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A resume reference reality check

Verbal Kint...he can give you plenty of references.
Source: MGM Entertainment | YouTube
Verbal Kint...he can give you plenty of references.

OK, let's all admit an unspoken truth … the reference list provided by job applicants is pretty bogus.

The hiring manager knows that your reference list is composed of people who think you are peachy keen. You know the hiring manager knows that. And both of you know it is not an indicator of how you might actually perform for the company.


The truest indicator of that would probably be an exhaustive survey of all the people who've worked with you. But that's impractical. Probably the most expedient would be to talk to some people you've worked with but aren't on your list. But what a chore it would be finding some of those people. It would take research and phone calls. Sort of like reporting before the Internet.

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LinkedIn makes it easy, though, with a service for its premium subscribers that gathers such information based on the connections and profiles in its network.

And it's getting sued for it.

Four people claim they lost out on job opportunities because LinkedIn allowed potential employers to check out their employment history without ensuring the information provided was correct. And that's a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. At least it is if you are essentially functioning as a credit reporting agency. (The New York Times has a nice write-up of the case here). LinkedIn says it isn't and that the lawsuit is baseless.

Regardless of how LinkedIn is operating, the case seems to argue that potential employers should only look at the reference list provided by the applicant. And in real life, that doesn't happen. Nor should it. If you aren't doing a little due diligence on a hire, calling up old associates at other companies that may know the applicant or cold calling a likely former manager or two, then you are doing your company and its shareholders a disservice.

Will you bump into some folks who don't like the applicant? Maybe. And you should probably be a little suspicious if you don't. Making omelets requires breaking some eggs.

And does this mean the applicant's reference list is not worth anything whatsoever? Of course not. Someone listing a couple of Nobel laureates and a Fortune 500 CEO as references might be worth a look.

But if those are the only people you can talk to, well, that's a problem.