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!