Recently I have been conducting a series of interviews with industry professionals relating to their use and understanding of references. So far I have blogged about my chats with professionals from the law and recruitment sectors. Since then I have spoken to two people working in HR, neither of whom wished to be named, about their experience of reference giving and receiving within their company. The information I was given will, as with the law and recruitment interviews, go towards the creation of an eBook about the uses of references and will be available from our website.

Much of what my HR contacts said lined up not only with each other, but also with what I had already learnt from talking to others in law and recruitment. The main thing agreed upon by everyone I’ve spoken to is the high number of referees now only giving limited name, salary and employment term references with both my HR contacts believing that the majority of organisations follow this policy. Both HR professionals claimed that their company policy states that the HR department must give all references – line managers are not allowed to do so – and can only give the basic, factual information.

Despite the increasing number of limited references, I am told that they are still an important part of the recruitment process. HR Contact A tells me that pre-employment referencing checks are a mandatory part of their “onboarding” process and are used to verify employment history and education. They can also help to identify any gaps in employment history, such due to travel or unemployment. Contact B believes references are extremely important, despite the fact it is very difficult to get a detailed reference, as they are part of the “jigsaw of recruitment.” In terms of ease of acquiring references I am told that it is hard to get hold of a line manager but HR departments are happy to comply. Contact A tells me the biggest problem is other companies not treating the supply of references as a priority.

So how much do my contacts trust the references they receive? Contact A tells me that they do trust references as they use a third party company to acquire them and thus all references contain “company headers/HR contacts, and, as well as this the third party company will check that the HR contact name provided by the candidate on their referencing form is a bona-fide HR contact.” Contact B tells me that while they trust the references they receive, they would never make their hiring decision based on this information alone.

Both of my contacts have at least some understanding of the law surrounding references, claiming that they must be fair and accurate, as employees will be able to challenge a reference they think is unfair or misleading. This is largely correct. For more information on the law and references, please view my blog on the subject here.

My final question to each of my contacts is, how important do you think references should be to the recruitment process? Contact A tells me that references should be a vital part of the recruitment process and you “should be able to obtain an un-biased verification of an individual’s previous employment history/dates/performance etc.” This is important, as “candidates do not necessarily divulge a negative period of employment at interview.” Contact B suggested that references used to be far more useful as they were more expansive and contained all the information Contact A tells me they should.

Both of my HR contacts believe references should be far more detailed as this would aide recruitment, and yet are working within companies that expressly forbid their HR departments from giving the references they wish they would receive. It seems that this is creating a system where we are going to see more people giving restricted references, rather than less – despite the fact that law states full and meaningful references can be given, as long as they are factually correct. This again highlights the problem with referencing – that it is a growing cycle of restrictive and less helpful references – that was brought up in my previous two blog posts, and shows there is need for a change in industry to make references valuable again.

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