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The importance of references in the recruitment process
References, if detailed by a previous line manager, can be really helpful in supporting your decision on a new hire. Knowing what the individual has contributed to previous business teams can help with building the picture of what they can bring to the table for you, and we can also use this information to gauge what best motivates your new starter. But are we maximising the potential of a reference and do we actually use this valuable information to help make our businesses the best of the best?
Unfortunately, it now feels like the practice of asking for a reference is dying and some managers are reluctant to provide a reference for fear of inciting a negative backlash. The main reason for this is that it is common knowledge that ex-employees may be able to challenge a reference if they think it is unfair or misleading but it has meant that the references that most ex-employers are willing to give can be brief and not detailed – frequently reduced to a job title, start and finish dates. A rising amount of clients feel that there is a lot of ambiguity surrounding references and in particular, what can and can’t be said legally.
References are a crucial part of the employment process and can be pivotal in helping a company decide who gets the job. However, businesses do encounter some challenges when requiring a reference.
Challenges obtaining a reference
- Company policy states that only a ‘dates’ reference is allowed.
- The specific line manager for the employee might have left the business.
- Former employers might be slow in replying or to give a response.
- The manager may be scared to give factual information due to fear of being challenged by the former employee if the reference is negative.
- Due to policy, the company may only be able to provide an HR reference which will in most cases be limited to dates only and not contain specific detail on ability and attitude.
Challenges providing a reference
- The company is not allowed to give a negative reference.
- A compromise agreement was reached with a former employee restricting the company from passing any comment.
Venture capitalist firm Index Ventures completed a study in May 2015 which revealed that over 10,000 consumers sign up daily for a Trustpilot account, reflecting the growing influence of customer experience on brand perception. Reviews serve as references and are at the forefront of this trend so we rely on these as buying factors.
As specialists in the market, we recognise the drive and the importance of references. However, as highlighted above, there can be difficult situations around them, so how can agencies offer a solution if the former company provides a date only reference?
Testimonials are an alternative reference tool and extremely effective in order to support interview decisions if the previous employer is unable to provide a thorough company reference detailing skills, attitude and reasons for leaving. They can be used in the buying cycle or to seal the deal and we are trained to take ‘off the record’ references, and to also recognise initially whether or not a candidate would be suitable for your business needs through these.
Through the power of testimonials and references, we are able to easily identify where candidates are best suited, matching against your recruitment needs to ensure you get the right person.
Tips for obtaining a purposeful reference for your candidate
- Ask the candidate(s) for the names of the previous managers from their last two positions and for permission to approach them for a reference.
- Make sure you have a simple form for the referee to fill in rather than a blank/open-ended reference.
- Explain that what you are trying to do is decide if the candidate is the right fit for the job you are recruiting.
- Structure your questions around the competencies required for the job on offer to help you assess the candidate’s compatibility for it.
- If taking the reference by phone, try to listen to the deliberate word choices, tone and enthusiasm with which the referee describes the candidate. Tone, long pauses, or hesitations might indicate you’ve hit a sensitive or troublesome subject.
- Keep an ear out for over-enthusiastic references without sufficient depth of examples to back up the praise as they may not be a true representation of the candidate. Ask for brief examples if possible.
If you would like more tips on the interview process, search our advice section.