As if navigating the world of employment issues was not hard enough already, today’s Consumerist highlighted a new service that purports to provide, among other things, fake job references. While I have not formed a conclusion as to whether the site is real or a sham (many of the internal links on the site don’t work, but there is an actual recording identifying the company when you call the number), such services–the sole function of which is to perpetrate a fraud–highlight the importance of verifying the authenticity and experience of applicant references.
If you are suspicious about an applicant’s job history or references, there are several steps you can take decrease your chances of being duped.
- First, if the company name is unfamiliar to you, look it up online. Is there a website? Can you find a phone number? If so, call it and ask to speak to someone who covers the human resources function. It is, of course, possible to fake all of these things (and a service like the one linked to above is paid to cover them), but chances are that someone who is lazy enough to fake a job reference isn’t going to cover all of his or her bases.
- Second, don’t rely on the information provided. If the applicant states that he or she worked at a major corporation and provides the number for someone to contact at the corporation, don’t call the number. Instead, go to the website, call the main number, and ask to speak to the person in the reference. If that person doesn’t exist, it’s a good sign that the reference is not legitimate.
- Third, as the Consumerist post notes, make use of services provided by the phone company such as reverse lookup. The number may not show up for a legitimate reason (such as it’s a direct dial line), but the failure to authenticate should still be considered a reason to proceed with caution.
- Fourth, if you are instructed to contact a reference at home that’s fine, but try to otherwise authenticate the reference as discussed above.
- Fifth, you may want to include a policy in your handbook indicating that subsequent discovery of false information on an employee’s application is grounds for immediate termination.
Once you verify that the reference is legitimate, be mindful that all references were not created equal. Make sure to establish that the reference interacted with the applicant in significant ways or over a substantial period of time. Many applicants provide otherwise legitimate references who, for example, left the prior employment long before the applicant did. Those references are less likely to have any useful information, and won’t be able to discuss why the applicant left the prior employer.
Many employers don’t check references at all, or just do a cursory review. The lesson here is that due diligence checking references can go a long way toward avoiding significant problems down the road.