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Why Reference Checking Is Vital To Protect Your Culture

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A recent survey of jobseekers by the CV Library has revealed that many candidates are deceiving employers by including false information on their CVs to help get the job. This shows us that reference checking is as important today as it has ever been. The survey also revealed the CV fabrication hotspots which were: dates of employment, gaps in their CV, and salary, (as a means to secure higher pay). The extent of the deception is staggering with the survey suggesting that over 90% of UK workers have lied on their CV, and 72% of them confirmed they gained employment as a result of their fabrication

Candidate referencing checking is still vital in today’s climate of dishonest job-seeking practices. If candidates with fabricated CVs make it through your pre-employment screening process, it can seriously undermine your performance culture and reputation.

Take the case of Yahoo, for example. After it was discovered that Scott Thompson, then CEO of Yahoo, had lied about having a degree, he was fired from the business. What was doubly embarrassing for Yahoo was that not only had they failed to effectively background check the most senior person in their business, but that the CEO’s CV fabrication was discovered and outed by an external investor organization, Third Point, (three months into employment!)

This was disastrous for Yahoo’s reputation and brought serious questions about the effectiveness of Yahoo’s background checking process. Not long after this incident, Patti Hart the Director in charge of Yahoo’s CEO search committee stepped down. Failure to check references effectively had led to an employee and investor relations nightmare.

Post-employment screening 

One positive from the Yahoo case, was that it showed the value of post-employment screening in uncovering lies that may have slipped through the pre-hire employment screening net. 

Of course, no-one would advocate random, stop and search style post-employment screening, as that would create an unpleasant Gestapo-like culture within the organization. 

But, placing post-employment screening at career-pertinent points, such as when applying for a promotion, would make sense and would protect your culture against any lies that had slipped through pre-hire candidate reference checking. 

This is how Walmart, (Asda’s parent company) uncovered a CV fabrication from David Tovar, their then Vice President of Corporate Communications who lied about finishing his University Degree. 

Tovar was going through additional assessment as part of the process of being promoted to SVP at Walmart when the fabrication was discovered. Tovar described in his own words in a media statement, exactly how it was uncovered.

 “As part of that process [internal promotion] I was going through additional leadership assessment including a battery of tests including questions about leadership, drug tests, background checks,” he said. “In the background check my education was flagged – it was done by a third party background check company. They asked me about it, and I was 100 percent transparent.”

Candidate reference-checking adds value by helping ascertain culture-fit

Pre-employment screening has an important gate-keeping role to play, but, candidate reference checking can perform more than just a policing role. It can help you ascertain culture-fit too, adding value to existing culture-fit assessment processes, which themselves are not foolproof.

For example, if you want to see whether a candidate is a keen learner, so you can decide if they fit your internal learning culture for example, you could ask the referee about what formal training the candidate did or what new or improved skills did they develop while they worked for you. This will give you a more reliable picture of the candidate’s training journey, during their time with the employer in question.

Alternately, for example, if you wanted to understand if the candidate’s collaborative style suits your business, you could ask the referee to describe the candidates team-working skills.

Additionally, you could ask your referee to outline the number of performance related promotions and pay increases the candidate has received to see if they are upwardly mobile enough for your organization.

With CV embellishment being commonplace today candidate reference checking still performs an important and necessary policing function for your organization, enabling you to protect your reputation and culture. Proactive employment screening can add value to existing assessment processes which are not fool-proof, by enabling you to get behind the candidate smokescreen.

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