HR 6 November 2017

An employer’s guide to candidate reference checking

A blue tinted image of a magnifying glass lying on top of several sheets of a printout of resume documents. All information on the resume is fake.
A blue tinted image of a magnifying glass lying on top of several sheets of a printout of resume documents. All information on the resume is fake.

Here, Simon Houlton, CEO of candidate screening system IScreenYouScreen, busts some of the myths around reference checking, and explains how employers can avoid some common hiring pitfalls.

Reference checking is the part of recruiting that no business owner can honestly say they enjoy, and let’s face it, if they say they do then they’re either lying or they just don’t do it.

Believe it or not, it is common for some business owners not to check the references of their candidates, but when one in five lie on their application, it’s probably about time they started.

The majority of job hunters don’t prioritise their referees because of the stigma and myths surrounding reference checking. Here are a few examples, alongside the facts.

Employers don’t check references

Yes, there are some organisations that don’t follow up on references, mostly due to the time and manpower it takes. However, if a company skips the appropriate checks they can be at risk of hiring someone that isn’t capable of the role they have filled, ultimately costing the company time and money.

So yes, this is a myth – not all business owners take the risk and none should.

If you’re about to recruit your first member of staff, our guide to hiring is an essential resource:

Previous employers have to provide a reference

Employers only have to provide a reference if there was a written agreement for them to do so, or they are in a regulated industry. Candidates more often than not assume that they can put down a previous employer and job done.

It is down to the candidate to prompt their referees about needing a reference, to which many don’t think to do, meaning checking references is key to scoping out whether the candidate has put in effort to finding appropriate referees.

It is illegal to provide a bad reference

Yes, there are people that honestly believe this, and although it may be one of the most far-fetched myths, it is definitely important for businesses to be aware of. A referee cannot lie, but they can say anything as long as it is fair and accurate.

With this in mind, it is at the organisation’s own risk as to whether they carry out the comprehensive background checks that are advised.

Read more: How to minimise risks and recruitment costs when hiring new talent

The most common ways of fabricating details include increasing one’s wage, adjusting job titles, adding work experience that did not take place and bumping up qualifications.

There are some job seekers who go to extraordinary lengths to make their CV more appealing, from falsifying official-looking university letters to paying for a fraudulent version online and even making up an entire previous employment and associated reference.

From an employer’s perspective, you really can’t afford not to check your potential employees are being entirely truthful and that the information you are given is accurate.

Job offers are often given largely because of the quality of an applicant’s CV, so falsified information could result in a poor hiring decision, not to mention it could be damaging for your business.

Simon Houlton is CEO of IScreenYouScreen

Find out how you can navigate the avoidable hiring mistakes costing UK employers billions each year

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