02 July 2014

The Flanagan/Myer resume fraud: what have we learned?

Andrew Flanagan
The case of the mysterious Andrew Flanagan becomes more intriguing as further information is uncovered. Certainly the mainstream media have had a field day, providing plenty of expanded coverage in the days after Mr Flanagan's deception was first uncovered.

Here's what else we know, thanks to the investigative efforts of various Fairfax Media, Smart Company, and News Corporation journalists, subsequent to my blog of last week on this topic:
  1. Flanagan is originally from Arkansas (USA), lives (or lived) in the Melbourne suburb of Mount Waverley and is married with four children. His wife has worked as an electorate officer for the controversial Member for Frankston in the Victorian State Parliament, and evangelical Christian, Geoff Shaw.
  2. Flanagan does hold a joint Juris Doctor and MBA by the University of Melbourne (awarded August 2008).
  3.  Flanagan is not a member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, as he claimed.
  4. Flanagan was declared bankrupt and unemployed in 2009, according to the National Personal Insolvency Index.
  5.  Flanagan (and his wife) are also listed as "independent business owners" for the local arm of ACN, a controversial utilities re-seller, commonly regarded as a pyramid scheme.
  6. Flanagan had a two month stint as a recruitment consultant with Carmichael Fisher in Melbourne during 2008. He was fired by Carmichael Fisher Director, Jamal Khan because. '... there was no substance. It was obvious that a number of the things he had said about his past were untrue and I let him go quickly.'
  7. Flanagan had previously been employed by Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce as their CEO for two months, commencing in December 2013. He was sacked when it was discovered he had lied about his experience.
  8. Flanagan was employed for four weeks by ASX-listed Specialty Fashion Group, for a contract role with subsidiary company Rivers. But he spent just four weeks at Rivers before his contract was terminated.
  9. Bendigo Health employed Flanagan as Executive Director - Organisation Development and Improvement in 2011. He lasted two months before being terminated for 'inappropriate behaviour', according to Bendigo Health acting chief executive Andrew Collins.
  10. Flanagan was interviewed by Quest and 'senior executives' from Myer on at least three occasions before being hired, and other 'leading retailers' conducted lengthy interviews with him at board level.
  11. That Quest Personnel staff conducted all the reference checks undertaken on Flanagan. Myer do not appear to have undertaken any separate reference checking on Flanagan.
Here's what remains unclear at the time of writing:
  1. How long Flanagan has lived in Australia or what his residency status is.
  2. Whether Flanagan has 'form' outside of Australia. A report in The Weekend Australian reported '... there are also unconfirmed traces of his tracks through the years in Kuwait and Canada.'
  3. Whether Andrew Flanagan is actually his real name. It appears he has also been employed as, variously, Jeffrey Flanagan, Jeffery Flanagan and Jeffery Howden.
  4. Whether Flanagan's claimed employment at both Tesco and Wal-Mart is true. It is most likely fabricated.
  5. Whether Quest Personnel were engaged by Myer to recruit for the role that Flanagan was offered. It seems likely it was a 'float' or 'reverse market' resume.
  6. Whether the Quest Personnel staff who conducted the reference checks actually spoke to the supposed 'referees' or whether a written reference check template was completed by the 'referees' and returned by email.
  7. What's there to be learned from this debacle?
Firstly, I am sure many recruiters would be thankful they weren't the ones in the glare of publicity that Quest Personnel managing director Lorraine Tribe found herself in. I was surprised and slightly disappointed to note that Morgan Consulting MD, Andrew Aston was quoted pouring a bucket over Quest calling it a 'rookie mistake'.

Yes, Quest were the recruitment agency involved and, yes, I am sure there was, with the benefit of hindsight, an opportunity for them to be more circumspect about Mr Flanagan's resume. However, how many other recruitment agencies, given the same circumstances would also have been fooled by Flanagan?

A majority, I suspect.

Would any of the recruiters at Morgan Consulting done any better in the same circumstances? You'd be a brave managing director to put a substantial bet on it.

When you consider the roll-call of high-profile companies that were fooled by Flanagan into hiring him, it's clear he's a highly skilled con man with a very polished personal style that wins interviewers over in a predictably effective way.

I suspect many recruiters have been fooled by an interview fraud - they just don't know it.

How can you prevent it?

Nothing will guarantee your success in uncovering a lying candidate with a fraudulent resume but here's what I suggest to bring the odds more in your favour:
  1. Be professionally sceptical about resumes: A resume is not a legal document, it is a marketing document. A recruiter's job is to satisfy themselves that what has been provided is accurate and complete - never assume that it is. Flanagan didn't have a LinkedIn profile. In this day and age, this is not normal for a senior, well travelled executive, and as such, highly suspicious.
  2. Google the candidate name together with their supposed employer:  If Quest has done this simple and quick step, they would have found zero relevant hits for the words 'Andrew Flanagan' 'Zara' and 'Inditex'. One advantage of candidates claiming high profile and/or important jobs is that there is no way they can escape an online footprint. Whether it's a company newsletter, appearance at industry events, being written about in the industry press or mainstream media, a person claiming to have prior employment in the type of role that Flanagan alleged (Inditex - Managing Director and Vice-President, Asia Pacific) should generate pages and pages of relevant online search results. Clearly this online footprint is not quite as deep for less senior positions held by the average candidate, however it's still a search worth undertaking.
  3. Ask a series of probing behavioural questions about specific selection criteria: Silky smooth conmen, like Flanagan, aim to lull the interviewer into a false sense of ease by being very friendly and engaging in the hope that the probing questions about resume or job details are not asked. A liar is far more likely to be uncovered when they struggle to provide convincing details about specific aspects of their work history that relate to an aspect of the selection criteria. I suspect that had a detailed series of probing questions been asked of Flanagan about his 'set up and expansion of Zara in Australia' then he would have been exposed.
  4. Watch their eyes:  Dr David Craig in his book Lie Catcher (Big Sky Publishing, 2011) notes that 'pathological liars' and 'rehearsed lairs' are especially difficult to catch out due to the lessening of normal physiological lying responses.

    However Dr Craig says you can still unmask the practised liar:

    'My favourite and most successful area to focus upon to identify whether a person is lying is the eyes. It appears very difficult for people to fabricate information or invent a story and maintain normal eye behavior. For example, you may ask a person to answer a question very quickly. This usually results in the person's eyes moving quickly from side-to-side and looking downwards slightly while attempting to get the brain in order to respond. Similarly, a person's eyes may stall or freeze in a particular position as they attempt to respond to a question. It's as if our brain and our eyes are hardwired together and when the brain is put under pressure, the eyes reveal it. The three key areas of the eye to focus on are: eye contact, blink rate and eye movement.'

    Lie Catcher
    : Become a Human Lie Detector in Under 60 minutes by Dr David Craig (Big Sky Publishing, 2011), page 60
When all is said and done about Flanagan-gate, I'm still flabbergasted that he thought he would be able to get away with it for any length of time.

But you only have to watch the movie Catch Me If You Can, or read the latest accounts of customer fraud by a group of CBA financial planners, to realise that when you ascribe your own values with respect to honesty and integrity to others, you match the actions of a vast majority of the population. A tiny minority of the population know this, and exploit this ruthlessly and often.

Just like Mr Flanagan did.

Related articles:

Bizarre end note:  After finishing this blog I discovered the previous known addresses of Mr Flanagan and it was then that I realised that I know him!

For about 12 - 18 months across 2009 and 2010, Flanagan and his wife, Ena (originally from Russia) and their four sons, were tenants in one of the front units in a small townhouse block in The Crescent, Highett (a south eastern bayside suburb about 18 km from the Melbourne CBD). I know this because my wife and I owned and lived in one of the other (rear) townhouses on the same block!

I knew him as 'Jeff' (I don't recall whether he was 'Flanagan') and didn't have a lot to do with him other than saying 'hello' and having the occasional neighbourly chat. I spoke to Ena far more frequently, as she was always around managing their four young children (at the time all under six years old). It was clear to me that money was tight in the household.

I remember 'Jeff' saying he ran his own company (which would appear to have been true). His movements were irregular; sometimes not being seen around for many days. I just assumed he was travelling. It would appear that the timing of 'Jeff' being my neighbour, in 2009, would have coincided with his official bankruptcy (see below).

'Jeff' and Ena moved out of the tenanted townhouse separately, some weeks apart, in late summer/early autumn 2010. This was not surprising as 'Jeff' always struck me as a bit of a 'player' and his absences had grown far more frequent in the summer of 2009/2010 (my wife presciently stated at the time 'I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him'). It seemed not to be an amicable separation as on at least one occasion Flanagan had a 'police escort' when he arrived to collect some of his belongings from the former family home.

Four years later 'Jeff' comes back into my life as the biggest resume fraud story in Melbourne (if not Australia) for many years.

Life is truly bizarre sometimes. 

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