High profile fake CV cases show importance of reference checking

by Miriam Bell01 Nov 2012

Recruiting new staff is always a costly process – and a bad hiring decision can have a disastrous impact on a company. It remains all too common for reference checks to be cursory at best, non-existent at worst.

The case of fake engineer Gerald Shirtcliff, who oversaw construction of the CTV building that collapsed in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake killing 115 people, is a case in point. Among other fabrications, Shirtcliff stole the identity and qualifications of Will Fisher, an English engineer he knew 45 years ago. He is now under investigation by both the New Zealand and the Australian police.

Over the last few years, there has been a succession of high-profile fake CV cases, ending in costly prosecution and damaging criticism for the organisation involved.

It is important to always thoroughly check candidates’ references for a number of reasons, Simon Martin from recruitment company Talent Magnet said. “These reasons range from the obvious (checking the candidate has done what they claim they have, the reasons they left their previous employers, their record as an employee and etc) to the not-so-obvious (finding out what sort of culture the candidate might thrive in or what motivates them when being managed).”

Culture plays a big part in recruitment these days and employers are increasingly looking to hire candidates that fit the organisation as opposed to simply filling a role, he continued. “Sometimes it’s what isn't said in the reference that's the most revealing… Recruiters and employers alike must probe into the answers as much as possible to get the full picture from a referee.”

However, there is a wide range of pitfalls to look out for, Martin said. “These range from a completely falsified employment history, to undisclosed past criminal behaviour, to security or safety concerns, to a [poor] cultural fit. Remember – you don’t really know who you're hiring.”

To ensure their reference checks are thorough and comprehensive, he suggested that HR pros should be vigilent by:

  • Tailoring the questions asked of the referee to the specific role and the company’s culture.
  • Try not to call referees on mobile phone numbers. At the very least, double check with the cited company that the referee actually works or has worked there.
  • Don’t leave anything up in the air: explore every point to get a full picture of the candidate.
  • Make sure the referees are as recent as possible. 


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