How Reference Checks Can Help You Avoid an HR Disaster

According to a recent CareerBuilder survey, 56 percent of people lie on their resumes.

CareerBuilder based this statistic on the fact that more than half their survey respondents reported catching the following resume deceptions:

  • Embellished Skill Sets: 62%
  • Embellished Responsibilities: 54%
  • Misleading Dates of Employment: 39%
  • Fake Job Titles: 31%
  • Fake Academic Degrees: 28%
Here’s a question: What about all the lies hiring managers don’t catch?

We know it happens. While it may seem as though eventually everyone gets caught, it’s hard to imagine any employer taking a whole lot of comfort in that.

When someone lies to get a job, the employer’s best hope is the individual is basically a good and competent person who “fibbed” a little out of desperation.

Too often, however, the “fibber” is someone of low character who has tricked his/her way into a job he/she is not qualified to hold. In this case, it’s only a matter of time before disaster strikes.

An Ounce of Prevention …

The old saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is certainly true when it comes to your hiring process.

Unfortunately, even when an employer engages an expensive recruiting agency there’s no guarantee . In fact, some of the most spectacular cases of resume fraud involved individuals represented by well-known and reputable staffing agencies.


An employer’s expectation that an agency has thoroughly screened prospects isn’t necessarily the case.

When Fox Associates, Inc. sued Robert Half International because Robert Half’s candidate turned out to be a thief with a history of embezzlement (who later stole from Fox), the judge decided against Fox, and in a written statement declared that "Robert Half's sole purpose is to supply individuals with experience. It is in the talent business, and not the criminal investigation business."
Fair enough, but the message is clear: employers need to do their own reference checks.

Reference Checks Are Just Good Business

But even if an employee’s embellishment wouldn’t exactly make headlines, that doesn’t mean it’s insignificant to the worker’s employer. Job performance doesn’t have to culminate in a jail sentence to qualify as a disaster.

Here’s a short list of some problematic employee behaviors that can be highly disruptive to workplace goals and morale. A reference check can reveal evidence of all this and more in a potential hire’s history.

  • Excessive Absence and Lateness: Employees who aren’t around to do the job burden their bosses and their coworkers.
  • Sloppy Work: Sloppy work can communicate misinformation or indifference or simply make the boss look bad to customers and/or superiors.
  • Inconsistent Performance/Underperformance: Today the employee’s work meets standard, but tomorrow will be a different story, making it difficult for the boss to trust and delegate.
  • Inability to Get Along with Co-Workers: This employee makes everyone’s job harder and severely comprises the cohesiveness of the team and the quality of work the team produces.
  • Bullying: No one likes a bully, and no one wants to be bullied. If the bully has formal power, your company will surely pay the financial and human costs.
  • Undependability: Mike said he would finish his part of the report by 3 pm and send it to Megan, but she waited until 5 pm and never heard a word. Now she’ll miss the deadline set by her boss, and she’s disappointed and furious with Mike.
  • No Sense of Urgency/Poor Follow Through: To these employees, nothing ever seems important. It’s a wonder they get anything done.
  • Garden-Variety Dishonesty: Little lies, time theft, property theft, “fudging numbers,” and so forth are hallmarks of the fundamentally dishonest individual. This person may never move beyond telling his/her employer a few untruths now and again, or (because of circumstances, opportunity, or a new grudge) could instead become a devious nightmare of an employee.
No precaution can prevent a disastrous hire 100 percent of the time, because hiring is an inherently risky proposition.

Still, careful measures, such as reliable reference checks, can help an employer avoid most HR disasters.

What are some other steps you can accomplish to avoid an HR disaster?