Could you spot a walter mitty?

Robust recruitment controls are key to preventing candidates joining your business who then go on to destroy your finances and reputation.

Dated: 18 July 2019 Author: Allan Maund, Head of Compliance and Risk

Rogue candidates enhance or reduce the contents of their CV relating to previous experience, responsibilities, job titles and qualifications. Former employers may be omitted for various reasons, such as dismissal or disciplinary actions. Fictitious employees, or overseas working/travelling may be included on a CV to cover gaps in work history due to periods of suspension, unemployment, or even spells in prison.

But what happens when a rogue candidate is welcomed into your business and turns out to be a Walter Mitty. The American Heritage Dictionary defines a Walter Mitty as "an ordinary often ineffectual person who indulges in fantastic daydreams of personal triumphs". Worse still you could end up with a sociopath.

I’ve investigated numerous Walter Mitty types whose daydreams morph gradually into the workplace. Although some are harmless, those who commit financial crime, normally fraud, can have serious consequences as their lies materialise.

Interviews

A more recent case I investigated involved a fraudster who swindled £350,000 out of the NHS. His litany of lies included awarding himself a PhD and using the title of Dr, which was completely fictitious. He said he was receiving treatment for cancer, but was at the time on holiday in the USA. He stated he was ex-special forces, had saved countless lives and had a magazine article which pictured him wearing the Military Cross. In truth, he served a very limited time in the Territorial Army and had never received any gallantry awards. While claiming to attend a refugee camp he was on a cruise ship in the Caribbean.

In this case, thankfully there was no direct impact on patients, although arguably the monies he stole from the NHS could have been spent elsewhere.

How this individual slipped through the net and who was culpable is subject to ongoing dispute. What is not in dispute was his fabricated CV. Basic due diligence would have identified anomalies. Parallels with his LinkedIn profile would have signposted differing dates and places of employment. Qualifications that should have been checked with the awarding authorities weren’t and the original certificates wasn’t requested. A review of Companies House would have provided insight into the individual and his 40+ non trading companies. A basic internet search would have raised questions about his high-profile charity work he was keen to promote.

Open Source Investigation on the internet is a useful weapon in the recruitment armoury. Undertaking basic due diligence on the internet of an applicant should be a given in the recruitment process. Why would you interview someone without doing some research? Not everyone has an online profile, although that may be questionable, but not unexplainable. You’ll also need to consider if you identify information online about an applicant, if it’s fair and reasonable to bring this to their attention and the legalities of doing so.

If an applicant is seeking a finance position, should you consider a credit check? Is the applicant a discharged bankrupt, or disqualified director, or has an adverse finance record? It may not prevent you from recruiting them, but you should know about anything adverse as you can then put measures in place to reduce your risk if you recruit them.

Asking the right questions of an applicant during the recruitment interview process is a weapon in the armoury that is too often undeployed.

Let them do the talking

Moving aside from the mundane, lack of preparation typical questions, such as, ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ and ‘What are your best qualities?’, why not utilise that element of the interview with rapport building? Ask open questions of the applicant, maybe about the weather (how British), or something in the news, but whatever you decide, get them to do the talking. Communication is about listening. Poor interviewers do the talking.

Get them to talk through their CV, follow the timeline they provide, have their CV and LinkedIn profile in front of you and corroborate what they say. Think TED, Tell, Explain, Describe.  If dates and names don’t add up, let them talk. Then go back and clarify any anomalies. Equally with qualifications if they are pertinent to the position, get them to tell you about the qualifications with a few well-timed prompts. Don’t volunteer the details to them. Again, any anomalies, let them talk, then clarify.

If you have built the rapport with the applicant, it probably won’t even register you have been probing them with some forensic interviewing skills. By having a structured approach to the interview, you’ll have a clearer understanding of the applicant. For most applicants who enhance their CV’s, a robust but structured recruitment interview should filter them out.

Stopping a criminal entering your business as an employee is far less risker than having them on your payroll.

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