Dishonest references test recruitment

Global problem has led to delays, inefficiencies in war for talent: Experts
By Marcel Vander Wier
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/02/2018

When it comes to reference checks, there’s a disconnect and lack of trust that’s causing problems in the recruitment process in Canada and across the globe, according to a report.

Eighty-two per cent of HR professionals believe people providing references are not always being honest, while 68 per cent believe they’ve been lied to while conducting phone references, found the survey of 102 Canadian HR professionals last fall by Xref.

On the other side, 38 per cent of job applicants said they have been named by a friend for an employment reference, with 50 per cent believing it’s more important to put forth a “good reference” than a direct manager, found the survey of 1,011 Canadians who have applied for a job within the last two years.

Further, 17 per cent of respondents admitted to going so far as to ask a friend completely unrelated to their previous place of unemployment to provide a reference.

While HR continues to value the reference check as a crucial tool in the hiring process, candidates are simultaneously bending the truth by extending work timelines, embellishing past roles, or listing achievements that were never completed — and then having a reference verify it, said Lee-Martin Seymour, CEO of Xref in Sydney — a cloud-based reference-checking platform.

The study’s findings uncover a “black hole of truth,” said Seymour. “It may be that Canadians just don’t realize some of the mistakes being made when applying for new jobs — and when submitting references as part of the process… Whether that’s intentional or not, organizations must be able to safeguard their systems and not fall victim to dishonest candidates.”

“Canada’s not an outlier. This happens globally,” he said. “Clearly, more transparency is needed.”

Affecting search for talent

Dishonesty in references is a global problem and relevant to all career levels, according to Milko Filipov, general manager of CVerification, a blockchain-based recruitment and background verification platform in Germany.

The company offers an alternative to the background check, working as a notary and guarantor of genuine documents while allowing users to share verified references and professional achievements with potential employers, he said.

“We believe that the majority of applicants are not completely honest in the application process,” said Filipov. “This makes it difficult for honest applicants to impress recruiters and this is how the problem evolves to more serious issues and inefficiency on the job market.”

The current process of reference-checking takes far too long, said Seymour, and many HR professionals are losing out on top candidates as a result.

“In Canada, we’re short on skills. It’s really hard to find top talent,” he said.

“Candidates are actually walking away from their job application because of delays in referencing. That’s got to change because as Canada’s economy grows, we’ve got to find the talent to fuel these companies.”

“If we’re losing candidates because of antiquated, underperforming historic tasks, then we need to change it.”

The survey results are not surprising, said Danielle Korins, CHRO at Sterling Talent Solutions in New York.

“They validate why completing thorough background screening is so important,” she said. “This is also why we do employment verifications in conjunction with references, to verify dates of employment, reason for leaving and eligibility for rehire.”

Safeguarding your company

Adopting a 360-degree reference check process is critical, said Korins.

A full picture requires hearing from a former supervisor, co-worker and direct report.

“Experienced verifications specialists will know what red flags to look for and are better equipped to spot a bad reference,” she said. “This is especially true when conducting phone references as the verifier can probe further and sense tone or hesitation on the part of the referee.”

Conducting due diligence on a potential recruit’s past means HR practitioners need to go well past the reference check when recruiting, said Korins.

“Verify past education and employment and conduct criminal record checks to get the whole picture. Typically, a candidate that is falsifying information will have red flags in multiple areas.”

HR professionals should also ensure they are speaking with multiple supervisory references with questions on the candidate’s work tenure, role and ability to work in a team, with specific examples, she said.

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