Tag Archives: references

On Reference Checks


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!