china employee due diligencePeople lie.

Especially on job applications.

A widely cited US study from 2017 found that 85% of applicants lied on their job application. Another study from 2015 found that only 56% of job applicants had lied, but either way, the number is huge.

Why do job candidates lie? For most, it’s a combination of two things: they think their lie will help their candidacy (especially if they think resumes are being screened by a computer), and they don’t think anyone will do a background check. The most common lies are about job skills, followed closely by lies about job responsibilities. An estimated 15% of candidates list jobs that they never held (George O’Leary or Marilee Jones, anyone?).

China is no different from the US in this regard, and in many ways it is worse because Western companies are unable or unwilling to perform due diligence on job applicants. Seeing a market opportunity, I started my own company in 2009 to help Western companies with their China hiring, with a particular emphasis on background checks and screenings. And boy, do they need the help.

Overall, we reject 72% of all candidates for dishonesty, usually for not having the ability they said they did. We have found that salespeople and general managers lie 80% of the time; engineers lie 65% of the time; and people working in finance lie 59% of the time. They lie because they think they can get away with it.

One candidate said he recently left his company when a headhunter called. We found out he was fired three years ago and his detailed stories regarding his accomplishments over the last three years were all fantasy.

Candidates often give us a cell phone number for a former boss that turns out to be the phone number of their friend pretending to be the boss. And even if we get the right number for the boss, Chinese bosses are usually unwilling to speak ill of a former employee even when it’s justified. Our strategy is to take detailed interview notes with the job candidate, and then ask their former boss to confirm the who, what and where of important projects. We often learn that the boss, or someone other than the candidate, actually managed the project in question.

Ronald Reagan is credited with popularizing the Russian proverb “trust, but verify” during his 1980s negotiations with Mikhail Gorbachev. The phrase is ambiguous, but is generally agreed to mean that people should earn your trust, rather than be assumed trustworthy until proven otherwise. I wish the latter was a good business strategy in China but it is not. China has many wonderful people and fantastic job candidates. But it also has a lot of people willing to lie and cheat to get ahead, and they are often the ones who get the interviews.

What are you doing to ensure you hire the “right” candidates?

*This post was written by Jim Nelson, President of SHI Group Recruitment, a China-based employee recruitment agency that focuses on helping Western companies find and hire good employees in China.