Are referees still important?

by Cameron Edmond02 Sep 2013

LinkedIn endorsements, online recommendations and more fleshed-out social media profiles have become important elements of understanding a candidate and evaluating them for a position in today’s world – and all of these exist outside of the traditional resume.

Due to these developments, some employers believe referees and references are no longer relevant to recruitment. “Different social media profiles and other information that is kept up to date will provide a much richer experience than a [traditional] resume can,” Bryce Dunn, senior vice president at PageUp People, told HC.

Dunn elaborated on the activity of a candidate – such as their posts on message boards relating to the profession – being more telling of them and their skills than a resume.

However, Nick Deligiannis, managing director of Hays in Australian and New Zealand, stated that online recommendations are not a substitute for traditional references.

Recruiters and employers should still be looking at referees as the most complete and important sources of information on candidates, as they will be able to demonstrate how a candidate used their skills and experience to help benefit their previous employers.

Deligiannis believes former managers can speak with a voice and authority to recruiters about a candidate that isn’t possible through online references, due to being able to make a first-hand account of the candidate in regards to their personal attributes such as relationship building, collaboration abilities and reliability.

However, he does acknowledge the decay of a referee over time. Deligiannis said candidates may need to jog the memory of referees if a long time has passed since the candidate has searched for work. By comparison, online recommendations and references are often written close to when achievements have occurred, meaning the information is less likely to be influenced by the referee’s own memory.


Is the traditional reference dead? Do referees offer something online recommendations can’t? Let us know in the comments your thoughts on this issue.


  • by Dr Arthur Shacklock 2/09/2013 3:36:36 PM

    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).

  • by Shireen Fernandez 2/09/2013 4:00:56 PM

    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.

  • by Peter Maxfield 2/09/2013 8:08:21 PM

    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.

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