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3 Ways to Protect Yourself from Fake References

3 Ways to Protect Yourself from Fake References

There's an old Seinfeld episode where George needs to convince the unemployment office that he's close to getting a job. Since he has nothing lined up, he uses his fake latex company, Vandelay Industries, and provides Jerry's phone number as a reference. As hilarious as the episode is, fake references are a reality in the business world, and there's nothing funny about that.

Believe it or not, it's not uncommon for lousy candidates to hand out a friend's number, who will then pretend to be a former employer and provide a sparkling reference. Other people may provide a real former co-worker, but coach them into lying about their time with a company. For the really dedicated liars, services such as CareerExcuse are popping up to offer professional fake job references to "disadvantaged job applicants." They fabricate entire companies, complete with website, LinkedIn profiles and history.

As dishonest job seekers get smarter, and recruiting departments get busier, it's easy for some terrible employees to slip through the cracks. Here are three tips to help you prevent yourself from getting duped by fake references:

1. Do Your Research

A bit of due diligence and research can go a long way and tools like LinkedIn and Google make it easier than ever. When calling the references provided by a candidate, consider a few of these extra steps:

  • Do a Google search and LinkedIn search for the company and make sure it's actually legitimate. See if you can find third party articles from credible sources that reference that company.

  • While you're at it, research the reference and make sure they're legitimate. Does their LinkedIn profile say they are currently, or have been, with that organization, holding the title as stated by the candidate?

  • If the company and reference are credible, take a look at the contact information on their website. Does it match the contact information provided by the candidate? They may have provided you a direct cell phone number, so instead, call the main switchboard and ask for the reference directly.

  • You can also try a reverse look-up of the provided phone number and see what it brings back. Does the phone number even belong in the right geographic area?

  • When speaking with the reference, ask about experience specific to the resume and confirm they know the details a supervisor should know.

2. Go Beyond the References Provided

When you check with more people, it's easier to validate the original reference and confirm they all have consistent stories. A few ways you can go about this include:

  • Ask the candidate for additional references, specifically management references if they've only provided peers.

  • Look at your own network and see if anybody has connections with your candidate's past employers.

  • When talking with a reference, ask them for a few extra names of people the candidate worked with and contact them. Remember to cross-reference those people on LinkedIn, just in case the lying candidate was clever enough to create a web of references.

3. Adjust Your Own Process

Add a few safeties into your own recruiting process to help prevent anybody on your team from getting fooled. For example:

  • Ask candidates to sign resumes and references in an interview, confirming that the information they provided is accurate. Really dishonest people won't care, but the extra step could scare a few candidates.

  • Avoid following a standard script when talking to references. Companies like CareerExcuse have mastered answering the boilerplate questions such as "provide Joe's weaknesses", so throw them off with something unique that forces them to think.

  • Always call people rather than email questions. It's easier to identify a lie when talking to somebody and putting them on the spot.

  • After completing a reference check, connect with the reference on LinkedIn and thank them for their time. If you get a response such as "sorry... we've never spoken before", you just had a discussion with an imposture.

Have you ever come across fake references while completing your due diligence? We'd love to hear your stories! And, of course, for any Seinfeld fans out there, here's what the dishonest candidate may be going through...