Honest References Required

Is honesty the best policy when dealing with reference checks?

There should only be one answer to this question.

That answer is a resounding: ‘Yes!’

If only the reality of recruitment practices reflected this basic principle during the reference checking process. Unfortunately, there are numerous examples of the recruitment process failing at the very end, due to dishonest approaches by either the candidate or the potential employer in an effort to get the recruitment job done and to get the candidate into the job itself.

The most common example comes from the assessment of the candidate’s personal or behavioural attributes. Many employers fear the threat of a lawsuit if they provide a negative reference for a former employee. Rather than telling the ‘truth’, however, employers find themselves giving neutral information that says nothing at all about someone’s conduct or professional behaviour. Many organizations have a policy that restricts reference providers to giving fact based information only, such as confirmation of employment history with no performance or behaviour related commentary. While not dishonest, this approach may not provide the reference checker with a full picture of the candidate’s behavioural profile.

A recent decision by the Ontario Supreme Court has relieved this burden of neutrality on the part of the employer. This case establishes a precedent that an unfavourable, and yet honest, opinion of the former employee is acceptable.

Click here to read about the case

On the employer side, manipulation and dishonest practices have also left a stain on the integrity of recruitment practices. Sometimes recruiters themselves make fraudulent claims about a candidate in order to get that person into a position and collect the resulting monetary reward. The results from these types of actions are extremely costly and severely damaging. The need for ethical and honest practices on the recruitment side are explored in a recent article posted in HRM On-line magazine.

Click here to read the article  

What does good HR practice require us to do?

Allow for time to get integrity-based reference checking done right.

HR practitioners need to plan and prepare for this final stage of the recruitment process with the same amount of focus, integrity and due diligence that has gone into all of the previous recruitment and selection steps. There is no benefit from rushing and manipulating the reference checking process just to get through the final stage as quickly as possible.

The investment in making a sound hiring decision is just as important at the end as it was in the beginning. The constructive results from an honest and integrity-based process all the way through will always prove to be the right way to go.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Thinking of your own situation, who will you approach for professional and constructive references in your job search?
  2. As an HR practitioner, what steps can you put into place to ensure the integrity of the reference checking process?
  3. If you found out someone gave a bad reference for you, what actions would you take?
  4. How will you respond to someone who asks you for a reference that you would not be able to support?



It’s Not Me, It’s You


At the end of a carefully constructed and well-planned recruitment process, the decision is made to hire the right person into a job, and the hope for a successful employment relationship begins.

So, what happens if there is a realization that the person selected for the job is not the right one and no amount of performance management is going to change the fact that a mistake was made in the decision-making process?

According to an article published by Harvard Business Review, a successful hiring decision is made only 19% of the time. Furthermore, the article goes on to state that after eighteen months, 46% of hiring decision are deemed to be ‘failures’.

Click here to read the article.

These are unfortunate indicators that fly in the face of sound recruitment and staffing strategies. No matter what the statistical rates may be, as noted in the article, there is no doubt that organizations must plan for the fact that not all hiring decisions will lead to successful, long-term outcomes.

As with most relationships, when an employee begins working for an organization there is a typical ‘honeymoon’ stage where an individual’s quirks or foibles may not be cause for immediate concern. This stage can wear off quickly once those individual characteristics begin to impede organizational progress and productivity. In a workplace setting, the wrong person in the wrong job must be identified and managed in a constructive way that prevents on-going harm to both the individual employee and the rest of the organization.

Letting someone go when there are clear indicators that the employment relationship is just not going to work may be painful. This is especially true when both the employee and the employer have invested time, money, and resources in good faith, hoping the relationship will work. When there are clear indicators that the employment relationship is not destined for success, it is imperative that an even more important decision is made—to call the whole thing off.


Discussion Questions:

  1. In your role as an HR practitioner, what advice would you give an employer if you were involved in making a bad hiring decision?
  2. Identify three performance indicators that organizations should use to measure a new employee’s success in their role within the first month of employment.
  3. Thinking about your own work experience, what would you do if you started a new position with an employer and realized that the job was not for you? What steps would you take to try to improve the situation before making the decision to quit?