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Evaluating the honesty of the IT professional

Job Interview Tips by Burleson Consulting
Septembers 29, 2007


This is an excerpt from the upcoming book "Win your Computer Dream Job", by Rampant Techpress.


Honesty is the best policy


More than ever before, computer systems are being compromised by dishonest and unstable IT professionals, and the news is full of reports about employee theft and abuse.  Whether it's simply altering data for personal gain or selling mission-critical information to your business competitors, management is challenged to screen-out anyone with a history or predisposition for dishonesty.  In some cases, it's considered malfeasance to fail to carefully check-out anyone who has access to your confidential data. 

See these important notes on how to use bad credit reports against employees and a sample questionnaire to screen employees for immoral histories.


The influx of dishonesty in the IT profession is due to several factors:

  • Expanding demand - As the need for computer professionals outstripped supply, desperate companies were forced to lower their hiring standards.  For example, companies who used to required newbies to be graduates from AACSB accredited universities were now forced to entertain applicants from community colleges.

  • No barriers to entry - Unlike other professions that require licensing and certification (e.g. Engineers, Accountants, Architects), anyone can hang out a shingle proclaiming themselves to be a computer expert. 

Given these market conditions, fly-by-night computer "colleges" sprang-up everywhere,  enticing marginal blue-collar workers with the promise of a well-paid professional lifestyle.  Offshore diploma mills sprang-up on the web, offering instant degrees, complete with a telephone answering service disguised as a Registrars office, all of this with the intent to deceive HR departments when verifying a college degree.



The lucrative lifestyle of an IT profession attracts thousands of marginal people


IT managers have noted a sharp increase of acts of moral turpitude in the computer industry over the past decade and they are going to great expense to ensure that their new computer professionals will not pose a risk to their mission-critical data. The stakes are high, and the new is full of reports of companies that have lost millions of dollars due to the immoral behavior to employees.

  • In Florida, William Sullivan faces accusations that he stole millions of records from the database, selling his employers mission-critical data to a data broker.

  • In California, Jennifer Adams, 45, an IT systems administrator, allegedly orchestrated a tax fraud scheme that scammed the government out of more than $50,000.

These insider threats are a major concern throughout the IT industry and CIO's everywhere are investing in tools to identify dishonest computer professionals. 


"Robert Allen", Fake expert

Within the world of Oracle database management we also see dishonesty, with unworthy scholars from around the globe labeling themselves as "Oracle Experts". 

While many just lie about their credentials and work history, some dishonest characters like Ed Haskins created Oracle expert "Robert Allen" for his Phishing web site.

Read here from eWeek how Burleson Consulting helped to uncover this dishonest computer professional.


In light of the rampant dishonesty within the computer profession, IT management has a responsibility to carefully screen computer employees, especially those in trusted positions  such as IT management, the Database Administrators and Systems Administrators, and it's now "due diligence" to investigate all job candidates to ensure that they don't hire anyone with a propensity to be dishonest.  For example, within Burleson Consulting, our clients expect us to perform extensive pre-employment screening, evaluating every aspect of a job applicants public records, work history and personality:

"In lieu of an active US security clearance, candidates must pass a background check and be free of any criminal convictions (except minor traffic violations).


Further, any acts of moral turpitude (history of drug use, dishonesty, lying, cheating, theft) are grounds for immediate rejection, and all applicants must sign a waiver to disclose personal information and agree to submit to a polygraph exam."

Let's take a closer look at how your personal and work history are evaluated for evidence of dishonesty.


Evaluating the personal integrity of a IT job applicant


Corporations make a sharp distinction between "cash register honesty" and trustworthiness, and millions of dollars are devoted each year to evaluate the honesty of computer employees.  Many of their techniques are not new and draw from proven success stories:

  • Elliott Ness ? During the corruption of the 1930?s Chicago gangs, Ness carefully evaluated the backgrounds of law enforcement to chose incorruptible personnel for his legendary squad ?The Untouchables?.

  • Howard Hughes - The eccentric millionaire performed extensive background checks to find a team of trustworthy employees.

  • Uncle Sam - The government has an excellent record of evaluating personal integrity for sensitive government jobs.  See here for details on the requirements for US security clearance.

One benefit of today's connected world is the ability to glean personal information from many public records.  Background check services offer public details that can shed light on the personal integrity of a computer job applicant:

  • Court Records - While companies have always checked for criminal histories, many are now pursuing other public records for evidence of moral turpitude.  These include divorce cases and civil litigation.
  • Credit history - Companies routinely perform credit checks seeking evidence of dishonesty and disregard for obligations such as late payment history.
  • Google - Almost all companies invest in services that check-out a job applicant on the web, and it's amazing how much personal information people will disclose in chat rooms for forums. 
  • Unobtrusive measures - Companies routinely do a surprise pre-employment drug test and require job candidates to agree to written testing, all in the quest for evidence of dishonesty.  Some companies arrange a golf interview because golf is a fantastic way to access the true personality of an IT job candidate.

Remember, companies are very careful not to disclose the reason for rejecting a job candidate, and legally they don't need any reason.  Within states with "at will" hiring statutes, computer shops are free to reject job candidates for the slightest hint of impropriety.

Objective measures of dishonesty

Many IT shops use the same hiring criteria as outlined in US Federal Regulations, PART 710?CRITERIA AND PROCEDURES FOR DETERMINING ELIGIBILITY FOR ACCESS TO CLASSIFIED MATTER.  Any of the following are evidence or moral turpitude, someone that cannot be trusted with sensitive corporate data:

  • arrest and/or conviction of a felony;
  • frequent involvement with authorities even as a juvenile;
  • DWI/DUI;
  • having been a patient in an institution primarily devoted to the treatment of mental, emotional, or psychological disorders;
  • A history of not meeting financial obligations.  A pattern of financial irresponsibility (bankruptcy, debt or credit problems, defaulting on a student loan);
  • moving violations with fines over $200;
  • illegal drug use (to include any use of cocaine, heroin, LSD, and PCP); and the illegal purchase, possession, or sale of any such narcotics.
  • Deceptive or illegal financial practices, such as embezzlement, employee theft, check fraud, income tax evasion, expense account fraud, filing deceptive loan statements, and other intentional breaches of trust
  • Inability or unwillingness to satisfy debts
  • Unexplained affluence
  • Financial problems that are linked to gambling, drug abuse, alcoholism, or other issues of a security concern.
  • Deliberate omission, concealment, or falsification of a material fact in any written document or oral statement in the job application

But today's IT managers must go beyond public records to evaluate personal honesty, and many shops use a Psychologist to help evaluate job candidates for sensitive computer jobs.  Some companies develop a personality profile for job candidates, rating potential computer employees for these factors:

  • Vulnerability - Omissions in the job application and willful concealment of embarrassing personal incidents (e.g. acts of sexual deviance), can make a computer employee vulnerable for engaging in illegal behaviors.

  • Exaggeration - IT job candidates who "puff" their job responsibilities, education or work history are quickly disqualified as dishonest.

  • Poor Judgment - Potential employees are evaluated (by speaking to ex co-workers where the laws of job privacy do not apply), seeking to find any evidence of contempt for management, anger issues, stalking behaviors, excessive absences from work and lying to cover-up mistakes.

  • Scofflaws - Companies routinely check a job applicants background seeking unobtrusive measures to find a "scofflaw", seeking evidence of subtle dishonesty.  This can include a history of drunk driving, shoplifting, multiple traffic tickets and possession of drugs.

  • Sue-ers - A history of civil litigation relating to personal matters (unpaid child support, allegations of bad parenting) is a red flag, as-is a history of frivolous actions in small claims court.

Getting to know you . . . getting to know all about you


There are many employment screen services that will scour the web, searching for evidence of dishonesty.  In trained hands, Google can discover volumes about a job applicant.  I remember a case where a job applicant was rejected for something that they did back in 1998 (it was an unprofessional remark in a USENET Newsgroup).  In another memorable case, a job candidates was rejected because his Facebook page contained a photo of him holding a "bong" (a marijuana delivery vehicle).



 Your facebook photos can be used against you


Unfortunately, web searches can also be abused and there are no government regulations about using information about you that has been gleaned from the Internet.  .  This Stanford University research paper titled "Managing Risk to Reputation" (2005 STAN. TECH. L. REV. 2), we see a recognition that Google is indeed being widely used as a reputation screening tool:

with the increased role that Internet message boards play the recruitment process, law firms have found that their reputation with law students has become more volatile.

Of course, employers have a responsibility to verify all information about you that is gleamed from the web, especially since cases of "Cybersmearing" are increasing:

Some corporate victims have filed lawsuits seeking to identify the posters of the cybersmear and hold them accountable for their actions, and the numbers of companies willing to sue to protect their good name and reputation is growing fast.

Unfortunately, you will never know if you have been rejected because of something that you wrote (or was written about you), so companies like "Reputation Defender" can be used to remove false and malicious information about you.. 


Let's take a closer look at some other mechanisms that are used to verify the honesty of the computer job applicant.



Testing for personal integrity


An on-site computer job interview for IT managers may also contain other unobtrusive methods for evaluating honesty.  My golf instructor, (PGA Master Professional Brad Clayton) is engaged by large corporations to arrange a test of personal integrity, cleverly disguised as a golf outing.  This seemingly innocuous act of golfing reveals volumes  about a job candidates personal integrity and temperament, and many of the golfing job interviews are "rigged", providing the job candidate with an opportunity to cheat without being seen.  But golfing is just one way to get under the covers and see the job candidates true honesty.  


Many IT shops are using psychological testing, using proven personality test like the Minnesota Multiphasic personality Inventory (MMPI) to identify people with a borderline personality disorder that might compromise their honesty on the job.  See our related notes on personality profiling for Business Success Most important is the MMPI "lie" scale, which measures whether the job candidate is is trying to manipulate their test results.  In the world of Information Technology, job candidates are evaluated for several traits:

  • Unwarranted fears - Psychologists have noted that job candidates with phobias and a high fear of rejection correlate with low self-esteem and anger issues, both of which can influence personal honesty.

  • Unstable self image - Someone with a history of short employment tenure is a major red flag and sudden changes in career goals is a very bad sign.

  • Impulsive traits - Impulsivity is sometimes a sign of an employee with low morals, and is evidenced with a history of gambling, irresponsible spending and reckless driving.

The MMPI test is a set of 500 true/false questions that accesses personality with remarkable validity, and it's results are accepted in all U.S. courts.  Their test-base consists of hundreds of thousands of subjects,. with a pre-diagnosed mental disorder (see DSM IV). By comparing their responses to seemingly innocuous questions (e.g. "I read the editorials in the newspaper every day") a proven predictive model was created (Federal courts have affirmed the MMPI as a scientifically valid) and accepted procedure for personality assessment. 

For example, the subjects preference to take showers vs. baths is an extremely reliable measure of self-esteem, and other scales such as the "Mach" scale that measures how manipulative you are (based on the bestselling book "The Prince" by Machiavelli.  Here is an excellent overview of the MMPI scales and how they access your personality with eerie accuracy. 

These MMPI scales are all valuable for ?getting inside? someone?s personality, and the results are often used as evidence in criminal and civil (especially child custody) cases.

Honesty is the best policy

When being evaluated, a candidates honesty is valued far more than sub-optimal work performance.  For example, consider this case where a group of Federal agents were doing a stakeout when one of the agents accidentally discharged their firearm.  The fellow agents agreed to "ignore" this incident in a misplaced attempt to keep their co-worker from being reprimanded. When the mistake was brought to light, the agent who made the mistake freely admitted the indiscretion, while his co-workers were fired for covering-up the indiscretion.

Never lie or "puff" during a job interview

While the polygraph results are not admissible in court, there is no denying that people do have a physiological response to deception.  The use of polygraphs as a hiring tool is permitted for certain computer occupations as outlined by The Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA).  EPPA allows a pre-employment lie detector test for anyone applying for a computer job with the US government, any employers who distribute controlled substances (narcotics).

If you aspire to a high-level job in IT, be prepared to have every aspect of your life examined, and always admit any immoral of embarrassing details, even if you don't think that there is any verifiable evidence.  You can safely assume that your background will be thoroughly examined and you may even be asked to submit to a polygraph (lie detector) test. 

Remember, honesty is the ONLY policy when applying for a computer job.  You are far more likely to be dismissed for concealment than for the acts themselves.



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