Why are companies still checking professional references?  

So many Talent Acquisition and Human Resources teams still check professional references. Unfortunately, it is extremely rare that a reference check creates a knock-out situation for a candidate to not move forward. As with any step in the interview process, if it’s not being used to consistently and effectively weed out poor candidate fits, it is simply not a good step to keep in your interview cycle.  

Consider this. You ask the candidate to provide you with 3-4 professional references who can speak to their work habits and include at least 1-2 supervisors. You then task someone on your team to call those references and ask them a series of questions about the candidate’s work history, work ethic, strengths, and weaknesses. What is the likelihood that one of those references is going to provide a poor reference? Additionally, what is the likelihood that one of those references is really just a friend posing as a former coworker or supervisor to help a buddy out? Probably low on both counts but my guess is that the 2nd scenario happens even more often than the first. Yikes!  

Three Reasons to Ditch the References:  

Time is a finite resource. 
Reference checks take a significant chunk of time to conduct. Total time is at least 30 minutes per finalist and likely 60-90 minutes by the time you collect the references, reach out, play phone tag with several people, interview each reference, and then write up notes and make a final hiring recommendation. No thanks, I’ll do more sourcing for another role instead!  

 Offer processes are unnecessarily elongated.
The average time to hire for professional roles is about 45 days. Adding 2-3 days to complete reference checks is simply unnecessary. For most positions on your team, every day that a role sits open is opportunity (and often potential revenue) lost.  

 Legal Schmegal. 
References are often given ‘off the record’ due to policies prohibiting many managers and employers from providing references other than titles and dates of employment (sometimes even with written consent). When this happens, you can sometimes receive information that you really shouldn’t have or potentially don’t even want to know! Again, if you can’t legally make decisions on most of that info, why collect it all?  

 And… the ONLY reason to keep doing them:
References are basically Referrals. Candidates are saying to us, “here’s a list of people who have similar skills to me. I like them and I’ve included all their contact info for you.” Uhhhh – Thanks!  

 Me: Hi Bob, I was calling for a reference on Sally, do you have a few minutes? 

Bob: Yes – Sally’s great, she told me you might be calling. 

Me: Yes, I agree – we’re so excited to be inviting her to join our team… I wanted to ask you a few questions about her work history with you…. (conduct reference…ask last question… always use: “If you had the chance to work with Sally again, would you hire her?”)  

 Bob: Yes, I would. I wish I would have gotten to her before you did! 

 Me: I’m glad you didn’t. You know, Bob, we have a few other positions open that might fit your background. If you really want to work with Sally again, maybe we should talk some more about potential roles. What time do you have open on Friday?  

 Bob: I’m not really looking but yeah, if Sally is joining, I’m sure it’s a great opportunity! How about 3 on Friday? 

 Me: Perfect – I’ll send an invite over.  

Another option is to ask about Recruiting for Bob’s team… how do they do handle it? Remind him that you found Sally and would love to bring some Sally’s to their team.  

 Bottom line
As with any part of your Talent Acquisition process, consider whether the time invested is providing a useful and positive return on investment. As they say, Is the juice worth the squeeze? 

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