By: Rachel Wardle – Director Recruitment Services. 24-11-2014

Categories:** HR Trends in Recruitment,
Traditionally reference checks at the final stage of interview have been a staple for many years. However, I ask myself the age old HR question, do they really add value or are they simply yet another form to fill in and another process to follow.

A large majority of companies I contact for checks on employees either refuse to give any information or will simply only give you the dates of employment and the position; so in all honesty it only verifies the candidates resume and is not a valuable insight into their working behavior, which is supposed to be the benefit of a reference.

There is a large majority of companies that insist on references at the offer stage of the process, but when I look at my own career, I would only ever choose references I know would be positive and would contact people I liked in those organizations; which may not have necessarily been my direct hiring manager. So if I do this, how many others out there are selecting their friends or colleagues as a referee as a testament to their working practices?
If there are others out there like me who use only positive referees (and I am sure there are), then this highlights my personal opinion that references really are just an administrative process and add no value apart from taking up another page in someone’s personnel file.

With this argument aside, in Holland especially there are also legal repercussions for giving someone a negative reference, so even if you do find someone willing to talk to you, unless its positive they will probably just reply “no comment”. This is a negative reference by default. However, without any extra information as to why, should you reject a candidate on this?

After many years in the recruitment and HR business I have come to loathe the standard reference questions posed by companies:

What are their strengths
What are their weaknesses
Did they cause Conflict
Would you rehire them
The classic style of reference questions only highlight further that if the candidate has selected a friend as a reference and hasn’t been entirely honest the above information would be tainted at best.

Also, as we are bound in the Netherlands by the legalities of a negative reference, 3 of the above questions would really add no value at all.

I personally feel that references are not a useful tool in the process of recruitment as there are too many variables that can be manipulated. If you have a client that insists on references, try and guide them to more open information that could add some value like:

Please talk me through a project they managed (if related to that job)
What would you see as their greatest success in this role
We are looking to invest in this person, are there areas we can develop them in
Adding a positive spin on the questions you ask will give you more information about their working style than the classic questioning and also if the referee hasn’t actually worked with the applicant, with these style questions it will quickly become apparent at the vague responses. This should help to filter out “friends” or positive colleagues.
Additionally if you must take references, remember to keep it positive, because especially in Europe it is illegal to give a negative reference. So if you have to make that call, make it count.

Finally for all you sales recruiters out there, remember this is the easiest sales pitch you will ever have to make. Demonstrating your professionalism and engaging this person at reference stage means they will be more open to a recruitment pitch than if you had just called them out of the blue. You have already built a rapport and just finishing that call with, “would it be cheeky of me to ask how you do your recruitment internally” is a very simple, yet effective pitch.
From personal experience this has worked for me 8 out of 10 times.

It is hard to change the practices of traditional HR departments, but the more we push the evolution, the quicker we will get to a more effective recruitment process and a less administrative driven process.

Rachel Wardle – Director Recruitment Services.