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This may not come as a surprise to many HR professionals; most already feel the process is outdated and puts an outsize onus on job-seekers to behave honestly.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

Another article full of holes! Of course, if you don’t do it properly then yes, “in its current format is a formality which serves little purpose.” The fact that many people don’t do it well doesn’t mean it isn’t valid. When hiring someone in this day and age, you need as many tools as your disposal as possible. I don’t believe that any HR professional would rely solely on reference checks and sometimes a reference check will be totally disregarded. I wouldn’t hire anyone without all the information I can get from thorough research including multiple interviews, behavioural assessment and… Read more »

Silvia Hunziker
Silvia Hunziker
4 years ago

I agree with the comments in favour of doing reference checks. Just because they are seen as a tedious task that doesn’t mean there is no value in it.

We’re even doing the reference checks when a recruitment company is involved. This is an opportunity to dig deeper and address any red flags that might have come up during the interview process. While reference checking seems outdated, it is still a piece of the puzzle that adds to the overall evaluation of your future employee.

Taryn
Taryn
4 years ago

It doesn’t take much to get meaningful and useful referees, make questions behavioural. All stages of the recruitment process are about gathering information (data) and validating it with the next stage of the process. No stage should be treated independently, or looked at in isolation from other stages. Referee checking is also an opportunity to identify professional development opportunities for candidates, learn about their working style and what management style achieves the best performance. The information gathered at each recruitment stage is a tool in assessing a candidates suitability for the organisation and the role. I see the recruitment process… Read more »

Debbi
Debbi
4 years ago

I was in a situation where I was working with a girl who was, shall we say, not the best employee – late, rude, made lots of mistakes and when our boss was asked to give a ref check on this girl it was glowing and full of praise! When I asked her why, she said I just want to get rid of her so if she gets the job then she’s off my hands! Since then my opinion of ref checks is sceptical at best, whether it be via a time consuming phone call or on line form. If… Read more »

David Jaques-Watson
David Jaques-Watson
4 years ago

One other point that I haven’t seen addressed is selection bias. Just as you only fill your CV with the *successful* projects you’ve worked on, you only nominate referees who are going to provide positive references. If you have been “asked to resign or be fired”, you would be crazy to ask for a reference from that organisation. This obviously negates the benefits claimed in the article. This can also be turned into a legitimate interview question, I believe. In at least one interview, I have been asked, “I notice you have not nominated a referee from your latest engagement.… Read more »

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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

 

guest
19 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Karen
Karen
4 years ago

Another article full of holes! Of course, if you don’t do it properly then yes, “in its current format is a formality which serves little purpose.” The fact that many people don’t do it well doesn’t mean it isn’t valid. When hiring someone in this day and age, you need as many tools as your disposal as possible. I don’t believe that any HR professional would rely solely on reference checks and sometimes a reference check will be totally disregarded. I wouldn’t hire anyone without all the information I can get from thorough research including multiple interviews, behavioural assessment and… Read more »

Silvia Hunziker
Silvia Hunziker
4 years ago

I agree with the comments in favour of doing reference checks. Just because they are seen as a tedious task that doesn’t mean there is no value in it.

We’re even doing the reference checks when a recruitment company is involved. This is an opportunity to dig deeper and address any red flags that might have come up during the interview process. While reference checking seems outdated, it is still a piece of the puzzle that adds to the overall evaluation of your future employee.

Taryn
Taryn
4 years ago

It doesn’t take much to get meaningful and useful referees, make questions behavioural. All stages of the recruitment process are about gathering information (data) and validating it with the next stage of the process. No stage should be treated independently, or looked at in isolation from other stages. Referee checking is also an opportunity to identify professional development opportunities for candidates, learn about their working style and what management style achieves the best performance. The information gathered at each recruitment stage is a tool in assessing a candidates suitability for the organisation and the role. I see the recruitment process… Read more »

Debbi
Debbi
4 years ago

I was in a situation where I was working with a girl who was, shall we say, not the best employee – late, rude, made lots of mistakes and when our boss was asked to give a ref check on this girl it was glowing and full of praise! When I asked her why, she said I just want to get rid of her so if she gets the job then she’s off my hands! Since then my opinion of ref checks is sceptical at best, whether it be via a time consuming phone call or on line form. If… Read more »

David Jaques-Watson
David Jaques-Watson
4 years ago

One other point that I haven’t seen addressed is selection bias. Just as you only fill your CV with the *successful* projects you’ve worked on, you only nominate referees who are going to provide positive references. If you have been “asked to resign or be fired”, you would be crazy to ask for a reference from that organisation. This obviously negates the benefits claimed in the article. This can also be turned into a legitimate interview question, I believe. In at least one interview, I have been asked, “I notice you have not nominated a referee from your latest engagement.… Read more »

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