Unemployed Due to COVID-19 vs “Unemployed Due to COVID-19”

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Jul 23, 2020

Job hunting is always a stressful experience. Yet in a global pandemic and with record unemployment, job-seekers are feeling extra pressure to stand out at all costs. There is a lot of desperation out there, and desperate people do desperate things. That includes lying.

While today’s economic climate has resulted in many people being let go due COVID-19, it has also spawned another set of workers who falsely blame the pandemic for their job loss. It’s therefore important to be extra judicious when assessing whether a candidate was laid off because of COVID-19 or for far more serious infractions.

Of course, we all know that candidates lie. According to a study conducted by CNBC, a whopping 78% of applicants have lied on their resumes. Furthermore, findings revealed that:

  • 60% of candidates lie about mastery of a skill or a foreign language 
  • 50% say they worked at a company longer than they actually did 
  • 40% claim they earned a degree from a prestigious university that they either did not attend or were a few credits short of completing

This should give every hiring manager pause. It also raises the question: How can you ensure that the candidates you are speaking to are who they say they are? 

Many employers rely on background checks to verify information. However, it’s just as important to check references, especially when people say they were “let go due to COVID-19.” 

Red Flags

References can be notoriously difficult to track down, but if a candidate was a solid, ambitious employee, the reference should eventually get back to you. However, if a candidate lists a previous employer that refuses to provide a reference, this is not a good sign. The same goes for a reference who provides short or evasive answers, or refuses to elaborate. 

Granted, references who withhold information could just be busy, but they could also have had a negative experience with a candidate that for a variety of reasons they wish not to divulge, or can’t divulge due to labor laws. 

If you feel you are getting the cold shoulder, it’s time to be upfront and ask, “Are you comfortable providing information about Joe Jobseeker? After all, Joe did list you as a reference.” If you still meet resistance, go back to your candidate for clarification. Also keep in mind that some companies do have policies that don’t allow reference checking and will only confirm employment dates.  

Meanwhile, it’s a good idea to crosscheck information a candidate gives you with their LinkedIn profile. People are much less likely to lie on LinkedIn due to the accountability inherent in tagging the company they work for. Any discrepancies you find are red flags. 

Now, sometimes a candidate will supply a reference’s email or phone number that doesn’t work. At times, this could be a mistake. Other times, the candidate could be trying to pull a fast one. If the candidate is not able to resolve this issue by providing correct contact information, that’s a red flag.

At that point, you can compare LinkedIn profiles of your candidate and that of the reference. Do dates match up? Titles? You could try to reach out to the reference via InMail. (Though you’ve still got to wonder about a candidate who wouldn’t ensure up-to-date accuracy of contact details for references.)

It’s also worth mentioning that generic letters of recommendation are no substitute for phone calls. In fact, phone calls are how you validate those letters.

What to Ask a Reference

If a candidate said they were let go due to COVID but their employer has a different tale to tell, that’s not a great sign. It’s likely that your candidate was one of the 78% fudging their information. To get the best sense of a candidate, here’s what to ask references: 

  • What was your relationship with the job-seeker?
  • How long have you known them?
  • What were their duties and responsibilities?
  • What were their strengths?
  • What about weaknesses?
  • What do they need to do for continued professional growth and development?
  • What were their major accomplishments?
  • What do you think motivates them?
  • What causes them to work hard?
  • What causes them to back off?     
  • What was their reason for leaving?
  • Would you rehire them? Why or why not?   

You’ll notice that many of these are the same questions you’d ask candidates during an interview — and that’s the point. You want to gauge whether the picture candidates present of themselves matches with what former employers would say.

Ultimately, it’s critical for employers to do their due diligence to ensure that their candidates are who they say they are by making sure those references are legit and running comprehensive background checks. If all the pieces don’t fit, dig deeper. And if they still don’t fit, move on.

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