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.
Australian Job-seekers Are Taking Advantage
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 percent 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, by deliberately lying (42 per cent) and even asking referees to lie on their behalf (23 per cent).
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, going so far as asking someone they didn’t work closely with (11 percent), a friend (16 percent) or even a family member (11 percent).
Employers Are to Blame Too
Not only are candidates taking us for a ride but our own inconsistencies and inefficiencies are also limiting the success of the reference checking process.
Picking up the phone to discuss a candidate is, by its nature, an uncertain and inconsistent way of gathering data. 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. It’s seen as a burden and a distraction from other potentially more valuable work. Perhaps as a result of this, 19 percent of references were found to have gone completely unchecked.
We also found that the inconsistencies and lack of experience driving the process led to 29 per cent 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 percent), whether the candidate has children (11 percent), their marital status (10 percent) and their sexual orientation (7 percent) are still staggeringly high.
The Risks Are Real
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 percent 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 percent 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 percent honest about their behaviours.