The premise we should probably start with is that you’ve been asked to serve as a reference for someone you’ve worked with – and you’ve agreed. Now, let’s suppose you receive a call from someone claiming to be a prospective employer. How can you tell if it’s a legitimate call? Believe it or not, there are companies out there job seekers can hire to find out what sorts of things their references will say about them. What these companies do is try to give the impression they’re an interested employer when, in fact, they’re working for the job seeker to “preview” what you’ll say about them before they actually list you as a reference. So, how can you tell if the call is legitimate?
There are some very simple ways to make sure you’re talking to a legitimate employer. Start by asking the caller his/her name and the name of the company he/she represents. Then ask where the company is located and the phone number where he/she can be reached. Then, depending on your own comfort level with the legitimacy of the call, say you’ll have to call him/her back in a little while. Then, all you have to do is look up the main number for the company, call it, and ask for the person who called you. If you’re immediately connected, you’ll know the call was real and you can proceed with the interview!
One other safety measure you can take is to ask the person calling to e-mail or fax you a copy of the waiver signed by the candidate granting the prospective employer express permission to contact references. Once you have the waiver, it won’t matter whether or not the call is legitimate. All you have to remember is to respond to questions only about past job performance and to make sure you provide only honestly held opinions about the candidate on the job or documented facts about the candidate. In other words, just be honest.