Opinon: Referee roguery

Opinon: Referee roguery
Most of us lie – just a little – on our CVs. Now you can take it further by, for example, buying fake references from the internet. Penelope Whitson wonders if it isn't time for a new way to check employee credentials

We all enjoy being a bit smug from time to time and nothing brings this out better than having a good tut tut when yet another high-profile person is caught out in a bit of a fib – or ‘misunderstanding’ over their eligibility for their job. Like the chief executive of an Auckland law firm who was recently discovered to have a rather massive mistake in his CV relating to a non-existent law degree. 

It’s fun to get on our high horse. Hoodwinking is super naughty. Who would do such a thing? Answer: about half of us; according to a 2013 Careers NZ blog, 43% of us lie on our CVs.

Still, while we’re ignoring that statistic and holding ourselves up as paragons of virtue, we’re also carefully forgetting that whenever we apply for a new job there’s a good chance most of us indulge in some blurring of the lines with our choice of referees. 

When asked for the name and number of a former employer who will discuss your performance, how many people produce a referee they know will tell the truth in all its cold, dark and frightening reality? Only, I suspect, people who haven’t quite caught on to how the referee system actually works, haven’t got a former boss who liked them, or are just painfully honest.

I once worked with someone who admitted to buying his degree online for US$100. I’ve used colleagues who were also friends as referees. And once upon a time I wrote a reference for my manager’s daughter. Who had done a day’s work for us. Putting things in boxes. I got the distinct impression from her mother that I should up her role and hours, so I did and she got the job. Forgive me, baby Jesus.

The more you ponder the reference system, the less sense it makes. In theory, it’s a lovely idea. Like honesty boxes and swearing to tell the truth, cross your heart. It’s just we’re dealing with people. People who don’t always want to tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, but instead prefer a condensed and edited version that paints them in a flattering and hopefully even slimming light.

Almost 30% of people admit giving falsified references, according to StatisticBrain.com. But how about this as an option if you aren’t pleased with your own efforts at truth-stretching – or can’t find anyone to put in a good word for you? For as little as US$125, sites like The Reference Store or CareerExcuse.com promise to help you “create an entirely new work history using our fake reference service”. That includes providing a “live operator who will act as your supervisor’s secretary using your script”.

Still, surely the amount of effort involved in such an enterprise is exhausting. Why not get a new life while you’re there?

I, for one, look forward to the day when no one relies on human references and future employers will just ask your computer what your work habits are like. It might spit out an embarrassing ratio of work to faffing-about-on-the-internet-looking-at-squirrels, but 1) everyone else will be in the same boat and 2) your future boss might like squirrels, too. ⋅