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Are referees still important?

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HC Online | 02 Sep 2013, 12:03 AM Agree 0
Good references were once a game-changer when hiring applicants, but has social media and online recommendations rendered them irrelevant?
  • Dr Arthur Shacklock | 02 Sep 2013, 03:36 PM Agree 0
    As an HR guy of some 50 years standing I can say for sure that references are not dead ! At least they shouldn't be dead. It is really about doing it properly. Most places do not do it properly at all. That is not just asking the candidate who should be contacted and certainly not accepting any old bit of paper by any previous supervisor.

    We know two things, firstly that stuff put online is very often garbage or at least exaggeration. There are now good studies about the percentage of lies and half-truths in CVs, whether online or hard copy. The other thing we know is that references are usually sought only from people who will give good reports. How useful is that !?

    The answer is simple. Make it a condition of accepting an application that the candidate gives permission for you to go to any organisation that they have ever worked for or had dealings with and to speak with anyone you choose there. This may include previous supervisors, customers, suppliers, peers etc. and especially to their previous subordinates ! That way you may really find out what they were like to work with, from a 360 degree perspective. A lot of work, yes, but for a relatively senior job at least it may well save you the earth in the long run.

    Anyone who does not agree to give their permission, chuck their application in the bin and move on to the next candidate. Presumably they have something to hide anyway !

    Finally, you must, where an adverse report is given, give the candidate a chance to comment. Natural justice. (There may be a valid comeback reason).
  • Shireen Fernandez | 02 Sep 2013, 04:00 PM Agree 0
    Dr Arthur Shacklock, well-said, spoken like a true HR expert who has been on the ground.
    I appreciate that you advocate approaching reference-checking with the right process and for what it is worth, instead of just getting it ticked off a box for the sake of it.
  • Peter Maxfield | 02 Sep 2013, 08:08 PM Agree 0
    I believe reference checking is a privilege and an opportunity to further evaluate a candidate.
    It's not only what the Referee tells you, but why they are telling you what they convey. It's important to understand the context of what they are saying, so that you don't jump to erroneous conclusions.
    I would just like to share that - you can always trust people to be themselves, which is another way of saying people are consistent.
  • Peter Maxfield | 02 Sep 2013, 08:13 PM Agree 0
    With referees it's important to understand the context in which the comments are made, so it's not only what they say, but why they say it.

    You can always trust people to be themselves, which in effect means people are generally consistent.
  • Stan Rolfe | 03 Sep 2013, 09:12 AM Agree 0
    Dr A. Some interesting comments with which I agree. Especially the 360 reference. I try and obtain a spectrum of referees where possible.

    I've worked in recruitment for the last 10 years, 40yrs behind you, and my two cents as follows.

    Agency references are a tick and flick exercise. How on earth can they reference potential issues identified during an interview between their candidate and their client of which they did not attend? Sure, their references are consistent but they are typically one or two liners which provide little value. And as there is a fee involved, isn't it a little self serving for an agency to provide a good reference? Never have I seen a thorough detailed, unbiased reference which considers an organisations culture, values, and role specifics from an agency.

    LinkedIn endorsements are a farce. People I have never met, nor spoken with have endorsed me for skills (thank you anyway). Perhaps they've read my profile, or blog, seen my status updates on twitter...? Recommendation on LinkedIn hold much more weight, but again its about getting a diverse range from Clients, Manager's, Subordinates, Suppliers etc.

    Why aren't we using technology to our advantage here, how about pre-recorded references similar to those Online Video Interviews which are becoming more and more popular. At least you'll be able to assess the referees reactions to certain questions as opposed to interpreting a phone call.

    It's interesting though that countries such as the UK and USA are moving away from traditional references and only provide confirmation of employment details (due to potential risk), and yet here in Australia we continue to insist on the traditional verbal reference.

    One thing I always remember is that every referee is a potential candidate, or client of the future.

    What is also interesting is that these articles typically always quote recruitment agencies, never internal HR/Recruitment departments who more often then not are at the cold face and can provide more insight into why certain things are happening, and why we do things certain ways.
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