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Hiring Someone New? Why You Need to Personally Check their References

Why It Pays to Call the Switchboard When Doing a Reference Check

reference checking
How do you really know the mobile numbers provided for references truly belong to who they say they are?

I recently had a conversation with a colleague who said she’d never once been asked to produce a copy of her university degree or her transcripts, despite stating on her resume that she’d graduated with a high distinction average.

Gee, I thought, not once? Not a single recruiter or employer had ever requested a copy of her degree? I found this fact astonishing, particularly since more professions require, by law, certain qualifications — as BAS agents are, for example. So how people know my friend wasn’t fibbing in her credentials? Fact is, they didn’t.

Check, even if you use a recruiter

I wrote a blog some time ago about recruiting on LinkedIn and why it’s so important to check references for yourself. People often underestimate the importance of checking a person’s credentials, so long as they get a reference from their last employer. Often, though, most people only provide a mobile number for their references, so whether you’re speaking to the candidate’s former employer, a co-worker, or their mum is sometimes anyone’s guess.

I was reminded of how important reference-checking is again, when I was reading a couple of articles on Longreads, and I found myself utterly fascinated by two of the biggest cases of journalistic fraud ever committed (though I admit to having never heard of them before the weekend, despite one occurring more than 30 years ago).

Sometimes people don’t just lie on their resume

In the first instance, a journalist named Janet Cooke fabricated a story for The Washington Post about an 8-year-old heroin addict. She won a Pulitzer Prize for it in 1981, and then had to give it back when it came out that there was no such 8-year-old. In the second case, Jayson Blair, a journalist for The New York Times, was found to have fabricated or plagiarised 36 out of 73 stories written over a 6-month period, in what turned out to be the biggest scandal in the newspaper’s hundred-plus year history.

What I found most intriguing, though, was that neither Cooke nor Blair had been properly vetted before their employers hired them. In fact, it was Cooke’s falsified resume that was ultimately her undoing when, after receiving the highest honour in the field of writing, a former employer noticed something was amiss with her Pulitzer biography — her education and professional achievements had been grossly overstated. (Rather ironically it was Bob Woodward, of Woodward and Bernstein — the journalists who uncovered the Watergate Scandal — who signed off on hiring Cooke.)

The same would prove true for Blair, who, it turned out, never graduated from university, and had a murky work history with the Times’ sister publication, The Boston Globe, where his superiors had been less than impressed with his less-than-high standard of work.

(Of course, the equally interesting case of Australian author, Helen Demidenko, who won the Miles Franklin Award in the early 1990s, only to later be dubbed by the Sydney Morning Herald as a ‘literary hoax’ also springs to mind.)

Benders-of-truth almost always get caught

Plenty of people lie or embellish on their resumes, and while a good majority of them go unnoticed, others are caught out — sometimes very publicly, and often only after the organisation has been very publicly embarrassed, as in the case of Cooke and Blair.

My advice, then, is to always check the references of new hires meticulously. Rather than calling the mobile numbers or direct lines of the candidate’s references, call the main switchboard and ask to speak to that person’s manager or superior.

And always ensure to ask for a copy of any credentials, like university degrees. If you’re employing someone where, by law, they’re required to hold a certain qualification — as is the case for BAS agents, for instance — it’s imperative you can verify the person’s credentials.


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How Do Business Recruit Staff?

LinkedIn, Job recruiters and the Internet

Hiring-Time-vs-Money-comparison infographic by recruitloop-small - shows Linkedin is far cheaper than the old job ad alternativesToward the end of 2012, LinkedIn, the social media platform for professionals, reported that their stock had jumped a massive 20 percent in just one day, taking their annual revenue to $860 million. The results were impressive. Forbes magazine was speculating that the company, which was first publically just two years earlier, could soon outpace the revenues of employment website giant, It even looked as though LinkedIn could achieve what other employment websites hadn’t: combining job ads with the art of recruitment.

The main driver of LinkedIn’s success – and indeed the company’s main focus – is its Talent Solutions service, which allows companies to market itself and target talent directly, without the need for a middleman, like a recruiter. This, many have speculated, sounds the death knell for an already wounded recruitment industry, which has been about as secretive about the talent procuring process as Colonel Sanders was about those 11 herbs and spices.

Great For Jobseekers and Entrepreneurs

LinkedIn is a fantastic networking tool for businesses and individuals alike and an equally fantastic online resume for independent contractors and jobseekers; both are topics we’ve written about quite extensively on this very blog. But to truly determine how useful it is to jobseekers, we thought we should look at how useful it is for businesses.

The usefulness of something, particularly for a business, is usually determined in monetary terms – in other words, how much does it cost and how much time or money (though both time and money are synonymous in business) will it save us?

Fortunately, Aussie start-up, RecruitLoop, which is now based in both Sydney and San Francisco after opening offices there when they secured venture capital in 2013 for their new kind of online recruitment agency, ran the numbers for us. (they’ve subsequently grown via acquisition!)

The Old Recruitment Process

Traditionally, if you wanted to locate top-tier talent for your organisation, you had little choice but to hire a recruitment agency. They possessed the secret formula for procuring the right candidates and charged handsomely for it, usually in the vicinity of 15-30 percent of the salary on offer, per hire. RecruitLoop says you should expect to pay about 20 percent.

But first you have to find a recruiter you like. Conservatively speaking, this could take about two hours, including the time it takes to brief the recruiter on the position and candidate you’re looking for. Then it’s over to them – for now.

The recruiter may weed out the good candidates from the bad, but that’s literally it. You still need to interview each candidate, whether it’s two or three or more. After a customary 30 minute pre-interview phone call, it’s standard practice for a candidate to meet with the hiring manager at a company at least twice, sometimes three times. That’s a minimum of 7.5 hours.

RecruitLoop also pencils in time to wine and dine candidates. I don’t know about you, but I rarely hear of a junior or mid-level executive being wined and dined by an employer. This is a practice usually reserved for the top brass, so I’m going to reassign that time to checking out each candidates’ references.

Yes, this is the recruiter’s responsibility and it’s what you’re paying the big bucks for, but it’s precisely because you’re shelling out those big bucks that you should do your due diligence and check out each candidates’ references yourself. (I give you two good reasons why in this blog post.)

Altogether, you’d have spent 13.5 hours on the hiring process, in addition to the 20 percent finders fee you pay to the recruiter. Assuming the candidate’s salary is $75k, and your salary is around $90k (or $47 an hour), you’ve just spent $19k.

The New DIY Recruitment Process

In the RecruitLoop example, they listed multiple employment websites to advertise a job vacancy, but we reckon you only need to use two websites: LinkedIn, which they estimate costs around $1,500 an ad, and Gumtree, which is free.

It should take you about an hour to write your job advertisement, perhaps two if you’re a little rusty or the position is not quite straight forward, which in small business it rarely is. We’ll note down two hours for ad writing, and thirty minutes to post them both.

The average corporate job advertisement yields about 200-300 resumes from jobseekers, but as a small business you may receive less than that. Even if you receive as little as twenty resumes, you still need to cull that down to two or three candidates. That should take you about 3.5 hours.

Then comes the interview process. This shouldn’t take any longer than it would if you were using a recruitment agency, which RecruitLoop estimated would take about 7.5 hours (though they estimated 12.5 hours in their info graphic). Then tag on 4 hours to check each candidates’ references.

You’re looking at about 17.5 hours of your time, plus the cost of advertising on LinkedIn. Assuming your salary is around $90k per year (or $47 an hour), altogether the new DIY hiring process has cost you just under $2,500, though it could cost you as much as $4,900, according to RecruitLoop.

Accessing What’s Behind the Curtain

Since hiring a recruitment agency only saves you about four hours, but costs exponentially more in agency fees, it would seem that the only reason to go with a recruiter is to access to that secret Talent Procuring Process.

But given that the majority of recruiters are now using LinkedIn to target new talent, in addition to their existing database – and who cares about one recruiter’s database when LinkedIn has the biggest in the world? – wouldn’t you rather save your money, invest the time, and go behind the curtain yourself? I would.

The key, of course, is to ensure you’re using LinkedIn correctly, in the first place. After that, the rest is up to you. Next time you’re looking to hire a new staff member – or maybe even an independent contractor – I encourage you to think about the DIY way.