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HUMAN RESOURCES

Hiring: Why You Can't Trust References
 

How one guy bought shockingly effective fake references on the Internet for $150.

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If you think you can't get fooled in the hiring process by fake references, think again. 

For $150, any job candidate can purchase not only a fake reference, but an entirely fake job history.

The ruse includes a web site for the organization where the candidate and reference supposedly worked together. The fake business also shows up on Google maps. Moreover, the web site of the fake business includes a phone number that, if called, leads to a live operator prepared to talk about the job candidate and reference. Your human resources department should take heed.

You can learn about the entire process in an article on The Daily Dot, for which writer Aaron Sankin purchased a fake job history from a company called CareerExcuse.com. In Sankin's fake history, he spent three years as a staff accountant at a made-up Austin-based firm called Thomas, Pickford & Thomas. CareerExcuse.com's service included building this believable web site for Thomas, Pickford & Thomas. 

The lessons, for employers of all stripes, are obvious: Don't take short cuts in your screening process. And don't automatically believe what references tell you. Find out whether candidates can actually do what they say they've done. Here are two quick methods for weeding out phony candidates and their fake histories: 

1. Give candidates a small, relevant assignment or project to complete as part of their candidacy. Michael Schrage, author and research fellow at MIT Sloan's Center for Digital Business, calls this mixture of job application and project an "appliject" or a "projeclication." Either way, the point is that you're testing whether a candidate is an authentic talent who can perform under deadline pressure, or merely a paper tiger trying to land a gig. 

2. Look for evidence of the company's existence beyond the web site. CareerExcuse.com founder William Schmidt told Sankin that his service will not impersonate an already existing company. Armed with this knowledge, you can simplify the task of weeding out phony references. Does the company exist anywhere, besides on a web site and a Google maps location? It's not hard to find out. Most states have corporate databases you can search. If you want a more authoritative answer, call your lawyer for a quick pro bono favor.

Sankin's article has more details on the fine art of reference-faking.

IMAGE: Jim Arbogast/Getty
Last updated: Dec 23, 2013




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