Check this out: The history of reference checks

Given you might be up against a large number of applicants for every advertised job, landing a position is a competitive process. Which could explain why an estimated 53 per cent of jobseekers lie on their applications.

According to research by the Society for Human Resource Management, more than half of the CVs and job applications they reviewed contained falsifications, including misleading statements about the person’s background, qualifications and gaps in their work.

Lies aren’t always easy to spot – one survey found only 28 per cent of people admit to lying on their resume or in a job interview. That spells potential trouble for employers.

To safeguard their businesses against unscrupulous employees, it’s common practice for employers to run screening and vetting on new recruits. Technology is constantly evolving to come up with faster and more thorough ways to verify credentials.

Although it all sounds very modern, it’s not. Throughout history, background checks have, in various forms, been part of the recruitment process.


Leonardo da Vinci paves the way

Leonardo da Vinci didn’t conduct the first reference check, but he’s said to have created the first CV – a document that tells people who you are and what you know. In 1482, Da Vinci wrote his skills down on paper to send off to the Duke of Milan. It’s not known how many checks the Duke made, but he did hire da Vinci as an artist and designer of war machinery.

Three hundred years later, during the British Industrial Revolution, letters of introduction were commonplace. Poorer people were introduced to someone of a higher social standing through a third party who could vet their qualities, morals and commitment to work.

Twentieth-century reference checks

During the early 20th century, people lived locally to their place of work so generally a reference was by word-of-mouth. In the 1940s, it also became standard for people to submit resumes when applying for jobs.

In the 1970s, new laws in America meant companies could be prosecuted if they were found negligent in their hiring practices. For example, if an employer hired someone with a criminal conviction and that person then committed a crime at work, the employer could be considered at blame if it hadn’t run a police check before hiring the employee. This potential legal liability prompted a huge surge in employee background checks, and it’s never really slowed down.

New-millennium digital screening

Screening of prospective staff is now widely accepted as best practice in recruitment and hiring, and there’s good reason. During the global economic downturn in 2009 and the subsequent financial crisis, there was a surge in fraudulent CVs. As the employment market got tougher, applicants were doing anything to stand out from other jobseekers.

The modern-day recruitment process involves a combination of traditional and digital checks. Most HR managers today will be checking you out on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. However resumes and references are still the starting point, with electronic checks of these used to verify professional and educational qualifications listed by the candidate.

The Society for Human Resource Management says replacing a staff member can cost as much as three times the person’s salary, so hiring the right person for the job is not only important for the workplace, it’s important for the bottom line. Leonardo da Vinci would understand – there are online services that make this easy.

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