Here on the Onfido blog, we’ve been running a series on the worst hires of all times, including the fibbers Frank Abagnale and Dennis Riordan and fake footballer Ali Dia. Today’s hire horror story is ripped straight from recent headlines: it is the tale of Arkansas-born Andrew Flanagan, whose extravagant CV lies both earned and lost him a senior executive position, and ended up embarrassing Australia’s largest retailer.
As we’ve discussed before, the risks of not carrying out background checks on employees are numerous and so great that it would seem unwise, even foolish to not do them. Yet sometimes, even large companies seem to fall prey to a common assumption: if a claim is grand enough, it must be true, because absolutely no one would dare to lie about it. They miss the possibility, of course, that if someone seems too good to be true, they might not be quite what they appear. As a result they are left vulnerable to brave fraudsters, who go all out with their fabrications and create rich, impressive employment histories that don’t invite questioning. Even huge corporations like Myer, an Australian retail giant that sells everything from clothing and shoes to electrical goods and food, have been duped.
That was certainly illustrated in the case of Andrew Flanagan, who was fired at the end of June from his position as general manager of strategy and business development at Myer. It was his very first day of work. Despite having been interviewed extensively by the recruitment company Quest, within a few hours of Flanagan starting work his new employers received an alarming call from his supposed previous company: Inditex. The Spanish multinational – owner of hundreds of brands including Zara and Bershka – were keen to inform Myer that contrary to his claims, Andrew Flanagan had never been managing director and vice president of Asia Pacific for the firm. In fact, he had never worked for Inditex at all. Nor had he worked for Walmart, Tesco, or Hawaiian furniture store Homeworld.
As news of Flanagan’s incredible deception broke throughout the business world, his web of lies untangled further. It was soon revealed that six months previously, Flanagan had been hired by the Australian Arab Chamber of Commerce & Industry (AACCI), an organisation aiding investment between Australia and Arab League countries, where he operated under the name Jeffery Flanagan. He worked unchallenged for about a month before the company realised his references had been entirely fabricated; the list of previous employers was completely different from the CV he gave to Myer, and seemed perfectly suited to his role at the AACCI. The incident was reported to the police, but this clearly wasn’t enough to stop Flanagan from repeating his old tricks just half a year later.
In time, it became apparent that Flanagan had done more than falsify his employment history. He also concealed from employers the fact that he’d spent four years in jail in Texas after being convicted of burglary, reckless driving, resisting arrest, and assault in 1992. Though it is unclear what much of Flanagan’s real employment history was for the years before he joined Myer, it seems he had a stint as a high-level recruitment consultant at the firm Carmichael Fisher, where he clearly picked up all of the tricks he needed to fool big firms into hiring him. In a brilliantly ironic turn of events, Flanagan gave a speech to business students in 2008 at the University of Melbourne, advising them how to get a senior job. One can only presume he stopped short of advocating his own signature methods, which might have raised some eyebrows.
Of course, Andrew Flanagan’s story has attracted considerable attention because of the outlandish scale of falsehood involved. But there is nothing unique about the practice of lying or exaggerating on a CV. In a business world where 31% of applicants have provided false information about a degree, employers, or invented a job, and 76% of employees have said something untrue when applying for their current job, no company should take the risk of not carrying out a background check. With companies today carrying out fast, cost-effective, reliable background checks, companies have no more excuses for putting their business at risk by not verifying their employees’ histories. Otherwise, impressive fraudsters such as Andrew Flanagan will keep cropping up over and over again.