It pays to check your candidate’s referees.

It pays to check your candidate’s referees. | CareerSupport365


Recently Australia’s top rating radio hosts Hamish and Andy, known for their pranks, asked a random person (James) to act as a referee for a person (Tim Barnard) who James had never met. Tim was going in for an interview and needed someone to act on his behalf. James agreed.

The whole episode was captured on video while being broadcast live. It’s very funny.


As Tim’s ‘referee’, James was asked reasonably standard questions by the ‘prospective employer’. They were all credibly answered and could be acceptable to less wizened recruiters and hiring managers:

  • You know Tim?
  • How long have you known Tim?
  • How did you become friends?
  • Tim will be dealing with higher-end businesses of million dollar plus: is he good with money?
  • Any other examples of him taking on responsibility?
  • How many languages does he speak?
  • What was the other language in addition to English?
  • Describe to us the best thing about him, appearance wise?

Concerning on a number of levels

Aside from the entertainment value, the scenario is also very concerning.

With all the legal ramifications around giving references, it has become increasingly difficult to get anyone to provide reference checks.

Often there are company policies that restrict employees to merely verify  that the person worked at the business, for a duration and in what roles.

But when someone does offer a reference it pays to be duly diligent. After all, you are bringing someone into your business who may have a positive or detrimental impact on performance, team cohesiveness, and morale.

Conducting due diligence on the referees

Many years ago, after I placed a fraud into a senior role (yes it happened), I learned to conduct due diligence on the referees.  I was duped by an HR Manager no less – who had arranged several bogus referees to sing her praises.

How can you avoid being duped?

1. Call the company and speak with Reception, Payroll, HR or the PA to the CEO.

(Here you are seeking to speak with an independent third party.)

2. Mention your name and role and that you are reference checking someone.

(Clearly, if the candidate is still employed in the business, you will need to be discreet.)

3. Ask whomever you are speaking with at the company whether the referee is employed or worked previously with the business.

(What you are seeking to find here is the extent of the overlap of time for acting as a referee with credibility. The shorter that period is, the lower the value of the referee.)

4. Ask for the referee’s title and verify this with the information you have from the candidate.

(Again, being discreet about the candidate if still employed in the business.)

5. Ask how long the referee has been in the role.

If there are any discrepancies in any of the information, check them with the person you are speaking with, asking along the lines of:

“I thought that Joanne (referee) held the title of Marketing Director. You say her title is Marketing Administration Manager. Can you confirm her exact title please?”

If there are any further issues, then the referee’s gravitas and value may need to be questioned, and that you check with another department to confirm the exact title.

It may also be that you seek another referee from the candidate, and perform due diligence on that.  If a pattern of dubious referees continues, then in the worst case the candidate will need to be questioned and even red- flagged.

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About the author:


Greg Weiss is one of Australia’s most renowned career coaches. He is the author of “So You Got A Job, WTF Is Next”. The book prescribes a proven, practical 7 step guideline for new employees so they succeed, rather than fail their probation periods and beyond. Find out more about the book at

He is the Founder and Director of Onboff an online training and coaching platform that helps HR specialists, coaches and recruiters to deliver exceptional onboarding and offboarding experiences for employees.

Greg also hosts The Keep: The Employee Experience podcast and runs CareerSupport365.

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