Reference Checks


In the reference checking business, there are really three types of dishonesty.  The first is telling a prospective employer that the candidate can do things he really cannot.  The second is intentionally telling a prospective employer the candidate performed poorly when, in fact, he did well.  And the third type of dishonesty is intentionally omitting information you, as the reference, know to be true.  That last type of dishonesty is sometimes referred to in other venues as the “sin of omission.”

Here’s a brief analysis of each type of dishonesty and why each one is inherently dangerous.  First of all, it’s important to understand that, from a liability perspective, it’s just as dangerous to say a poor employee performed well as it is to say a good employee performed poorly.  Starting with the first type – saying a candidate has skills that he really doesn’t possess – this does a real disservice to the candidate.  Suppose the candidate is hired on the basis of your praise for his ability to do X.  Naturally, the employer is going to expect the candidate to be able to do X.  When it turns out that the candidate CAN’T do X and doesn’t really know anything at all about X, the prospects are very good that he or she will be fired and, at the very least, thrown off his or her career path.  Not to mention the fact that the employer who based the hiring decision on your recommendation isn’t likely to give your friend and former coworker a very good reference!

The second type of dishonesty – saying the candidate performed poorly when, in fact, he did well – is like throwing the door to being sued wide open!  The reference who knowingly and intentionally says a candidate performed poorly in one or more aspects of his job when, in fact, he did well is almost asking to be sued by the candidate – especially if the candidate isn’t hired because of the false information provided. For example, if you as the reference intentionally say the candidate was fired knowing it to be untrue and, as a result, the candidate doesn’t get the job, you’ve opened yourself up to being sued by the unsuccessful candidate!

The third type of dishonesty is to withhold information about the candidate that you, as the reference, know to be true.  This type of dishonesty can work in either direction: withholding good information or withholding bad information that causes the candidate to lose the job opportunity.

What’s the solution?  Well, it should be obvious – state facts you know to be true or offer honestly held opinions.  The risk any reference runs in intentionally providing false information about the candidate – regardless of whether it’s good or bad – or intentionally withholding either good or bad information about the candidate, which results in the candidate losing or not being offered the job sought, is very risky business.  Trite though it may sound, honesty when serving as a reference is always the best policy!