Reference checking is often seen as an afterthought to the recruitment process. It’s the final dash to the finish line and generally, recruiters want to get it over and done with as quickly as possible to make the placement.
As this story demonstrates, however, the process itself reveals crucial detail about the candidate’s integrity and is not to be taken lightly. In fact, the integrity surrounding the reference checking process will ultimately reveal the integrity of the candidate. I, for one, want to know above all else that any candidate I place into a client has high integrity, and this is one way of testing it. At People Equity, we have, in fact, withdrawn many candidates after reference checking because of concerns over integrity.
Read on for my experience with this…
I recently worked with a dream candidate with all the right credentials for the role as well as the energy and approach that my client was seeking. He’d been through three stages of interviews where he had impressed everyone in the room and he had even aced the psychometric tests. The client was ‘head over heels’ for him and the job was virtually his.
Reference Checking Begins
We then got to the reference checking stage of the process. The candidate quickly provided me with the two references that I requested: direct line managers from his current role and his previous role. I set up times with each of the references to speak with them the following day and everything looked to be in order. The next day, the first reference check went smoothly - there was an answer to every question and no red flags were raised.
As part of my reference checking process, I cross-check the details of the referees provided to ensure I am speaking to the right person. This cross-checking process starts with a simple check on LinkedIn to see if the facts line-up relating to the referee (i.e. they work where the candidate says they work and they have the job title the candidate says they have). This is then followed by a quick call through to the reception of the referee’s current employer to verify that they do indeed work there and that the mobile number I have for them is the number the receptionist has on record.
“Ding dong” went the alarm bells. My hair started to stand up when I realised that I may have been duped by the non-gender specific name of the first referee. On checking LinkedIn, it became evident that the referee was of the opposite gender to the person I had spoken with over the phone earlier on. When I rang the referee’s employer, the mobile number I had on file for the referee didn’t match up with their records. Of course, there could have been many explanations for this and my imagination was running wild with the possibilities as I gripped onto the hope that my candidate was of the honest variety.
Calling the Candidate...Out
At this point, I felt I had enough alarm bells going off and hair standing on end to make a call to the candidate. The candidate was elated to hear that I had checked the first reference. I then explained to the candidate that I was confused about some information that I had uncovered following the reference check. The candidate became short of breath and did not seem to know why or how my observations and findings could be possible. I explained to the candidate that I was about to go through the same due diligence relating to the second referee and asked them if they were comfortable with this. Barely able to speak, the candidate agreed.
I then hung up the phone, turned to my colleague and said, “Now, we wait.”
The Midnight Confession
I couldn’t stop thinking about the events of the day as I made dinner, did my dishes and went about my evening. I checked my phone every 10 minutes, sensing that I would hear from the candidate that night.
Just after midnight, the email came through. A full confession from the candidate that both references were fake on the advice of a “friend” that the hair-brained scheme would work. He was beside himself with remorse, his wife was shocked and he was a disappointment to his family. He also knew that the job was no longer a possibility.
My over-riding emotion when I read the email was sorrow that this candidate had so much to hide and that he was prepared to go to such lengths of deception to secure a job. Whichever way I came at the possible reasons behind the candidate’s actions, I knew that I could not represent this candidate in good conscience and certainly not have one of my clients hire him with such questionable integrity. The phone call to the candidate the next day was equally as sad and concerning. This was not the first time he had done this, and according to the candidate, another reputable company had spoken to his (fake) referees without detecting a problem and had proceeded to offer him a job in the past.
Ask candidates at the first interview about who they would provide as references. This allows your candidates to understand that you value reference checking and that it will be a compulsory part of the process. You will immediately detect possible issues through their body language and how readily they talk about who they would put forward.
Be a detective: Always cross-reference the details of referees to ensure they are the ‘real deal.’
If alarm bells are going off, there is probably a good reason. Keep digging into the facts.
Present any questionable findings to your candidate and ask them to explain them. If they have been deceptive, there is a high probability they will come forward with a confession sooner or later, possibly on the spot.
If you are a candidate, don’t provide fake references. You will be found out.
In my next blog, I will be exploring references from another angle and discussing whether we should insist on having a reference from the candidate’s CURRENT direct line manager. This is a heavily debated topic at People Equity and one that I’m sure many would be keen to discuss further.