By Jennifer Brownell, Managing Director, Q4B

Be honest. If there is one part of the recruiting process that most recruiters would rather not do themselves, would 

rather that someone else, anyone else, take responsibility for doing (someone in HR, hiring manager), and sometimes don’t even see the need for doing (the guy is that good, “A” player) it is the reference check. And since this is Halloween, it is as though we expect the reference to say ‘Trick or Treat” when we ask them to give a reference on one of our candidates. We always hope for the “Treat”.

As a third party recruiter, I view the reference check as the life blood of successful recruiting. It is not something that is only done when one of your candidates is being considered for a position; it is not something that is only done because you feel that there are some holes in the candidate’s work history that he/she can’t or won’t explain; and it is not something that is not done because your client company tells you that they will do the reference check if your candidate is made an offer. 

It is not an option. It is not some part of the recruiting process that is only done occasionally. Reference checks should be done for every candidate that you expect to represent. References should be obtained from every candidate that you interview, whether you represent them or not.

And it all starts in the interview.

We all approach the candidate interview in our own unique way but the end result should be somewhat the same. 

In other words, all recruiters want to hear the candidate talk about his/her experience as it relates to the requirements and expectations of the client’s position (job order, not JATS). Can the candidate solve the client’s problem, how would he/she solve the problem and has the candidate ever done anything similar to this in his/her past? Now, who could verify this? Who could be used as a reference, supervisor, peers, team members, vendors, stakeholders? Get the names, titles, relationship, contact info for each reference and let the candidate know that you will be calling.

LinkedIn has made some of this reference gathering a little easier with the use of the recommendation and endorsement features. If the candidate has recommendations and endorsements on his/her LinkedIn profile use this information as a starting point and have the candidate provide more detailed information and additional references as they relate to the position to be filled.

Now comes the hard part.

You call those references. You approach the reference check with an open mind, no bias towards your candidate. You are not just looking for “Treats”. You gather information from the references based on what the candidate has given you and the requirements and expectations of the client’s position. You let the reference know what the opportunity, problem and position is and ask if he/she thinks the candidate can do what is required and ask for examples of past related performance.

What you now end up with is a pretty complete picture of your candidate with actual examples of his/her capabilities, qualifications and experience that would make a good hire for your client. It is information that should then be used to pitch your candidate to the client, preferably on the phone or in person to schedule the first client-candidate interview.

You might also get information from the references that would be at odds with what your candidate said in the interview, contradicting how he/she represented him/herself and potentially damaging to the candidates reputation. All of these issues need to be discussed with your candidate and decisions need to be made. You may decide not to represent this candidate to your client or to any client. Better that you discovered this now rather than later in the interview process.

Now comes the payoff.

All of this hard work for every candidate that you represent would be worth it if you made more placements as a result. And if you did this part of the recruiting process consistently it would certainly allow you to promote your recruiting service as being more professional, better and different from some of your competitors.

But the real payoff is in the information that you gathered from your candidate’s references and the reference checks. Regardless of your area of specialization, most every reference given by your candidate (who is in your market) could either be a potential recruit or a potential hiring manager; every company where the references work will be a potential lead; every reference will provide you with market information that you probably don’t currently have and would have a hard time getting.

Recruiters, like all sales people, are numbers driven. We know how many candidate-client interviews it takes to make a placement; we know what our average fee is; we know how many candidates we need to have in our pipeline for one job order in order to submit a number of qualified, interested and available candidates to our client. We know our ratios, our turns.

If for every candidate that you interviewed you got at least five potential candidates and three potential hiring managers as references and you checked all of them for your candidate would you have more business?

So if you are not doing the reference check, why? Don’t you want more business?

I mentioned earlier that I considered the reference check the life blood of recruiting, so in keeping with the true spirit of Halloween I will dress up tonight in the only costume appropriate for a recruiter, A Vampire!!!!!

Happy Halloween Everyone!

Views: 1423

Comment by Sarah Calverley on November 1, 2012 at 2:32am

Why would a recruiter not want to do a reference check? It boggles my mind.  I love doing references, because A) it's that part of the process where you are very close to being successful B) it's a warm lead to new business! With the referee possibly, and C) it's generally a pretty positive conversation provided you have done your job well throughout the process.  It is also an opportunity to solidify the candidates overall commitment to the new role. 

The best manager I ever had taught me that taking references is an art.  You can take one word answers or you can use open questions to glean the maximum amount of information possible.  Often what is sometimes pulled out as a 'weakness' can be further clarified by asking "was the person spoken to about it?"... and they normally think back and realise that it was discussed and then the question would be "and did it occur again / did it improve?" and the answer then is normally a kind of surprised... "yes it did actually" 

Comment by Les Rosen on November 1, 2012 at 10:33am

Great article. There are many firms that want to use automated tools, background firms or social media checks to replace reference checks and avoid having to make calls. Those tools, although valuable in some ways, do not in any way replace the hard work of a professional reference check. Doing a reference check right takes time, effort, commitment and skill, but the pay-off is tremendous.

The automated "email" reference tools certainly have value as a behavioral assessment but it cannot replace a good old fashioned, roll up your sleeves reference call to a live person. Background firms can do a great job of systematic verification of past-employment data (i..e dates and job title) but that is only useful as a due diligence tool as part of the background check to verify accuracy and in no way whatsoever represents a professional reference check designed to determine if the applicant should be recruited or hired in the first place. Checking social media is also a quick short cut that firms use, but there are legal issues not to mention you have no idea if the information on social media accurate . When it comes to great recruiting and hiring, nothing replaces picking up the phone by a skilled and hardworking professional recruiter and getting information if available. It’s also surprising how many times you can really get good information by calling the right person and using the right approach. 

Comment by George Ehinger on November 2, 2012 at 12:38pm

Les, interesting point about the importance of how automated reference checking doesn't replace "old fashioned" reference calls.   I agree that there is nothing as valuable as the personal connection but if you use automated reference checking the impact of those phone calls can be so much greater.    

With automated services you can check references earlier in the process, and you can touch a lot more references.  All that reference information is automatically compiled into a database that can be searched and it includes answers to open questions about the candidate.  Thus you have more information going into the phone call.     More contacts and better information makes sense.  

George Ehinger 


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