Red Flag: Fake Job References That Every HR Team Should Spot

June 26, 2023

Red Flag: Fake Job References That Every HR Team Should Spot

Reference checks are an important part of the hiring process.

Whatever role you’re hiring for, you can use reference checks to support your hiring decision.

But should you rely on reference checks? Unfortunately, not all job references are legitimate, with around 17% of job seekers admitting to providing a fake reference.

So, how do you go about spotting a fake reference? Read on to find out more.

What are fake job references?

Fake job references are false testimonials containing details of an applicant’s work performance.

Some candidates list the details of a friend or family member on their resume or application form, who then goes on to impersonate the candidate’s former boss and provides a fake job reference.

Other times, job applicants employ the services of a professional impersonator or fictitious company and ask them to provide fake employment references in return for a fee, which is often more than $150 per reference.

Sometimes, candidates may list a false name and telephone number on their resume or application form, hoping the recruiter will not carry out any reference checks.

The consequences of providing a fake job reference might include the following:

  • Being fired or having the job offer withdrawn
  • Police intervention
  • Cash fine

If the candidate has exaggerated their abilities or said they can do something they cannot, they may find it difficult to perform the duties of the job role.

Signs of a fake job reference

The referee’s details don’t stack up.

It’s important to double-check that the referee’s name, job title and contact number match those provided on their LinkedIn profile and the company website. For example, the candidate may say the referee was their manager when in reality, they worked alongside them.

The information provided is vague.

If the referee has offered a very broad description of the candidate’s work performance with little detail, this indicates that the reference might be fake. Check whether the referee has provided the job applicant’s employment dates and ensure the information aligns with the information provided on the applicant’s resume.

The reference includes personal information.

Professional references should be work-related. If you receive a reference that contains personal details only a friend or family member would know, you should treat this as a red flag.

Types of fake job references

Friend or family member

The job applicant asks a friend or family member to pretend to be their former boss or business associate.

One way to tackle this is by making it your company policy to only send reference requests by post or to a company email address.

Before sending the reference check, make sure the referee’s details align with the candidate’s work history and double-check they have provided the postal address for the business or a company email address.

Professional impersonators.

Many websites offer a “professional reference service” offering fake job references.

Fake job references are provided either in writing or over the phone. These companies will contact the prospective employer, pretending to be the job applicant’s former boss.

Again, requesting references via post to the business address or using a company email address is a good way to combat this.

If you want to take a reference over the phone, phone the referee directly using their official business telephone number.

Fictitious companies or organizations.

You should always run a Google search on the referee’s name and organization before making contact.

If you cannot find any details about them online, the chances are they have been listed as a fake reference.

How to spot a fake job reference

Despite the risks, 1 in 6 US jobseekers surveyed by StandOut CV admitted using fake job reference services.

Here are five ways to spot a fake job reference.

Browse the candidate’s social media profiles.

Checking out the candidate’s digital footprint is the best place to start.

Keep a copy of their resume or job application to hand and check whether all of the information they have provided matches the information they posted on social media.

For example, if they say they worked in California between 2017 and 2019, does their digital information back this up?

Check whether they are friends with or connected to their referee on social media, and see if any previous posts suggest a personal relationship rather than a business one.

Red Flag: Fake Job References That Every HR Team Should Spot

Use an online background vetting service.

Conducting thorough checks on prospective candidates can take time, but hiring dishonest employees can cause even bigger problems.

Paying for a vetting service can be costly, but you might decide it’s worth it for the peace of mind it offers.

Contact other people.

If something doesn’t seem right after speaking to the referee, ask them to give you contact details for others you could contact.

You might consider doing this if the reference you have received is vague or offers information that doesn’t match up to what the candidate has provided.

Speak to the referee on the phone.

For many businesses, this will be standard practice. But during high-volume hiring campaigns, it isn’t always possible.

However, it is always worth making the call to speak to the referee in person. If you want to phone the referee, be sure to use the company telephone number rather than a personal cell phone number provided by the candidate.

Check for spelling or grammatical errors.

If you notice a spelling or grammatical error in the candidate’s application form or resume, see if you can spot the same one in the reference letter.

If you see one, this suggests that the candidate may have written the reference, so it’s always worth double-checking.

How to reduce the risks of fake job references

Skills and aptitude tests.

Using skills and aptitude tests is an effective way to learn more about a candidate’s abilities without relying on references.

You can use them at any stage of the hiring process. You might ask applicants to complete tests before shortlisting or as part of the interview process.

Personality tests.

You can use personality tests to learn more about a candidate’s behavior at work and how they might respond to different problems and challenges in the workplace.

Formal background checks.

This type of check is standard for some positions, particularly those where the candidate will be working with vulnerable people. Some organizations use them as standard during the hiring process; others only use them for certain job roles.

Ask the right questions.

Effective interview questions are an excellent way to learn more about the job applicant. If a candidate says they have experience in an area that is important to the job role, ask detailed questions to gauge whether they know what they are talking about.

Probe the candidate for additional information.

If a candidate’s application form or resume seems vague, be sure to ask the right clarifying questions. For example, if they state they were employed somewhere between 2018 and 2020, double-check the precise date they started and finished working there and check the information they give stacks up with their LinkedIn and social media profiles.

Research the candidate’s referees.

Google their name, check the company details and find their business telephone number and email address.

If you want to approach them for a reference, make sure that you use their official contact information.

If a candidate has provided an @gmail or @outlook email address (or similar) or given you an 800 phone number, the chances are the reference may be fake.

Final Thoughts

Taking up employment references is an important part of the hiring process. It allows you to double-check a candidate’s experience and suitability for the job.

However, the risk of receiving a fake job reference is real, so you must know how to spot them.

You should also consider using other tactics to gauge an applicant’s suitability for a job role, such as aptitude tests, skills tests, personality tests and behavioral assessments.

Remember, hiring the right person is vital, so you must take the time required to learn more about your preferred candidate.

Boost your hiring power.
Start using Neuroworx today.

Talk is cheap. We offer a 7-day free trial so you can see our platform for yourselves.

Try for free