Most reference checks aren’t helpful – is this really a surprise?


A new survey shows what many have long suspected; no one, from recruiters, to referees, to employees think that over-the-phone reference checks work.

Checking references over the phone is fraught with risk and often provides little information from which a manager can make a hiring decision, according to research commissioned by ASX listed recruitment data company Xref.

This may not come as a surprise to many HR professionals; most already feel the process is outdated and puts an outsize onus on job-seekers to behave honestly.

In the 2017 Xref Recruitment Risk Index, the company surveyed those who do references as part of their job: HR professionals and recruiters.

What they found is that the bulk of recruitment managers – 39 per cent to be exact – believe that reference checking in its current format is a formality which serves little purpose.

17 per cent also named the reference checking process as the most frustrating element of the hiring process.

Reference checks: a burden on referees, a burden on recruiters – and, annoying for candidates

Not only is checking references over the phone time consuming and a drain on valuable resources, it often becomes a point of contention for those involved, whether referees or those recruiting.

Of the referees who responded to the survey, just over half say they avoided providing references – and 73 per cent said there were risks associated with providing a reference.

The research comes to similar conclusions as those of Dr John Sullivan, Professor of Management at San Francisco State University and author of several HR books.

The reference checking process is filled with holes, he says, from discrepancies in the depth of insight provided by referees, to the propensity for referees to give positive feedback to those leaving an organisation, to legal issues – such as the fact that most employees are offered the opportunity to resign rather than be fired – and problems that arise when references are not recorded or accompanied by a signature.

The study also found that the reference checking process is a threat to a company’s talent pipeline.

A lengthy reference-checking process can turn off prospective employees; it found that 41 per cent of the recruitment specialists surveyed report having lost candidates due to delays specifically during the reference checking period. And its 2016 survey reported that 42 per cent of surveyed candidates have walked away from a job for the same reason.

How can companies improve the reference checking process?

This research should serve as a wake-up call to businesses to either improve their reference checking process – or abandon it entirely, says Lee-Martin Seymour, co-founder and CEO of Xref. “Australian businesses are giving fraudulent candidates a free pass,” he says. “We know from [our] previous index survey that more than 70 per cent of candidates will take advantage of flaws in the process.”

From the risks of inaccurate and time-consuming referee references – to HR’s admission that they consider the practice a mere formality – and an ineffective one at that, the process places added pressure on HR during the recruitment process – and has few measurable benefits.

It’s a sentiment with which Seymour agrees: “Reference checking is still regarded as a burden on the HR team that provides little value during the recruiting period or beyond.”

He suggests organisations need to turn to technology-driven options, which allow referees the privacy, anonymity – and time – to provide honest and useful feedback for recruitment managers. And the fact that 51 per cent of referees say they prefer to provide references outside of day-to-day work hours, via mobile and tablet suggests that efficient online platforms geared to facilitate a more accurate feedback process, may indeed be the way forward.

Don’t miss out: Connect with HR’s brightest minds at Australia’s largest HR event – the AHRI National Convention and Exhibition − on 21-23 August in Sydney. Early bird registration closes 11 August 2017. Register now

 

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Nick Hutchinson
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Nick Hutchinson

Interesting article. Personally, I find that when I follow a pro forma and only ask set questions, that often it doesn’t add any value to the recruitment process or candidate validation. When I depart from a pro forma however and start to dig a little deeper – depending on the answers given initially, it is then that I find information from referees becomes valuable. I don’t think an online platform (currently) can be geared to ask questions based on nuances in response from referees – things like hesitation, tone of voice, choice of words etc all give information over the… Read more »

Mark Gilligan
Guest
Mark Gilligan

The giving and receiving of references is fraught with problems. Call me cynical but I believe that we have to take what is said during a reference checking exercise with a pinch of skepticism. It’s sad to say but people lie and for different reasons and on both sides. Because of this we have to take this into account especially when taking references over the phone. We have to remember that some employment relationships end badly be it that the employee has been asked to resign or has left the employer in the lurch when moving on. Employers may be… Read more »

Kevin
Guest
Kevin

I agree with Nick that a pro forma, that might be used by recruitment, to gather information has limited value and pales in comparison to an actual hiring manager digging a bit deeper. I have used the reference check process to help clarify minor concerns that appeared during the selection process. This has involved probing and testing some responses whilst being open and transparent. The result has been a more informed view that enabled the probation period to be used more effectively. As with other tools, if not used effectively and consistently the reference checks lose currency. As HR professionals… Read more »

Suzanne Giltrow
Guest
Suzanne Giltrow

For the inexperienced recruiter, a standardized template is often the preferred choice. Unfortunately this is where the reference check earns their “useless” and “tumewasting” tags.
Both phone reference check and computer generated reference checks using a standardized template are simply open to manipulation due to generic questions where cues in communication are not identified and investigated. I agree with the gentlemen above. An experienced & skilled HR professional will use inter-referee feedback along side candidate provided information to investigate potential issues, or from a positive – outstanding PI’s – and increase reliability of selection decisions.

Linda Norman
Guest
Linda Norman

Have to disagree with this article and the current trend to knock the reference checking process. In the hands of a skilled interviewer, reference checks are an invaluable tool to confirm a candidates experience, strengths and weaknesses related to the role in question. If we trained our interviewers to use good investigative and behavioural style interviewing techniques related to critical job needs, then the reference checks that they conduct will be much more credible. However, if recruiters and HR professionals continue to treat reference checking as a tick box exercise, using untrained or unskilled interviewers, then the results will never… Read more »

1 2 3 4
More on HRM

Most reference checks aren’t helpful – is this really a surprise?


A new survey shows what many have long suspected; no one, from recruiters, to referees, to employees think that over-the-phone reference checks work.

Checking references over the phone is fraught with risk and often provides little information from which a manager can make a hiring decision, according to research commissioned by ASX listed recruitment data company Xref.

This may not come as a surprise to many HR professionals; most already feel the process is outdated and puts an outsize onus on job-seekers to behave honestly.

In the 2017 Xref Recruitment Risk Index, the company surveyed those who do references as part of their job: HR professionals and recruiters.

What they found is that the bulk of recruitment managers – 39 per cent to be exact – believe that reference checking in its current format is a formality which serves little purpose.

17 per cent also named the reference checking process as the most frustrating element of the hiring process.

Reference checks: a burden on referees, a burden on recruiters – and, annoying for candidates

Not only is checking references over the phone time consuming and a drain on valuable resources, it often becomes a point of contention for those involved, whether referees or those recruiting.

Of the referees who responded to the survey, just over half say they avoided providing references – and 73 per cent said there were risks associated with providing a reference.

The research comes to similar conclusions as those of Dr John Sullivan, Professor of Management at San Francisco State University and author of several HR books.

The reference checking process is filled with holes, he says, from discrepancies in the depth of insight provided by referees, to the propensity for referees to give positive feedback to those leaving an organisation, to legal issues – such as the fact that most employees are offered the opportunity to resign rather than be fired – and problems that arise when references are not recorded or accompanied by a signature.

The study also found that the reference checking process is a threat to a company’s talent pipeline.

A lengthy reference-checking process can turn off prospective employees; it found that 41 per cent of the recruitment specialists surveyed report having lost candidates due to delays specifically during the reference checking period. And its 2016 survey reported that 42 per cent of surveyed candidates have walked away from a job for the same reason.

How can companies improve the reference checking process?

This research should serve as a wake-up call to businesses to either improve their reference checking process – or abandon it entirely, says Lee-Martin Seymour, co-founder and CEO of Xref. “Australian businesses are giving fraudulent candidates a free pass,” he says. “We know from [our] previous index survey that more than 70 per cent of candidates will take advantage of flaws in the process.”

From the risks of inaccurate and time-consuming referee references – to HR’s admission that they consider the practice a mere formality – and an ineffective one at that, the process places added pressure on HR during the recruitment process – and has few measurable benefits.

It’s a sentiment with which Seymour agrees: “Reference checking is still regarded as a burden on the HR team that provides little value during the recruiting period or beyond.”

He suggests organisations need to turn to technology-driven options, which allow referees the privacy, anonymity – and time – to provide honest and useful feedback for recruitment managers. And the fact that 51 per cent of referees say they prefer to provide references outside of day-to-day work hours, via mobile and tablet suggests that efficient online platforms geared to facilitate a more accurate feedback process, may indeed be the way forward.

Don’t miss out: Connect with HR’s brightest minds at Australia’s largest HR event – the AHRI National Convention and Exhibition − on 21-23 August in Sydney. Early bird registration closes 11 August 2017. Register now

 

18
Leave a reply

avatar
100000
  Subscribe to receive comments  
Notify me of
Nick Hutchinson
Guest
Nick Hutchinson

Interesting article. Personally, I find that when I follow a pro forma and only ask set questions, that often it doesn’t add any value to the recruitment process or candidate validation. When I depart from a pro forma however and start to dig a little deeper – depending on the answers given initially, it is then that I find information from referees becomes valuable. I don’t think an online platform (currently) can be geared to ask questions based on nuances in response from referees – things like hesitation, tone of voice, choice of words etc all give information over the… Read more »

Mark Gilligan
Guest
Mark Gilligan

The giving and receiving of references is fraught with problems. Call me cynical but I believe that we have to take what is said during a reference checking exercise with a pinch of skepticism. It’s sad to say but people lie and for different reasons and on both sides. Because of this we have to take this into account especially when taking references over the phone. We have to remember that some employment relationships end badly be it that the employee has been asked to resign or has left the employer in the lurch when moving on. Employers may be… Read more »

Kevin
Guest
Kevin

I agree with Nick that a pro forma, that might be used by recruitment, to gather information has limited value and pales in comparison to an actual hiring manager digging a bit deeper. I have used the reference check process to help clarify minor concerns that appeared during the selection process. This has involved probing and testing some responses whilst being open and transparent. The result has been a more informed view that enabled the probation period to be used more effectively. As with other tools, if not used effectively and consistently the reference checks lose currency. As HR professionals… Read more »

Suzanne Giltrow
Guest
Suzanne Giltrow

For the inexperienced recruiter, a standardized template is often the preferred choice. Unfortunately this is where the reference check earns their “useless” and “tumewasting” tags.
Both phone reference check and computer generated reference checks using a standardized template are simply open to manipulation due to generic questions where cues in communication are not identified and investigated. I agree with the gentlemen above. An experienced & skilled HR professional will use inter-referee feedback along side candidate provided information to investigate potential issues, or from a positive – outstanding PI’s – and increase reliability of selection decisions.

Linda Norman
Guest
Linda Norman

Have to disagree with this article and the current trend to knock the reference checking process. In the hands of a skilled interviewer, reference checks are an invaluable tool to confirm a candidates experience, strengths and weaknesses related to the role in question. If we trained our interviewers to use good investigative and behavioural style interviewing techniques related to critical job needs, then the reference checks that they conduct will be much more credible. However, if recruiters and HR professionals continue to treat reference checking as a tick box exercise, using untrained or unskilled interviewers, then the results will never… Read more »

1 2 3 4
More on HRM