The title of this blog is an almost word-for-word comment one of our folks heard from a senior HR executive at a recent conference at which we were one of the presenters.  After we had finished extolling the virtues of careful reference checking, this fellow came by our booth and said, “Well, that’s all very nice, but I’ve been in HR for over twenty years, and I think I’m a pretty good judge of who the best candidate is for the positions we need to fill.  I can almost tell who’s going to do a good job by the way they look and their ability to express themselves.”

If I had been there, I would have reminded this gentleman that there are many people who are very good at interviewing, but who have poor performance records, and that the reverse is also true.  There are people who simply don’t present themselves well, but who have an outstanding record of job performance.  There’s only one way to find out how well someone has done, and that’s to talk to appropriate references.

Here’s a real life example: A few years ago a man was hired by a large company on the East Coast to handle their overseas operations.  The employment decision was based solely on his interviewing skills and the strength of his resume.  After a few months, his superiors were wondering why he wasn’t getting the job done.  We were asked, after the fact, to check his references.  It turned out that the reason he wasn’t getting the job done was that he had lied on his resume – not only about his accomplishments, but also about ever having done that type of work before.  The cost to the company for not checking, plus the cost of replacing the fellow and finding someone who actually could handle the job: more than $150,000.  That’s why you check references.