Do recruiters and employers still check references? This isn’t a rhetorical question. I’m seriously asking. Because I’ve actively warned every one of my references when I apply for jobs, so they can prepare for the HR call or email making sure I’m worthwhile. I’ve done this every single time, and – I’m not joking or using hyperbole here – not a single employer or potential employer has ever called one of my references.
Not one. Single. Time. … Ever.
Now, for a while, I was so confident that this led to delusions wherein I told myself, “Well, I must be just that impressive on paper that there’s no doubt I’m worth meeting in person.” But eventually I interviewed for jobs that I didn’t end up getting, so there goes that theory.
Now the reason I’m complaining is partially because I feel wronged. I know my references would all speak highly of me – much more glorifyingly than I’d ever dare to speak about myself – and that just has to impress them. But by far the biggest reason this upsets me is because of my journalism background. To me, this is just another in a long line of examples that marks The End of The Age of Fact-Checking.
I’m not sure when this trend took hold, but I have my suspicions. It was somewhere during the early-00s, when every media outlet was scrambling to try and cover every possible piece of news so they could appeal to the greatest number of readers (rather than being known for doing a specific thing well). At some point during the desperation, accountability walked out the door, never to return.
It’s gotten so bad that at the end of each hour of programming on 24-hour cable news channels (Fox, CNN, ESPN, etc.) they run corrections for the mistakes they made during the broadcast. You got that? They actually have fact-checkers who watch the news and look up the things they’re saying to see if they’re true. The methodology behind this (if there even is one) is as such: Nevermind coming prepared, just get on camera and start talking.
That’s the impression I’m getting from the interview process. Employers don’t bother coming to an interview prepared; they just sit the candidate down and start talking. Who needs to be burdened with all kinds of well-researched and -checked background information on that candidate? A 15-minute talk with closed-ended questions ought to suffice, right?
In media, consumers have lost the instinct to seek credibility, so no one holds them to it. The Daily Show and Colbert Report live off making fun of these channels’ mistakes, but still no one changes. In the employment world, job-seekers have always been in a disenfranchised position. Who are they to challenge a potential employer? If they want any chance at that job, they just have to shut up and say the “right” answers during the interview. Maybe the best shot the world has at correcting this is in staffers. You can point out clients’ bad practices and beg them to change. Granted, there’s a serious risk in doing so – what if they’re offended and you lose that client? – but I still have hope in you.
What continues to worry me is that nothing will change and – note that this is true for both analogies – we’ll continue encouraging an atmosphere of liars and exaggerators. The media world has become a breeding ground for fear-mongers and shock-jockeys because those tactics work at getting attention (nevermind that they fail in the dissemination of information department). Similarly, the employment world is a breeding ground of faked work histories and references, and loophole-filled background-checkers (nevermind that they fail in hiring honest, proven-quality employees).
Quite simply, if employers aren’t taking the time to call references and check employment records, nothing is going to stop this. And if they haven’t been burned by this already, they soon will be.
As I read this rant later, I realize that my experience could be an anomaly. Maybe most employers do have extensive checks. So I asked some friends. They’ve had the same experiences. Then I asked co-workers, and they simply said, “Well you’re one of my references, so you tell me! Have they ever called you?” In the vast majority of cases, no – they haven’t.
Still, maybe this is a problem only in the journalism/writing community. So I checked my frequented business blogs and LinkedIn groups. This subject doesn’t come up often, but when it does it’s all about complaints. I especially found this article telling. It essentially says that those rare companies that do have reference checks do them half-assed and ineffectively.
So, once again, I beg the question: Do you check references? If you answered “yes,” pat yourself on the back for me. I like you. Now for Round 2: Do your clients check references (or do you do it for them)? If you answered “no,” please slap that client in the face for me. I don’t like them.
I mean that whole “slap them in the face for me” stuff figuratively, of course. You don’t have to do that. You could just as easily force them to read this. At gunpoint, if it helps.
And believe me. It will.