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Fake Referees Make Cynics of Recruiters

By September 15, 20164 Comments

Back in 1889 Oscar Wilde philosophically mused that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”.  The notion that events in the real world are inspired by creative works, rather than the other way around, manifested itself rather topically within my own business this past week.

Well that is if you can refer to the recent Hamish and Andy radio show stunt as “art”.  I mentioned it in last week’s blog and you’ve probably heard it already, but for the uninitiated, a couple of true blue Aussie radio show larrikins made a prank call to a complete stranger, posing as a jobseeker about to head into a final interview for a job in an accounting firm. The pretend jobseeker asked this stranger if he would be happy to make up a fake reference should the prospective new employer call him – to which the guy agreed:

Naturally the fraudster “legend” was referred to as “Australia’s greatest bloke ever…”

It was good radio, universally popular, and was a great example of the Aussie Battler culture that pervades, the workers versus the man, with the workers winning this time around by hilariously tricking their way through the onerous background checking process that is surely designed to hold them back from gainful employment.

I know I’m being a killjoy here, but as a recruiter, held continually accountable for not only finding talent, but also verifying the truth of that talent, and then financially at-risk for the next 3 to 6 months after the employment start date, I couldn’t really see the funny side.

The implications of this happening to us as recruiters puts at risk our brand integrity, our reputation in the market, and most importantly the financial security of our very clients who have entrusted us to help them grow their business.

So maybe it helped that this story, plus the fact that I’d recently set up the event page for the upcoming RicePowWow (about candidate and reference fraud no less!), prompted me to dig a little deeper into a reference check I took last week.  The reference was awkward from the outset, with the only time the referee was available supposedly being 5pm on a Friday evening. Given the referee was based in Scotland, it was less than ideal, but I just so happened to be in the same time zone last week, and so it went.  The reference was hugely positive, naturally, but the language used at times just seemed slightly out of place. Credible to a large extent, but having spoken to so many recruitment managers and Directors down the years, something mildly amiss.

Image result for fake reference

When I Googled the referee the next day and found that his website profile had a different phone number to the one I had called the evening before, the red flags started to flutter. But even then, upon emailing the work email address, and getting a reply that we had never spoken before, I was still aghast. Given the amount I had been talking about fake references recently, I originally hoped this must be some kind of elaborate hoax designed to catch us out.

Sadly not. Life really was imitating art and, although I don’t know whether Hamish and Andy’s stunt provided our candidate inspiration or not, it doubtless will to others.

So, recruiters, it’s time to be vigilant. And cynical. We don’t make natural cynics really. To succeed at recruitment you need tenacity, positive energy, belief and drive. Being cynical is an energy killer, a halting of momentum, it saps the spirit that enables you to bring together two implausibly moving targets that would never have otherwise joined.

But cynical you must be, from now on, more so than ever before. Just add that to the suite of intangible skills top recruiters need to employ in their armoury nowadays.

Oh and if you’d like to hear more about reference and candidate fraud, ideas about spotting it and handling it, and enjoying some networking drinks and nibbles on Rice Consulting, we still have a few places left at the next RicePowWow in a couple of weeks’ time.  Click on the image below to RSVP and I look forward to sharing some more war stories with you then!

movers fakers powwow

Jonathan Rice

MD at New Zealand rec-to-rec firm Rice Consulting and co-founder of on-demand recruiter offering Joyn. Recruitment agitator and frustrated idealist, father of two, husband of one, and lover of all things Arsenal and crafty beer.


  • Ross Clennett says:

    A rather sobering experience, Jonathan. I had a similar experience many years ago (the ‘referee’ was the candidate’s husband) and it caused me to wonder how many other times I have been fooled given I was 13 years into my recruitment career at that point.

    • Jonathan Rice says:

      Thanks Ross, it’s made me wonder the exact same thing! If I remember rightly it was in one of your presentations once that you said recruiters needed to be more cynical…well here we are.

  • Ross Clennett says:

    I think (hope) I would have said be professionally skeptical about what you are told, rather than cynical. If you find yourself becoming a cynical recruiter it’s probably best to find a different job!