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What Candidates Are Prepared to Do for Reference Checking?

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What are candidates willing to do to increase their chances of getting a job?

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How far can candidates go?

I’d be happy to make the assumption that no human resource professional will ever go through their career without coming across a candidate bending the truth.

Since Xref launched in 2011, we have been telling our clients how important it is to understand the market, the talent pool, and the industry in order to make the best, most secure hiring decisions.

We’ve been offering anecdotal evidence, gathered through the conversations we have with our clients, partners and professional networks.

The data we generate from the hundreds of references we facilitate every day is also becoming more valuable as we grow but we realised that what our clients really needed was validation that the conclusions we were coming to, were accurate.

So we took a closer look at the current hiring process, specifically reference checking, using a survey of more than 1,000 Australians aged between 18 and 39, that had applied for a job in the last two years.

To say the results were eye-opening would be a massive understatement.

Flaws in the reference checking process

As we took the findings of our research on a national roadshow to HR professionals we found that, although the number is high, there was little surprise about the fact that more than 70% of respondents admitted to taking advantage of flaws in the reference checking process to better their chances of landing a job.

If we’re honest the old, archaic methods used, make it far too easy for brave and determined candidates to position themselves more favourably than is strictly accurate.

However, as we went into the finer details of the research, we saw the eyes in the room start to widen.

As HR professionals, we assume some level of exaggeration by job-seekers, but we found that candidates were willing to go a couple of steps further to improve their employment chances. Some of the tricks that candidates are prepared to do are:

  • 42% deliberately lying
  • 23% asking referees to lie on their behalf

Asking a referee to lie for you, might mean you encourage them to pretend you were slightly more senior or had more responsibility than was actually the case in your previous role – or it could be that you ask someone completely inappropriate to do it in the first place.

Our research has shown that the most common way candidates deceive potential employers is by providing the details of an inappropriate referee, these are some interesting numbers:

  • 16% admitted asking a friend
  • 11% admitted someone they didn’t work closely with
  • 11% admitted asking a family member

Gaps can be addressed

The good news is that if we understand the gaps, we can take action and improve the process. Here is a short list of how we can improve the flaws of our reference checking process:

1. Follow a consistent process. Picking up the phone to discuss a candidate is, by its nature, an uncertain and inconsistent way of gathering data if there is no process in place.

2. Make the importance of proper reference checking is understood. Given how much leg work the task can take, it’s also often left to the most junior person on the team or even someone with no experience in HR, which is often the case in small businesses without HR departments or the money to invest on a recruitment agency.

3. Promote a culture where reference checking is seen as valuable. In some cases, reference checking is seen as a burden and a distraction from other potentially more valuable work when it fact the cost of wrong hire could be very high.

4. Ensure reference checking takes place. We found another shocking number: 19 percent of references were found to have gone completely unchecked.

5. Review your questions so you do not fall in the discriminatory trap. We also found that the inconsistencies and lack of experience driving the process led to 29% of those that had acted as a referee being asked discriminatory questions about the individual they were providing details for. Questions including the candidate’s age (15%), whether the candidate has children (11%), their marital status (10%) and their sexual orientation (7%) are still staggeringly high.

Other recommendations:

- We have some good educational articles about basics for your reference checking questions that you could follow

- You can try our template builder and use our compliant questions

- You can consider using our online reference checking software that will allow you to set a proper reference checking

process and that can assist you on identifying potential risks. It is free to try our platform.

The reference checking process could affect our talent acquisition journey

In an increasingly competitive market for talent, that now has a global span, the ability to attract, onboard and retain the best people requires efficient, flexible and robust recruitment processes.

Gone are the days when a candidate would approach the one company they had always dreamed of working for. Online jobs portals make it possible to apply for multiple jobs at the click of a button.

We found that 84% of our respondents had applied for two or more jobs in the past two years, and 30 percent had applied for 10 or more.

However, what makes this even more worrying is the finding that 42% of the candidates had abandoned their job applications, specifically due to delays at the reference checking stage. Getting that process right while being able to complete it at speed is absolutely critical to ensuring you get the best people through the door before they go elsewhere.

A lack of standardisation in reference checking – which simply cannot be guaranteed using the phone method - leaves organisations open to risk and these findings have certainly validated our belief in the real need for improved efficiency in recruiting to avoid fraud, hiring based on inaccurate data and ultimately, money wasted on critical stages of the hiring period.

It’s also important to note that the number of respondents admitting to deceiving potential employers during the hiring process is representative only of those that were happy to hold their hands up to it. It’s very likely that these numbers would be even higher if all our respondents were 100% honest about their behaviours.

My key learning from all these numbers is that your reference checking process could not be taken lightly. Reference checking is a great opportunity to know our candidates better before  hiring them. Consider automating your process, check out our online reference checking platform.

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