Reference Checks: Why They Matter and How to Get Them

If you want to determine whether or not an applicant is who they say they are, utilize reference checks.

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Reference Checks: Why They Matter and How to Get Them

In today’s competitive job market, it can be tempting to snatch up available talent quickly. For some employers, skipping through some of the normal recruitment steps may seem like a good tradeoff rather than lose a potential hire. One step you should never skip is checking references. While you may not always be able to get in-depth information on a candidate, there’s still a lot of important data available.

References are an invaluable tool to determine whether or not the applicant is who they say they are. Most employers will not have lengthy conversations with you regarding the work ethic and performance of a former employee. They’re concerned about being sued, but that doesn’t make reference checking a waste of time. A majority of the information a candidate provides is verifiable if you just make the call.

How accurate is that application?

It’s no surprise that candidates exaggerate a bit on their resume or application. They’re trying to put their background in the best possible light. It is surprising how many candidates include outright lies on their resume, and the higher up the earnings, the more prevalent the lies.

According to a Resume Builder survey, 32% of workers admit to lying on their resume. The majority lied to improve their chances of getting the job. To get past applicant screening software, many workers are altering their qualifications: 44% lacked the background needed to get the job. Another reason to lie: 41% lied because they were fired or left their last employer on bad terms.

What they’re embellishing

The respondents provided details about what they’re exaggerating on their resume or application. For businesses, almost all of these areas are easily verifiable with a reference check:

  • Years experience: 46%
  • Education: 44%
  • Length on previous job(s): 43%
  • Skills and abilities: 40%
  • Previous employer(s): 38%

When broken down by earnings, 49% of people who earn between $100,000 and $149,999 say they lied on their resume: 46% for those who earn over $150,000 per year. Only 25% who earn less than $100,000 reported they lied. Here’s what they exaggerated about:

  • $150,000+ earnings: 72% lied about education credentials
  • $100,000 and $149,999 earnings: 55% lied about skills or abilities
  • $50,000 to $99,000 earnings: 37% lied about years of experience
  • Less than $50,000 earnings: 42% lied about the length of time they held a position

Based on education, 41% of people whose highest level of education was middle school lied on their application. Even higher, 45% of applicants with a post graduate degree did, as well. Only 25% of high school grads, and 27% of applicants with a bachelor’s degree reported being untruthful.

Resume Builder found men twice as likely to lie as women: 42% versus 22%. And highly skilled workers, like IT and finance-related fields, showed the highest level of exaggeration at 55% and 45%.

Surprisingly, the survey found only 41% of applicants caught lying on their resume had a job offer rescinded: 18% were fired after they started and the lie was exposed, but 29% faced no consequences at all.

Get the facts

As the survey revealed, many applicants lie about the basics of their skills and qualifications. These details are easily verifiable and even the most cursory reference check can uncover them. Most companies will provide dates worked and job title references when you call to check on a candidate. Schools will verify whether or not the applicant was a graduate and what degree they received. These cover the majority of resume exaggerations.

For deeper insight into the candidate, ask whether or not the applicant would be eligible for rehire. Most organizations will not tell you the specifics of why they separated from a job seeker, whether they quit or were fired. They will often let you know whether or not they’d consider rehiring the candidate, which can reveal if they left on good terms or were shown the door.

Many applicants lie about the basics of their skills and qualifications. These details are easily verifiable and even the most cursory reference check can uncover them.

Ask the applicant for details

Ask candidates for information specifically in areas that are easily verified, like dates worked and job title. They may say they were the manager, but when you call to verify their title doesn’t match.

When an application says the candidate worked from 2020 to 2021 you might be impressed. Without specifics, you might be getting played. Yes, they worked from 2020 to 2021 — from December 2020 to January 2021. Two months is not the same as two years. They may not be able to remember the exact dates, but they should at least be close when they list their previous employment dates.

For educational references make sure to ask for the year graduated and the degree received. You may have more difficulty verifying a high school diploma than a degree from a college or university, but it’s worth making the phone call to find out.

Make sure to ask for the location of previous employer(s) and look up their contact information personally. You’ll want to speak to the HR Department or hiring authority directly. Don’t rely on phone numbers offered to you, or on email addresses that do not specify the company name. Personal references are relatively worthless. No one is going to give you the name and number of someone who will talk poorly about them. Go  to the source: business references should be your priority.

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The cost of skipping the reference check

For businesses who choose to skip the reference check, the risk could be high. Negligent hiring can be costly. When employers fail to do their due diligence in hiring and an accident is the result, they could be liable for damages. In 2021, a jury awarded a $1 billion verdict against a trucking company that didn’t adequately do a background and safety check.

Deadly accidents may not be the result of a poor hire, but losses still occur. When a job seeker misrepresents their skills, the chances of them becoming a valued part of the team is reduced. The time and resources spent on that recruitment effort could be wasted. You’ll need to restart the hiring process and deal with any errors they caused working while unqualified.

Reference checks are an integral part of the hiring process. Not only do they verify the candidate has the skills, background, and qualifications necessary for the position, they mitigate risk for the organization. They often consist of a few short phone calls. When you consider how much a business has to lose, it’s never a good idea to skip this step, no matter how high up or low the candidate is on the corporate ladder.

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