Reference checking can be a frustrating and time consuming part of the job. Because of strict reference policies, checking up on references can turn into a minefield for those in HR. Most companies are only allowed to confirm title, dates of employment and eligibility of rehire. It is a balancing act to stay within the legal boundaries while conducting a thorough reference check.
According to a post on common myths of reference checking, “Approximately 50% of Allison & Taylor’s, a professional reference checking company, clients receive a bad reference , despite the strict policies in place.” When you consider that most HR professionals conduct reference checks in the final stages of the screening process, it’s a big deal that half of their relevant candidates are receiving bad references. This is when you have to consider the human factors.
Grain of Salt?
Look out for the bitter manager. If you have gathered references from this company before and they are always negative, this should be a red flag. Giving a relevant candidate the benefit of the doubt can save a lot of time and hassle. Regardless of policies, references are quite often based on emotion rather than experience. It can be hard to determine what should be taken with a grain of salt and what should be taken to heart. Take your cue from the following:
Read Between the Lines
A large part of this process is reading between the lines. Take note of the willingness of the supervisor to give a reference as well as their tone. Their level of professionalism should also be an indicator of what type of manager they are. Foul language, eating or smoking while taking your call can all indicate a level of unprofessionalism that should be taken into account.
Does their resume add up?
Aside from their opinion of this candidate, you should be cross checking everything they say with the candidate’s resume. They might have only praise to give, but if there are resume discrepancies this should always be looked into. Lying on an application or resume is a big deal.
According to Patrick Barnett, a background and legal investigator at ARS Employment Background Screening, “Some studies have indicated as much as 35% of resumes contain some form of deceptive past employment information.” Barnett says, “There are even websites that have a network of phony companies that will act as a past employer, verifying a job history that never existed. In some cases the applicant will declare they have worked for an employer that went out of business. Many times applicants will claim a degree they have not earned.”
Here are some common fake-outs that candidates will try. Knowing what to look for during reference checking will help to make the process more efficient and relevant. Wise up about the common tricks out there.
- False dates to cover up an employment gap.
- Fudging a driver’s license number to cover up a bad driving record, or even a fake SSN.
- Inflating salary (Barnett says, “You can also request a copy of the applicant’s W-2. Electronic transcripts can also be obtained directly from the IRS.”)
- Do theyreallyhave a degree?
- 18% of lies found in resumes are about skill sets.
Reference checks don’t have to be a waste of time if the recruiter knows what they’re doing. Calling up the number provided and asking a few questions is a waste of time. Recruiters need to know what they’re looking for. There are a lot of deceptions out there on both sides of the reference check. Former employers with a grudge, and candidate cover-ups can be sniffed out if the recruiter knows how to optimize their references.