Lie-detector tests for job-seekers

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Do an internet search for ‘buy fake degree certificate’, and one well-known search engine will return half a million results in less than a third of a second.

The third hit from the search results is from The Cambridge Student Online, which reported earlier this year that internet companies are offering authentic looking Oxbridge degree certificates for a mere 1000 pounds.

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And it’s not just in the UK that you can buy fake diploma and degree certificates.  The Economist reported last year that in China more than 100 fake universities offer fake degrees. In 2012, nine people in that country were charged with selling fake degree certificates from non-existent American colleges. They charged up to USD$30,000 each, selling diplomas mainly to corporate executives.

Things have got so bad, says Heidrick & Struggles partner Johann Redelinghuys, that not even the verification agencies can be trusted. Some countries, such as Singapore, will not even accept independently verified and attested qualifications in the event of a lost certificate.

Redelinghuys thinks that the inevitable scenario is putting potential employees through lie-detector tests to make sure they are telling the truth about their education qualifications.

And if you think this sounds like a dystopian sci-fi movie, it is already happening – the BBC reported last year that in India, some companies require prospective employees  to take a polygraph.

Redelinghuys, who is a qualified psychologist and has been in the executive search business for more than 25 years, says that fraud in CVs and fake certificates is becoming a global problem. He says it has been spurred by the unprecedented ability of people to move and work across borders, combine with the dire employment prospects in countries that have been worse hit by the global financial crisis and the availability of quality degree replicas.

And he points out that it is not just entry-level candidates or those from developing countries who will take a chance on a dodgy degree certificate. He cites recent examples, such as that of ousted Yahoo boss Scott Thompson, who claimed to have a computer science degree, and disgraced News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks who has been accused of being misleading about studying at the Sorbonne University in France. Redelinghuys says he has had personal experience of a well-known CEO who claimed to have an Ivy League MBA.

“Headhunters and companies will need to become more resourceful about the way they screen candidates. And candidates will need to be prepared to offer more evidence of their education than just a certificate.”

He suggests that recruiters should test the knowledge of their candidates, but where someone has been working in a specific industry for some time, it may not be easy to tell whether the knowledge was acquired by education or experience.

This is where polygraph tests – which are controversial for being regarded unreliable in various quarters – may need to come into play, says Redelinghuys.

Candidates who wish to avoid such unpleasantries should ensure that they develop and maintain a network of contacts of former lecturers and fellow students to verify their time at a particular institution.

eFinancialCareers spoke to a number of recruiters in Asia and Australia who said they were aware that it was a problem, but they hadn't noticed any increase in the incidence of fake degree certificates in job applications.A verification agency in the UK declined to comment on the incidence of fake degree certificates.

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