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Collecting References: How to Identify Red Flags

How to identify red flags

You’ve listed your current job vacancies, interviewed a huge group of candidates, narrowed it down to some of your favourites, and now have to begin the process of singling out the cream of the crop. One of the first things you’re likely to do is to look at references. Sometimes, something about these reference checks just feels fishy. How do you tell if something isn’t quite right? In an effort to assist in diffusing your concern about the legitimacy of a reference, PNet Solutions has come up with a few helpful tips on how to identify a questionable reference. Here are our top tips for identifying reference red flags.

No managers are listed

If an employee has only listed colleagues and peers rather than any managers, there’s probably a reason for it. If they purposefully avoid you speaking to their bosses, they’ve either not been honest about their job search, haven’t had previous employment, or have left on bad terms with all previous managers.

It sounds too good to be true

If all your candidate’s references come back with nothing but glowing recommendations which seem over the top, you may want to take a second look. If they’ve taken on tons of high level responsibilities, led projects, constantly work 12 hour days, never take sick leave, always get along perfectly with everyone in their team, have no flaws whatsoever and essentially kept the previous organisation going all by themselves…the reference is quite likely to be fake.

Be fully aware that some people fake references and use friends or family to act as a boss, especially if the previous job was unskilled or at a company you struggle to find, e.g. waitresses, receptionists, retail staff and so on.

The reference sounds nervous or reluctant

Sometimes a provided reference can sound hesitant, nervous, or simply reluctant to give information about the candidate you want to discuss. If this happens, consider why they’re trying to avoid certain topic. It could just be that the reference is not somebody who likes to give out negative reviews or criticism, but it could be more sinister. You can try asking about specific duties related to the job the reference is linked to. If there’s a lot of hesitation, vagueness or changing stories, keep in mind that the reference could be fake.

The experience doesn’t match the age

If you see a 23 year old who has senior manager experience, there’s a chance they could be legitimate. Or, they may have been given an inflated title whilst working for a friend’s startup or similar. When you phone the reference, be sure to ask the age and size of the company to try and gauge this. If they’ve listed themselves as management or similar, ask about their experience in leading teams and don’t be afraid to ask for examples.

You can’t find the reference online

We know, this may not be fool proof. However, as business is becoming more and more involved in the online space, so too are staff and business leaders. AS such, good recruitment practices often involve some savvy internet research. Aside from the obvious benefits of being able to search candidates and their references before making any decisions, digital recruitment solutions have some other added benefits. PNet Solutions has some advice on e-recruitment versus traditional recruitment which you can read here.

If the name of their previous boss doesn’t turn up in any google searches, on social media sites, or even on LinkedIn, take note. This is particularly true if the previous boss was a high level manager, who should have some sort of online presence.


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