TANG JUN’S FAIRY TALE CAREER appears to be over. The former Microsoft CEO and reported ‘richest man in China’ might have been chronicled in his two books, ‘My success can be replicated’ and ‘Tang Jun Diary’, as having the perfect career path, but according to Fang Zhouzi, who maintains a non-for-profit fake credentials watchdog organization and website ‘New Threads’, says that Tang’s success has been built on lies.
On July this year, Tang Jun was publicly ousted as a Chinese role model by Fang’s team, with the revelation that two degrees, an electrical engineering degree from Pacific Western University and a doctorate degree in electronics from California Institute of Technology (Caltech) were never attained. Fang also checked the patent database of the US Patent and Trademark Office and found that the two patents Tang claimed to own – a rating system for karaoke bars and a machine for producing photo stickers – were actually owned by other people.
Tang later admitted that he did not have a degree from Caltech, and asserted that he had never claimed to have received a degree there, but only conducted research at this university.
What can HR learn from Tang’s deceit?
“The HR department must now be extra careful with all levels of recruitment,” says Richard Bensberg of Red Flag Screening. His company, which focuses on employment screening, has offices in Beijing and Hong Kong. Bensberg says that this scandal has sent ripples of panic through the HR departments of both foreign invested enterprises and state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Speaking after a recent round-table event in Shanghai, where he spoke, Bensberg told Network HR that, “there has been an increase in awareness, especially within the SOEs”.
When a discrepancy is found in a candidate’s education or employment history then there is a lot of pressure to ignore it, just to keep everyone happy.”
Kevin Zhang of First Advantage concurs. His firm, which has international offices, also focuses on vetting of candidates and works with large recruitment firms, including Boyden Global Executive Search. Zhang adds that this intentional oversight can be even more common when foreign degrees are concerned. “Recruiters often don’t want to look into foreign degrees, because it is difficult to contact the school abroad, and often foreign degree holders are more senior than themselves.” The resulting bias could result in future Tang-like cases. For this reason, Bensberg of Red Flag Screening says that “the standard that is applied to local degree holders should also be applied to those holding degrees from abroad. There should be no discrimination.”
The need for screening, but at what cost?
According to Francesco Zhou of Huaxia CRIF, the push for employment screening in Asia began with the financial and IT sectors outsourcing to India. “India is definitely the most advanced country in the region regarding employment screening due to the rapid growth of business process outsourcing (BPO) servicing the United States,” says Zhou. “This was really just an extension of the employment due-diligence that is common in the US.”
And it is this due-diligence that has given India a head start in the BPO service sector over China, which has already been labeled with the clearly non-service title of ‘The world’s factory’. “As China moves towards developing its service sector, which is what it wants to do, then ensuring quality of staff will be paramount,” says Zhou.
It seems that in China the market for employment screening seems ready to grow. So, the question remains, “How much?” All three employment screening firms – Huaxia CRIF, First Advantage and Red Flag Screening – were quick to add that pricing was based on the level of detail employers requested. “The cost differs according to service scope,” says Zhang, of First Advantage. “Do you want to include only criminal and ID check? Or do you want a more comprehensive investigation?” says Zhang. He adds that this scope of checking is also linked to the employment history of the specific candidate. “If the candidate has gone to school in the UK, and then worked in the USA, Japan and then China, then the number of entities that we have to work with to ensure accuracy of the CV is obviously much higher. This affects the fee,” adds Zhang.
According to all three employment screening firms, the final bill can vary accordingly, ranging between 500 to 5000 RMB. “Our average price is around 1500 to 3000 RMB,” says Zhang.
A cheaper option?
But while a third-party employment screening firm does reduce the risk of inappropriate candidates slipping through overworked recruiters, there are a number of ‘tricks of the trade’ that Adecco director, Charles Gao recommends for all HR departments to practice ahead of hiring help.
If the candidates resume is too perfect then that should make you suspicious. For example, does the candidate’s resume show an evolution through the company, or do they jump from new employee to senior management in one clean jump?
Adecco also tries to hire from the pool of ‘211 schools’, that is, a select group of just over 100 universities identified by the Chinese government as elite schools of the ‘21st’ Century. These schools include Fudan University, East China University of Technology and of course Beijing University and Qinghua University.
Charles Gao adds that for pre-ba ling hou (80s born children) his firm’s bias is lowered. “For those candidates born pre-70s we accept technical schools, and for those born between 1970 to 1979 we accept any university of graduation,” says Gao.
Beware! Employment Record
Importantly, while Tang Jun was caught fabricating his academic achievements, it is employment accolades that are most commonly embellished.
In China, of 100 candidates that we screen, 10 will have lied on their resume.
Francesco Zhou, of Huaxia CRIF agrees. He says that many resumes may indicate that a candidate was, say, a project manager, when in fact they were only an assistant. “Salaries, which were only 5K, suddenly become 10K on paper, and three years of work experience with a firm turns out to be only one,” says Zhou. “Rarely do we see entire jobs made up, but these little exaggerations can be the difference between competence and incompetence in a position.”
Another way of screening candidates is pre-employment exams that target work related skills. Adecco maintains an online test for candidates, called ‘Xpert’, a program that has screened over 7 million, mostly entry and junior level, candidates worldwide. And of course there are the myriad of psychometric tests available, everything from MBTI, Belbin Team Roles, DISC, and thousands of locally developed programs.
One such China-based assessment psychometric test is ‘Fit In’ development by Shanghai based firm, HRO. “The test is computer based, and outputs reports, including a personality profile, leadership style and potential, and conflict style tendencies and team roles. Our clients use this as a tool for both recruitment and creating a development pathway for high potential staff. Ultimately, it reduces HR mistakes.”
All these precautions are, of course, too late for Tang Jun. With his name no longer linked to academic and employment triumph and his reputation in tatters, threats of legal action against Fang Zhouzi have been raised. To this, Fang calmly states, “The process of any investigation should be transparent and those being accused should have the right to appeal.”