can alert you to instances whereby the ‘qualification’ does not meet your company’s standards, Bensberg said.

Qualification checks, like most background verification services, can usually be delivered within the same timeframe it takes for a potential employer to undertake the full recruitment process. Solid partnerships with third party information providers and high speed online communication technology means that most checks – such as identity, criminal record, credit history, and bankruptcy – can be completed in less than 24 hours. 

According to background screening specialists at Verify, employers needn’t fall into the trap of hiring employees with false qualifications, and recommended HR undertake the following steps when verifying an applicant’s credentials:

  • Always ask for the original qualification certificate (never a copy), but retain a copy on file for future reference.

  • Wherever possible, compare the qualification with others that you hold on file for staff from the same institution.

  • If in any doubt as to the authenticity of the institution just do a quick internet search.

  • Ask probing questions of the candidate as to why they chose that organisation and even get some ‘contacts’ to follow through.

  • Cross check the dates on the certificate to ensure that they align with the candidates resume and work history.

  • Contact the issuing institution to confirm the qualification, or use an experienced verifier to do so.


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