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Checking Qualifications: A cautionary tale for employers

30th March 2017

The recent case of a senior NHS executive who earned £1m working in senior roles, despite having lied about his qualifications, highlights the danger of fraud in the recruitment process.

According to a recent report in The Guardian, Jon Andrewes claimed to have two PhDs and a Masters degree, although in reality he only had a diploma in social work and a teaching qualification.

His false claims helped to net him a series of top health sector jobs over a 10-year period, including Chief Executive at a Taunton hospice and Chairman of the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust. His lies were uncovered after a Department of Health investigation and he was sentenced by Exeter Crown Court to two years in jail.

This scenario is not as unusual as you might think. An astonishing 63 per cent of internal fraud cases centre around job applications where candidates have lied about their experience or qualifications. The latest Employee Fraudscape survey, published by CIFA (the UK’s fraud prevention service) shows that education tops the list of areas where job-seekers fabricate information.

False professional qualifications, exaggerated levels of achievement or non-existent membership of professional bodies account for around a quarter of discrepancies on applications. Fabrication of degrees in particular is becoming a real problem, with ‘diploma mills’ providing convincing bogus degrees for anyone who is prepared to pay.

The health sector bodies who were hoodwinked by Andrewes are no doubt examining their recruitment practices to determine how the fraudster managed to slip through their net. It would be interesting to know what level of pre-employment screening actually took place.

One of the first steps towards preventing fraudulent applications is to make candidates aware that lying during the recruitment process will have serious consequences. Many think that being less than truthful about their qualifications doesn’t matter because they will be able to prove themselves on the job. Or in the case of more mature candidates, they think their qualifications are so far back that employers won’t bother, or won’t be able, to check.

What most people don’t realise, however, is that knowingly making a false statement in order to obtain employment is a criminal offence under the Fraud Act 2006, and carries a penalty of up to 10 year’s imprisonment or a fine. Just being aware of that information and knowing their CV will be rigorously checked is often enough to deter someone from lying.

Taking steps to verify qualifications is also vital. However convincing a candidate may seem, if they don’t have the right qualifications they may not be properly equipped to do the job. Performance is likely to be under par (Andrewes had apparently been rated as unsatisfactory in some of his jobs) – or the organisation’s reputation may be put at risk.

In sectors where professional qualifications are mandatory (medical and financial sectors, for example), falsification of qualifications has more serious implications and could open the organisation up to claims of malpractice. Professional employee vetting services can help to mitigate these risks and provide reassurance for organisations.

Above all, for an employer, finding out that someone has lied on their job application should raise a definite red flag. It’s important to think about what that says about a candidates integrity and the level of trust you can place in them as an employee.