Do you take reference checks seriously?

Do you know the full background
of your ideal candidate?

Posted by Tim Cincotta

I am reminded of the story of a company who had a new employee come on board with great expectation. After a week the staff started to notice that this new staff member was a little odd as they got to know him.  He was well presented and well-spoken and on paper seemed like a pretty normal guy. He was also from quite a wealthy family and had some great job prospects, so the fact he was working with them was great.
Two weeks after he started, his police report came through, and what a report it was. From what I heard on the grapevine, trespassing and theft where both words used in this report.

Now on to our topic. Why are reference checks important? Well a proper reference check would have uncovered the fact that this company was about to hire a sociopath whose hobbies included breaking and entering and collecting valuable that belong to others. Instead a dodgy name was given as a reference check and this was taken at face (or over the phone) value, much like the part in his contract where he ticked “I have no criminal record.” The referee was likely a mate.  
On being taken aside and told he would have to move on immediately, he threatened legal action and had a few less savoury words for staff as he not so quietly exited the building.
So what went wrong here? To me it appears that this company fell into the trap of not taking reference checks seriously. They had decided they wanted to hire this person and weren’t keen on really digging deep in the reference check.
When I think about it, amongst my friends and colleagues, getting a reference check is generally a sign that you have an offer on the way. It’s just a formality.

Now ask yourself as a hiring manager, have you ever reversed your decision to hire someone based on a dodgy reference check? I know I haven’t. Also ask yourself, if you had the option to outsource your reference checks to someone who would dig deep for you, would you say it’s worth it?

My tips to avoid dodgy reference checks:
  1. Call the landline of the office were the referee works and go through reception – not a direct line. My home phone is a direct line and I can easily answer Vanelay Industries (Seinfeld fans will get that)
  2. Get an official email from the referee from the company they work at to prove they are not just a mate posing as a representative of that company or find them on LinkedIn.
  3. Hire a professional with no vested interest if you hire the candidate or not to carry out the check for you.

Tim Cincotta is the Sales Director for Talent Propeller New Zealand. Connect with Tim on LinkedIn here or read Tim's other blog posts here.

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