Reference Checks


What should you do if someone you don’t know calls and claims a coworker gave your name as a reference and you didn’t know it?  The simplest answer would be just to decline to talk about the coworker!   The way reference checking works, 99 times out of 100, someone you’ve worked with will ASK you first if you’ll serve as a reference.  There are lots of reasons why this is the way it should be done, not the least of which is so you’ll be expecting the call from a prospective employer and the prospective employer will know that you’ve agreed to be a reference for a job seeker.

Believe it or not, there are companies out there that will call references on behalf of the job seeker in order to find out what references are likely to say.  The call has nothing to do with helping a coworker land a job, but everything to do with finding out that you’re likely to say when a real employer calls.

So, what can you do about it?  How can you tell if the call is legitimate or not?  First of all, if you didn’t give anybody your permission to be listed as a reference, a red flag should go up.  Second, if you have doubts about the legitimacy of the call, ask the caller’s name and the name of the company he’s with and say you’ll have to call back.  Then, check with directory assistance or look the company up on the Internet to see if the company actually exists.  Even if it does, call the number provided by directory assistance or listed on the website and ask for the person who called you.  If nobody has ever heard of that person, then you know that the call is a phony.

Some people who have actually asked you to serve as a reference may have an independent company call to find out what you’re likely to say!  If you have doubts about the authenticity of the call, follow the same procedure as outlined above: Look up the company’s contact information.   Call the company directly and ask to speak to the person who called.  Again, if there’s no one there by that name, a major red flag should go up.  It’s more likely than not that the person who asked you to be a reference wants to know what you’re going to say when a real prospective employer calls you.  If you agree to talk to the caller – despite any doubts you may have about the authenticity of the call – just state facts about the candidate and only offer honestly held opinions.  Don’t overstate or understate anything about overall job performance.

Finally, if you still have doubts, call the person who asked you to be a reference and ask who called – ask if a third-party check is being done to see what you’ll say when a real employer calls.  If that should turn out to be the case – and it’s very likely that the person who originally asked you to be a reference will know he has been caught in the act – I would be very inclined to withdraw my permission to serve as a reference for anyone that blatantly untrustworthy!