Hiring Horror Story Part II: Bad Reference Check

[Phone rings]


Customer [takes a beat]: “Still feeling festive?”

Ann: “Well, yeah. Cutting Edge, Ann speaking.”

Customer: “I know where you can’t tell a scary story.”

Ann [takes large swallow of her pumpkin spice latte]: “Try me.”

Customer: “References. Everyone can find a coupla decent references.”

Ann [turns off office light, working by the glow of computer screen]: “MUAHAHAHAHA!!!!”


This is something I hear a lot. “Everyone can find references.”

You’d be surprised. I have a couple “Tales from the Background Check Crypt” about references.

Tale from the Reference Crypt 1

A few years ago I had a client that was required to run professional/personal references due to their government contract. The only reference this particular applicant gave was his mother. We (and my client) don’t usually accept relatives, but IT WAS ALL WE HAD.

I called his mom.

She couldn’t recommend him. He was lazy. Tended to drink. Couldn’t hold a job, and he lost his driver’s license the week before.


Tale from the Reference Crypt 2

I generally tell my clients that an applicant should give us 5 references, it increases our chance of reaching the required 3 references. We had a gentleman give us, if memory serves, 20+ references. He gave us:

    1. The Mayor of Albuquerque
    2. Two City Councilpersons.
    3. A US Senator
    4. Donald Trump

You can probably guess just how well he knew any of these people. I reached one of the councilpersons, they vaguely remembered maybe being on a committee several years before with him. It was a couple years before Donald Trump ran for president, we couldn’t get close to The Donald. Not even his assistant’s assistant assistant returned our calls.

He would have been so much further ahead had he provided bona fide references that could speak well of him, rather than trying to impress with people he didn’t know. He just looked foolish. And desperate.

The take-aways here?

  1. You can learn a lot about an applicant even if you don’t talk to their references. The above two are a great example of that.
  2. If an applicant does give good references—people they worked with who can speak about their work ethic and character, it’s gold.

Finally, don’t let the process of reference checking scare you. Your background screening company is a group of professionals who do this all day long. Reach out to them. For a reasonable price and a little bit of time, you won’t be wondering who’s hiding under your bed. Or in your office. Check back here for more Tales from the Background Check Crypt.