Tom Sweeney

It's a coming of age tale….

Archive for May 19th, 2009

References Checks: Decreasing in value…

Posted by sweens on May 19, 2009

I would argue that reference checks are becoming decreasingly valuable in the current hiring practices of the labour market and can often be expendable. Having done many of them in my short time in the recruiting industry, I have found them to be more of a formality then anything – and they offer little insight into my candidates that I did not already know through speaking to them.

Reference checks are an immeasurable way to measure the qualities or achievements of any given individual. Reference checks are subject to interpretation and manipulation more times then not. Everyone is able to find someone in their past who can provide them with a positive reference – so can that information really be seen as accurate?

We now work in an environment where it is not socially acceptable to provide negative references on former employees or co-workers. However most of the time, the negative information is really what you are digging for from a reference. Most candidates will be happy to tell you all the good things about themselves – but it is the negative things you need to unearth. But if you can not get that information out of your references, why bother?

Some companies will not even give a reference these days. It is a policy some HR departments make on behalf of their company and everyone else must abide by the policy. Not so great for employees coming out of that company.

But the problem does not sit solely with the person providing the reference or the candidate who names the references. The problem also lies with the person checking the reference. Many times, recruiters can ask questions that walk the reference down the road you want your reference to go. Tailoring questions to your candidate and having your reference legitimize your candidate.

 Is this good?

Yes it is – for you – but it defeats the purpose of the reference check. This system of checking a reference is no different then interviewing a candidate and asking those questions you want answered which serve only to screen your candidate in to your job. This method simply ends up matching your candidate to the job you have rather then evaluating your candidates experience and their needs to the needs of your client.

Ultimately, I feel that reference checks are becoming a less effective measure of someone’s ability, or as any of kind of metric, as was perceived in the past. Companies and recruiters should strive to find a better approach to measuring the completeness of someone’s previous work history, rather then conducting some ‘old school’ reference check.

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