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October 23, 2012
Applicant References: Proceed With Caution!
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During the pre-employment screening process, employers often check the applicant’s criminal history, education, and references. References can be from a professional colleague, boss, or co-worker. Or they could be completely fictitious.
It’s a fact that around half of resumes contain some sort of mistruth, and nothing is more misleading than the fake reference. It is estimated that around 25% of resumes contain a reference that is doctored in some way. Candidates have several ways of faking or misrepresenting a reference:
1: Enlist friends or family. Instead of a valid reference from an actual job, an applicant may juice up their resume by listing a personal friend or family member as a boss or coworker. When checking out the person’s references, the potential employer would reach this person, and of course, would receive a completely fabulous-and completely false- reference on the job candidate.
2: Use a reference service. Sadly, a simple web search nets several reference services. For a fee, these businesses will set up an entirely fake company and phone number. The two parties set the job title, salary, and position held up front. The applicant then uses this information on their resume to create a reference. These services provide a real live ‘receptionist’ that confirms the details of the resume.
3: Supply incorrect/partial information. An applicant may gamble on the references not being checked at all, and may supply references that are not complete or correct. References with partial information such as an incomplete name, or a missing phone number may require too much time and trouble for the hiring manager to follow up on. As such, the applicant could get a ‘pass’, and skip through to the next phase of the process.
4. Write a reference. A job seeker may put their creative writing skills to use and create a reference letter. The reference letter could claim to be from a job where the candidate actually worked at some point, or it may be from a company the candidate never set foot in. Either way, the reference letter lists positive qualities, work history, and experience that the applicant may not possess. Again, the candidate is banking on the reference not being verified.
- Verify every reference. Check every reference provided. If the phone number or email is incorrect, ask the applicant for clarification.
- Double check any numbers. Do a web search on the reference, and try contacting them through the number that is associated with the name online, NOT with the number given to you by the applicant. This will increase the likelihood that you are speaking with the actual person.
- Ask in depth questions. Make certain the reference provides the position held, projects completed, and other important aspects of the job seeker’s background. Ask about dates of employment, and whether or not the applicant is eligible to be re-hired.
- Use a trusted third party provider. An established background screening company will be able better investigate references. Save time and receive more information by utilizing a third party company for more thorough reference checks.
Hiring the right person for the job is important, and a mistake can cost a company big. Verifying all references thoroughly can minimize the risk of bad hires, and their negative effect on the workplace environment.
~~Susan McCullah is the Product Development Director for Data Facts, a 23 year old Memphis-based company that provides employment screening solutions to companies nationwide. Check our our website for a complete explanation of our services.
Lisa May is the Executive Vice President for Data Facts.