References on recruiters are rubbish. There I have said it. Total crap, a waste of time, a tick in the box, a supposed level of comfort / guarantee of that persons ability to do the job. I have been around some time and heard a range of stories, ranging from managers who openly admit they would give a great reference to a competitor knowing that the recruiter in question was less than capable, through to companies refusing to give references based on their fear of loss of IP. That doesn’t take into account that one company’s benchmark of high standards might be very different to your own.
Good recruiters create relationships and some of those tend to follow over a period of time. Great recruiters have the ability to create brand new relationships rather than rely on existing ones. However, our industry is one of closed doors. I have rarely heard two recruiters from different companies talk about what they find difficult or challenging or say that they have had a challenging month. It’s usually the upside inflated with a bit of bravado. This is evident in majority of cases although not in all sales people.
Our industry faces a problem, one that we regularly get lambasted for – standards of service and quality of individuals. Management can create and drive culture in their organisation, they can set standards high or low but when we don’t help ourselves, how can we have a positive impact on the overall impression of our industry and the standards within it? We seem to be one of the only industries that are unwilling to learn from each other and be genuinely happy with each other’s successes. In many instances you’ll get a smile, I wish you the best of luck but I hope you fail!
So apart from not being willing to help ourselves as an industry, we also face other barriers. More and more businesses will confirm dates of employment and job title and that’s where its stops. Managers and reporting lines that do want to give references understand that what they say can be shown to candidates, which results in the referee often saying less for fear of something that could be used against them in the future. Referees are required to ensure that their statements are factual and true. Again I reference my starting point about the occasional occurrence of a good reference for a bad candidate. The reality here is that there is very little correlation in recruitment, between the quality of a hire and the references.
It staggers me that so much weight is given to references when they are so replete with problems. It also frustrates me when references get the blame for a bad hiring decision or, worse, stop a good hiring decision because the referee is clearly not on top of their game. The recruitment process is more complicated than that one step. In my opinion there are no real accurate predictors for future performance. I can’t tell you how many people, who, based on a reference or assessment program, should have succeeded in recruitment and haven’t. It’s almost the same amount of people that should never have succeeded, but do. Interviews are fraught with prejudices, stupid questions and inexperienced interviewers. References can be a work of fiction in more ways than one.
It’s completely disingenuous to blame a recruitment-to-recruitment business for misleading references, unless they have deliberately fabricated them. You have to assume that previous employers would not do the same, providing they would offer a reference in the first place. That’s not to say that I would only hire someone based on the references. People go through 3 – 4 rounds of interviews with us as well as meetings with senior staff to secure a role. So without references from employers what do you base it on? Client and candidate references are normally where we end up. After that you’re making a decision to hire based on gut feel and the truth, half-truth or in the worst neither of the former.
When we make a decision to employ like most in our industry we are chancing it. Just because someone comes from a successful business in your sector does not guarantee they are going to be great or even good for that matter. They might work out, they might not. It doesn’t matter what questions you asked them, what references you obtained and what tests you used – you are taking a good old-fashioned punt on it all working out the right way. Let’s stop pretending there is a winning strategy or science in making a hiring decision. You will hire someone you like and whom you think can do the job, and then you will hope for the best.