Referees – Do I or Don’t I? And if so, WHO???

Not that long ago, I was contacted by a Club to conduct reference checks on their final few candidates and I thought the outcome of the process was interesting enough to share here in our blog, not that it was that different from the norm – but it again highlighted to me that this continues to be a problem area in the recruitment process.

Each candidate had provided referees on their resume, which brings me to my first question of “Do I or Don’t I?”.  Here at White Now, we always recommend that you DO put down referees.  Whilst I have often heard the argument of: “I don’t want prospective employers calling my referees without my knowledge”, I would counter that with: “Wouldn’t you rather have them call the people you WANT them to call than ring up your current place of employment and ask to speak with the GM/President/Board Member or whoever else might just be there at the time of their call?”.  You may laugh, but unfortunately this happens and more frequently than you might like to think!

Consequently, we recommend that you DO provide a list of referees and that you prep them prior to applying for a role that they may be contacted.  If you are applying for multiple roles, then let them know that they may be contacted for a number of positions, but that you will do your best to inform them if and when you are down to the final few and therefore what the role is so that they might be better prepared.

Moving back to my story, whilst each candidate had provided referees there was not a lot of consistency in the number that they had given – 5 the most, down to 2.  Part of the issue with contacting referees is getting hold of them to speak with them!  Accordingly, FIVE or SIX is probably the ideal number.  Firstly, not all of them will necessarily be spoken to and secondly, if you get one “if-fy” response, there are other people that the reference checker can call.  It also means that if the checker cannot get a hold of one or two, they will hopefully get hold of the others, thereby greatly improving your chances of being provided with a reference check and therefore being offered the job!

Now, the question of WHO you should use as your referees.  With regard to the reference checking that I was asked to do, there was a very generic mix of:

  • Board Members from years gone by
  • General Managers from years gone by
  • Beer Representatives
  • Gaming Machine Representatives
  • Acquaintances from Industry Bodies
  • Previous Owners of Businesses
  • Family members

Interestingly, one of the references I called was a pretty ‘knock-about’ sort of a bloke – when I asked how he found the candidate to work with, his response was, “He’s too bloody lazy for our industry, but he’d be well suited to yours.  He’s a fat lazy bastard, so as long as he’s sitting behind a desk, he’ll be ok.  And he loves the piss so can be a bit cranky in the mornings”.  Hardly the ideal reference check I think you would agree?!?!  And yet, this is one that was provided by the candidate.

Another referee that I called was incredibly pleasant and more than willing to assist, however his opening remark was, “Not sure how much I can tell you about ‘the candidate’ as I have never worked with him and really only know him through the industry meetings”.  My reaction…………WHY, OH WHY, would you be logged down then.  My actual question to the referee however was, “Do you believe there is any information that you are able to provide then, that would assist the prospective employer in making a decision about this person – either positively or negatively?”.  The response was a resounding, “No”.  So again, hardly the ideal referee?!?!?

Feeling somewhat frustrated by this stage, I made yet another call (I should note at this point, these were not all for the same candidate, this was across them all), this time to one of only two referees provided.  The person to whom I spoke had not spoken to the candidate at any length for 8 to 9 years and yet was about to be asked about this candidate’s ability to potentially run a department/manage a business/lead people/make money/change culture/make decisions/etc/etc.  Again, the level of input that they were actually able to provide was skant at best!  The role that they were thinking back to was a significantly less responsible role than the one being applied for and there was obviously the hope from both the referee and myself that the candidate would have grown massively in their leadership skills and business knowledge.  So yet again, hardly the ideal referee!?!?!

Finally, I looked through the referees that were left.  All of whom were Suppliers to the candidates in their various roles.  Let me state first and foremost, “we” (White Now) are Suppliers so what I say next is genuinely said with no disrespect or accusation…………..primarily, whilst suppliers might be able to comment on a candidate’s negotiation skills and ability to spend or not spend money, it is unlikely that they will be able to provide any detail on their business/management skills in general (as an Accountant to the business, the above comment is untrue as I am sure it could be for other suppliers).  Furthermore, I would suggest that there is a small potential for a conflict of interest as suppliers might stand to gain a new account when the candidate moves on to the new business or alternatively, it might be seen as a way of building loyalty to that supplier through the provision of positive comments.  The furthest thing from my mind is to put the integrity of suppliers under the microscope.  The vast majority of suppliers that you and we deal with on a daily basis are good and decent people, not to mention, honest and trustworthy business people.  However, I would again debate their effectiveness as an ideal referee.

So, what is an “an ideal referee”?

This will vary from role to role, however if you keep some of the following generic thoughts in mind and look to provide FIVE or SIX referees along these lines – I would suggest that you will be heading in the right general direction:

Currency – can the referee comment on my current achievements/successes/skills/experience/knowledge?
Repute – are they reputable and will they make ME look good through their professionalism and stature/role?
Supporting – will they support my application and say the RIGHT things/provide the RIGHT examples?
Knowledge – similar to currency, but more specifically – do they know who I AM?
Gain – does the referee have anything to gain by providing me a reference?  If not, then consider them!

All of the above could likely be discussed ad nauseum and in truth, there is not a “correct answer”.  However after conducting hundreds of reference checks and viewing thousands of resumes, I think it would be fair to say that I never cease to be amazed at the sort of referees that are provided and how much damage that they can do to someone’s application!

A summary of how the Read & Recover Initiative was Born !

The Read & Recover Initiative was born through the thoughts and actions of some kind people with some kind hearts.  The owner of White Now, Jenny White had experienced periods of time with her then 3 year old in hospital with recurring bouts of pneumonia over a 12 month period – an experience that can be teatering on life of death for a toddler.  With this in mind along with the great experiences that Jenny and her family had with the medical teams, Jenny thought of ways to simply ‘give back’ to those who gave so much to her family to ensure that her 3 year old survived.  She noticed that some of the books in the hospitals were a little tired and ‘well used’.  WIth further research of other hospitals, she found that this was an all too familiar story. Jenny’s child is a lover of books and this kept him going through the many nights in hospital.  If something can keep a sick kid happy – then this is a Godsend !

At Christmas time 2009, immediately after Jenny’s child was released from hospital for the 4th time in 6 months, a ‘friend’ on Facebook (a friend that Jenny had never met) posted that he would like to grant some Christmas wishes.  That gentleman, Brad Sugars was a very successful businessman living in Las Vegas (an Aussie ex-pat).  Jenny posted on his Facebook page that she would like to donate 100 books to 10 hospitals in Sydney.  Soon after, Brad granted this wish but increased the donation to 1,600 books for 100 hospitals Australia wide.  The kindness and generosity of Jenny and Brad lead to this amazing initiative.  The inaugral year was 2010 with the initiative to be continued in years to come !

What a great story !

To Close or NOT to Close – THAT is the Question !

I have had the pleasure of writing job ads as part of my roles for over 20 years now.  Ads for CEO’s of large businesses; ads for Process Workers within Manufacturing companies; ads for bar attendants in overseas hotel properties; ads for administration people in Clubs – you name the positions, I (and my fab team) have written a job ad for it.  Like any skill that you aquire, you spend time tweaking and developing it.  You strive for ways to continually improve on it.  You ask others how they think it can be done better.  You search deep inside for smarter ways and more articulate ways to appeal to the right people.  You make sure that the ads are written with both the business AND the applicants in mind. You keep front of mind that to discriminate in any way is neither appropriate nor in the best interest of any of the stakeholders.  In summary, it is a skill that develops over time – it is a true skill.

Don't Apply - You're Too Late
Don't Apply - You're Too Late

In saying all this, in my 20+ years of writing job ads, I have never felt ‘comfortable’ with putting a closing date on an ad.  I am much more comfortable putting an opening date on the ad or in some way letting the applicant know when the job was listed if possible.

I have had many discusssions with people, including the White Now team about the pros and cons of putting a closing date on an ad. Basically the ‘pros’ that people seem to head towards the employer or recruiter wanting to organise their lists of applicants without the problems that arise when new applicants come in late, and to schedule interviews without any hassle.  

For those who know me, I am the queen of scheduling, organisation and making lists that people always take the mickey out of me for.  For an example, I have a shopping list printed out on A4 paper 52 times (one for each week of the year).  This shopping list is divided into three sections; Supermarket/Fruit and Veg and Butcher. The supermarket list is divided into aisles and if I need an item that week, I actually know what aisle it is in and write it in that section of the list.  This list matches our weekly menu planner that I write on Saturday morning so I don’t buy extra items and don’t have left overs.  Now THAT is an example of how my brain works. Sad but true !

With that in mind you would think that I am in favour of having closing dates on ads to be SUPER organised – well, my behaviour is exactly the opposite.  White Now always recommend AGAINST closing dates on ads  (but of course if our clients want us to put a date down for their own reasons we always respect their decision).

Why am I not in favour of closing dates I hear you ask ? In my opinion, there is no point in ‘closing off applications’ until the very end of the process. By naming a closing date you are basically saying NO to a number of people who actually WANT to work for your organisation.  If I had people WANTING to work for our organisation when I put an ad up, I would happily accept their application at ANY time !

Think about the people that you MAY lose by simply saying – bad luck, you missed MY cut off date.  Remember that it is YOUR cut off date.  You perhaps did not take into account that the ideal person could be on leave, dealing with the death of a friend or relative, caring for a sick child or … who knows what ?  This person, that has not yet had a chance to see your ad MAY just be THE best candidate, MAY just be THE perfect match and MAY just have THE GOODS to take your business further than you could EVER imagine. Surely you would want to interview them or at least include them in a short list !

So, in my opinion, to put a closing date just so that resumes can be sorted and interviews scheduled makes no sense when you may be excluding the best resource for your business ie: the best person.

At White Now, when we are recruiting for a role, the role is open basically until a person is offered the position – in other words, when there is a ‘bum in the seat’.   We know that that is the best service that we can offer our clients – doing ALL that we can to ensure that the best people are able to apply for a job EVEN if they did not see the ad when it first went live.

This opinion is that of mine and White Now only.  Who knows what is right and what is wrong with this topic ? Everyone has their own personal reasons as to why the choose to advertise or not advertise a closing date.  What I DO know though, is that closing off an ad just because the advertiser/recruiter wants to schedule their time to suit THEIR needs, just seems crazy. But who am I to say that – I am the one who has shopping lists divided into sections in order of the aisles in my local supermarket !

Have a fantabulous day  and remember what Ralph Waldo Emerson once said; “Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions.  All life is an experiment.”