One of the clients we work with has a very tough qualification process.  I appreciate their effort…after all, we have a tough process too.  With that being said, even with their extra diligence, this particular client has still been plagued by fraudulent candidates due to interview fraud.  Although the hiring team is strenuous when it comes to vetting their potential CRAs, the number of Fake CRA candidates who slip through is jarring.  

The Problem

A few years ago our firm started broadcasting what we were seeing in terms of the breadth and depth of candidate fraudulence in the clinical research industry. Our study of fake CRAs and applicant fraudulence has continued, and we felt it may be time to update some of the tricks and trends we are currently seeing when it comes to spotting fraudulence during the interview process. 

One of the primary challenges I receive when discussing the rising concern of fake CRAs and applicant fraudulence is “Can’t you tell a candidate has falsified their credentials when you interview them?

The answer will frighten you.

The Age of the Proxy Interview

A proxy interview is where another person besides the actual candidate sits in on the interview or takes a technical test or assessment. In many cases, the fraud will go unchecked until the actual candidate shows up for work on day one. Face-to-face interviews used to be the ‘go-to’ for confident hiring, with video chat platforms such as Zoom, Skype and Teams a close second. However, the post-COVID era has forever changed the hiring process, causing a dramatic rise of video interviewing. Some studies show video interviews have spiked by 67%, leaving a significant opening for a relational growth of interview fraud. 

The growing trend of “interviewers for hire” has become so large that it has developed into a new market. Proxy interview agencies are popping up across the globe, advertising services whereby the interviewee doesn’t have to…well, interview. These services offer experts for hire who will take the original candidate’s place in order to pass the competency and behavior interview questions as well as take tests and/or assessments. In addition, these agencies often offer fake documents (read fake resumes), fake references, and fake employment verifications. 

Business Insider recently published an article stating that some professional proxies charge up to $150 per hour to commit this type of interview fraud. While the reasons for hiring a proxy may vary, the top reason we see is that the original candidate just isn’t qualified. In this age of the proxy interview, Interviewing applicants with confidence has never been more difficult.

The Open-Book Test…

Another common way to fraud interviews is for the underqualified or fake CRA to have peers, friends, or family members in the room with them in order for their partner-in-crime to feed them answers via a chat window or some other type of white-board method. This procedure can also be performed via a headset, whereby the proxy interviewer listens in on the interview and feeds the answers to the actual candidate.

Having cheat-sheets and answers to common CRA interview questions readily available is also easy, enabling the candidate to sound more knowledgeable than they actually are.

The Impact of Interview Fraud

It goes without saying that the risk to the hiring company is severe.  In our industry, hiring underqualified or fake CRAs will not only put the clinical study at risk, but patient safety in jeopardy as well. 

The impact to the candidate can also be severe. In our digital world, finding information about someone is becoming easier, and more data is collected on every person every day. The more your digital footprint grows, the harder it will become to change or remove it. 

Your ‘cyber reputation’ can be a blessing or curse. When you have an excellent employment track record showing you are clearly in control of your career path, the resulting digital footprint will speak for you. However, representing skills and qualities that do not align with your online presence will damage your chances. Why would you want to ruin your personal brand by committing interview fraud? Participating in a proxy interview may land you a job that you are underqualified to do…but in the long run is this a smart approach?  Not only will you struggle to be successful in the newly found role, when you are discovered, your actions will have a strong negative impact to your future career path. 

How Hiring Managers can Protect Themselves from Interview Fraud

The reality is you will rarely be 100% sure the individual you are speaking with is the original applicant, so if you are leaning too heavily on the interview for your hiring decisions, you may be in trouble. A robust hiring strategy will include several qualification checkpoints; here are a few to consider implementing into your hiring strategy:

Don’t even bother with a phone interview.

While we do still occasionally conduct an initial phone screen or candidate Q&A session, those are becoming more and more rare within our firm. With today’s technology, all phone calls can just as easily be a video call. 

And they should be. Almost all of our clients conduct video interviews so why not set the precedence of being prepared for a video interview at the beginning of the qualification process? Along those lines, we advise our clients to be on alert for technical issues during their interviews. If video issues are experienced during the interview which keeps the client from viewing the candidate, we advise the clients to either reschedule the interview or immediately reject that candidate.

Ask the candidate to email a scanned copy of their driver’s license to you prior to the interview.  

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Then compare it to the candidate’s video presence.  And just as important, forward the scanned copy of their driver’s license (or photo ID of choice) to your client so they can do the same when they interview the candidate.

Pay close attention to the candidate’s eye and mouth movement as well as body language during the interview.

Maintaining eye contact during a video interview can be tricky. And while we certainly coach our candidates to look at the camera while conducting video interviews, sometimes their eyes drift to the interviewer’s picture while speaking.  

And that is normal. 

However, if their eyes keep roving off of the screen, be sure to look for other signs of interview fraud. They could have a partner-in-crime in the same room feeding them information or alternatively a cheat-sheet, a second monitor, or even a white-board that has answers to common interview questions.

You should also be on the lookout for odd facial expressions, head movements or other mannerisms that just don’t fit the conversation.  Obviously you don’t want to jump to any conclusions, but these traits may be an indication of someone conducting interview fraud.

Hire an agency that specializes in interview fraud detection.

Conducting fraud detection takes time and most of the hiring managers I know don’t have that kind of time. After all, they have studies to manage. At craresources, we have a tried-and-true process of mitigating the risk of you hiring fake CRAs.

I will leave you with one last thought: Even though we advise these precautions, when someone confronts me with the question of whether the interview will reveal a fraudulent candidate, my challenge to them is always: why waste your time interviewing fake candidates?  The goal should be to detect applicant fraudulence long before the interview takes place and we have identified a few trends to keep in mind.