Various 'Fake' stamps

Splunk Hiring: You’re Being Duped and You Don’t Even Know It

You’re Being Duped and You Don’t Even Know It

As a consumer, how would you feel about any of the following scenarios:

  • You bought a home and unbeknownst to you, there are cracks in the foundation and issues with settling. The seller was well aware of this issue but failed to disclose this on the Seller’s Disclosure form.
  • Seeking fuel efficiency and cost savings, you bought a new car with a sticker that advertised the car as a 4-cylinder car capable of 32 MPG. In actuality, the car is a 6-cylinder and gets 24 MPG, and costs you more in fuel annually.
  • Your tax preparer holds himself out to be a CPA and charges CPA-type hourly rates, but you later find out that he doesn’t hold that designation and didn’t even study accounting or tax law.

I think it’s safe to say that none of us would be OK with any of these scenarios happening to us. Some of us would be downright livid. All of us would probably associate the word “fraudulent” with these willful happenings.

Yet IT leadership in companies are having similar things happen to them. They are paying for something that is held out as one thing, but worth just a fraction of what is advertised. And it’s happening every day, at a scale that most technology executives aren’t even aware of.

Enter H1B resume fraud

Anyone who hires people almost expects to uncover some level of “fudging” on a resume. Some dates extended by a month here or there to cover gaps in employment. Omitting an employer on a resume where someone didn’t spend much time or left on bad terms. Little white lies. Some people would say harmless, others more bothered.

Yet many – I would say most, meaning greater than 50% – foreign national workers take this to such an extreme that it blows past “white lies” and directly square into the category of “fraud and deceit”.  I’m talking about adding to their Splunk resume four to six years of work experience that simply never existed.  And most technology recruiters are not catching it, passing these works of fiction known as resumes on to their clients for consideration. In many cases, these workers are actually being hired (typically as contractors). The result: Technology projects with subpar, overpaid resources that are getting their real work experience on your dime (thank you very much).

It goes something like this. There is a cottage industry of contracting firms that are small to medium mom-and-pop firms, typically Indian-owned, that sponsor H1B visas and employ anywhere from a handful to hundreds of H1B workers.  These firms are referred to as “wholesalers” because they traditionally do not have their own customers, but subcontract their employees to staffing firms such as Kforce, Apex, and other technology staffing firms that have “end clients.”  The contracting firm sponsors the work visa of the foreign national worker. That worker may be new to the country or may be a recent Masters’s graduate entering the workforce.  The contracting firm authors a fictitious resume with six-plus years of U.S. work experience (yes, this is literally how it works). The company then gives the consultant their “resume” and says “study this, use this, because you won’t get your first or second job in the United States otherwise.” The firm “markets” the candidate to Splunk job openings, almost always to contract jobs through technology staffing agencies. The staffing firms, blissfully ignorant as well as professionally negligent, submit these resumes to their clients. The worker goes out, studies upon the technology of choice, and learns just enough to squeeze by the technical interview (in some cases, they have other more senior people taking phone-based technical interviews for them). All. Day. Long.

Yes. Candidate after H1B candidate, we see two to six years of work experience just fictitiously authored, for the sole purpose of that fake resume getting them hired onto your projects. Buying a house with cracks in the foundation and settlement issues.

One of the major points that I’d like to make in this article is that this is not happening on an isolated basis. This has become institutionalized; the standard of foreign national workers. Our recruitment team estimates that 70% – yes 70% – of H1B resumes that come into our office are fictionalized to this extent, once a recruiter digs into the candidates’ work histories.

Houston, we have a problem.

The sad truth is that it reminded me of one large takeaway in my International Business class over two decades ago when I was in college: social norms vary across borders, from one culture to another. What is not acceptable in some countries, is completely fine by other people’s standards.

I first noticed this years ago when I had a consultant working at a Fortune 500 client as a Perl developer. One day, I stumbled across his updated resume online; yet, he wasn’t a Perl developer anymore (on the resume at least), he was now a .NET developer. This was in the early 2000s when .NET was fairly new, and as is the case for newer technologies, demand was high. Seeing this work experience, I thought “this can’t be Nikhil, my consultant.”  Yet the resume had the same name, email, and phone number. And I knew he did none – zero – .NET development at my client. I called Nikhil and basically called him out on the resume (not because the resume was posted, but because of the work experience and skills listed). I said, “Nikhil, you’re not a .NET developer”. His response? “Of course.”  Simple as that!  He might as well have said “And?” because this was the tone of his response.  He was convinced that the only way for himself, as a Perl developer, to get into .NET, was to create a make-believe resume and find someone stupid enough to buy off on it.  The irony of this example? He was hired by Microsoft (as a contractor), the producer of .NET technology!

How does this happen? Easy. Most foreign national workers are being hired as contractors, and the level of scrutiny on these candidates is low, in comparison to FTE hiring.  The technology staffing companies of the world do very little to vet candidates. Their world has turned into “how fast can you throw resumes into a client’s web-based portal and time stamp said resume submission so that the firm gets credit for the submission and have candidate ownership.” The “recruiters” of these firms have evolved over time to call center-based 20-somethings that have no idea how to properly recruit, meaning screen, and select candidates. After all, you can’t simply ask the candidate “is this your real resume?”  Additionally, staffing firms are not running references on candidates and never, and I mean never, do employment date verifications with previous employers (less than 20% of employers do this, from my prior experience in agency recruitment). Background checks? Almost always. Drug testing? Sometimes. Employment date verifications? What are those? I know, because I spent 18 years in that business. My firm did these deeper inspections, but I saw how other firms operated when interviewing and hiring their staff and getting insight into the larger universe of technology staffing firms (it’s also one of the main reasons I moved out of that business; client procurement simply wanted you to participate in a system of submitting resumes and I was never in the “resume submission” business but rather the “talent identification” business).

What is the result of all of this? You, the client hiring these contractors, and overpaying for contract technology workers who do not have the skills that have been advertised.  Projects’ deliverables get impacted when, four to eight weeks into the contractor being on-boarded, you realize that the person needs to be replaced. That sets off a new month-long cycle of recruitment, selection, waiting for the start date, and knowledge transfer once the new consultant arrives. Or in many cases, making the decision to retain the subpar contractor who delivers subpar work simply because you can’t afford the vacancy on the project (in my analogy to start this article, let’s keep driving the car we thought we bought, but didn’t actually buy, and get less gas mileage and costs us more to operate, just because “well, at least I have a car to drive”).

Unfortunately, this fraud has quickly spilled over into the Splunk consulting world because the H1 community sees a gold rush of need and opportunity.

It has also crept into the Splunk world, because Splunk has also become less about IT Ops and Infrastructure (where the product started), and crossed over into the world of most H1B tech workers: software development. With Splunk now utilizing JavaScript and CSS for richer dashboards, developers can make a quicker claim to have Splunk experience and cross over to front-end Splunk work.

Here are some links below to fraudulent Splunk resumes that were sent to our team for consideration. These are real examples, with our comments on each, and we use them to demonstrate just how egregious the resume fraud is:

In all cases, each candidate knew just enough about Splunk to possibly get through a technical interview (depending on the interviewer). Yet in all cases, the company that hires (contracts) the Splunk contractor is guaranteed that they are getting (2) things: first, a contractor that is not worth what was advertised, and second, the introduction of huge risk to their project-based upon subpar work, rework or turning over a critical resource.

I’d like to point out that my firm is what I would call “H1B friendly.” Over the years we have sponsored many visas and Green Cards. Some incredibly bright minds have helped us build our business and solve complex problems for our clients, a portion of which are foreign nationals. I am in the camp that the foreign national workforce absolutely fills a gap in our labor market (putting aside stories of Disney workers training their own replacements with foreign workers since this is certainly not the norm in how they are used). The H1 workforce also provides a big advantage seldom spoke of: they are mobile. Particularly for their first several years in the United States, they will typically go anywhere and on a dime; this nomadic willingness to go wherever asked has proved useful when a particular skill is needed and just wasn’t able to be found in a local domestic workforce, especially in smaller markets.

With all of that said, it pains me to paint such a broad stroke about H1B resume fraud. It’s insulting, I’m sure, to the honest foreign tech worker. The problem is, I’m a data guy. If the instances of resume fraud were isolated or far-and-few between, I’d be completely out of place here. The issue has become so prevalent, so north-of-50%, that you just have to call it what it is. And any conversation within the H1B community will reveal that yes, this is the reality. They know it.

How do we detect Splunk resume fraud when we are recruiting for our own Professional Services staff? There are many techniques, and we anticipate sharing them in another article that can be made available to clients. The scope of this article is simply to notify customers and potential customers of just how prevalent his problem has become.

One of the reasons we want to bring this to light is because technology leaders and procurement need to look at the real costs of how they are doing business. While professional services firms such as Aditum do come with higher bill rates for our consultants, clients “know what they are getting.”  Going the staff augmentation route through your technology staffing vendors as an attempt to save a few dollars on bill rate? While less expensive on the surface, this path can end up being much more expensive. Candidates are poorly vetted, and in some cases – in many cases when dealing with foreign nationals – they are not even employed by the staffing provider, but rather some third party that holds the worker’s visa. When poorly vetted contractors are assigned to your projects, either subpar work or turnover is inevitable, and that introduces significant additional cost and project risk.

About the author:

Jim Barge is a Managing Partner at SP6, a Splunk Professional Services partner. He spent nearly two decades in the talent acquisition industry around contract technology staffing before pivoting his career into professional services.

About SP6

SP6 is a Splunk consulting firm focused on Splunk professional services including Splunk deployment, ongoing Splunk administration, and Splunk development. SP6 has a separate division that also offers Splunk recruitment and the placement of Splunk professionals into direct-hire (FTE) roles for those companies that may require assistance with acquiring their own full-time staff, given the challenge that currently exists in the market today.