My week has been filled with reference checks. Giving references. Taking references. Four references for one candidate and still no offer. One reference for a candidate with an immediate offer. Nominated referees not returning messages. Un-nominated referees begrudgingly giving references. Extra long references peppered with drilling-down questions thrown up by psychometric assessments. Quick and easy nudge-nudge-wink-wink “off the record” references.
One of two things is happening here. We’re either:
a) taking our pre-employment screening far more seriously than other countries and benefiting from a more well-informed decision-making process
b) failing to trust our instincts as recruiters and indulging clients’ inability to make their mind up
We take a lot of UK references due to the types of candidates we typically place, and it’s now more often than not that the referees are refusing to give verbal references, instead passing us onto HR for the dreaded and pointless “confirmation of work dates” reference.
The American who sits beside me tells me that most employers in the US don’t even bother taking formal references any more. Referees are so wrapped up in fear of litigation that they’re never likely to give an honest appraisal anymore, so most employers have stopped bothering to ask.
This mindset has even manifested itself into a lawsuit against LinkedIn, with a bunch of jobseekers seeking to blame LinkedIn’s new “Reference Search” feature for their inability to secure gainful employment.
I think references are instructive and, if regarded in the proper way, useful tools to learn how best to manage and motivate your new employee. I struggle with the concept that a hiring decision should be based wholly upon them, though. Especially when the process of chasing referees can delay and sometimes jeopardise the recruitment process. I guess we’re fortunate to live in a part of the world where people are still willing to be open and transparent and give useful feedback on candidates in verbal reference checks.
But, as we typically follow the business trends of larger Western economies a few years behind, I imagine the days of the formal verbal reference check are numbered. Make hay while the sun shines, but get better at learning to trust your instincts. The days where you can ask others to make your mind up for you won’t be around for too much longer.