New Delhi - Managers of an information technology (IT) company in New Delhi were puzzled as they sifted through a pile of CVs – as many as 30 job seekers claimed to have worked previously for the same employer.

Unwilling to take any chances, the managers approached a firm of professional sleuths who specialise in screening background information given by prospective employees. What emerged left them stunned.

The “employer” turned out to be an owner of a dingy one-room cellphone repair shop who was pretending to be a human resources manager of a fake IT firm.

In return for money, he answered verification calls and described how the candidates had worked for him previously doing data entry.

“Our investigation revealed the conspiracy to show previous experience of three to four months for the candidates,” said Preeta Pradhan, a vice-president at background-screening firm AuthBridge.

Forging qualifications, faking experience and inventing companies – desperate candidates are resorting to all sorts of fraud to land jobs in a tough Indian employment market.

Low business confidence and high interest rates have led economic growth to plunge to the lowest in a decade, making private sector job opportunities harder to come by.

A survey by AuthBridge, which has screened millions of candidates, showed that nearly one in five had fudged some information on their CVs in 2012 and 2013. As many as 51 percent submitted fake education documents.

Background screening was hardly heard of in India until the turn of the millennium, and has been largely driven by the outsourcing and IT industry, one of India's biggest economic success stories.

Foreign companies taking their back office operations to India wanted assurances that employees were reliable, while intense competition led to high staff turnover and huge recruitment needs.

The Indian Association of Professional Background Screeners pegs the size of the industry at about $32 million (about R342m) annually and growing fast.

“With many people competing for the same opening, the temptation to fudge is quite strong,” M Aswathi, a human resources manager in a leading IT company, said.

“They know that extra years of experience or a diploma from a top college could make it easier for them to grab a job or help them get a better pay package,” she said.

Figures from the National Association of Software and Services Companies show the number of qualified workers in the IT sector has increased 17 percent year on year, more than double the rate of growth in new jobs.

Those faking their CVs were mainly looking for lower entry-level jobs, although those seeking top positions had also been found resorting to fraudulent tactics, Aswathi said.

According to the AuthBridge survey, about 8 percent of offers made for leadership positions across industry last year were withdrawn because candidates provided false information. But catching the fraud has become more difficult, opening up a new market for companies such as Authbridge, US-based Rezource that also operates in India, and Supersoft Consultants.

They send officers to meet the references given by candidates and check the existence of companies at which applicants claim to have worked in the past.

Rezource has compiled a list of 1 500 Indian firms that do not exist but give out employment letters to candidates for a price. – Abhaya Srivastava from Sapa-AFP