I recently spoke with a recruitment professional, David Bloxham, about the role of references within the recruitment profession and in the grander scheme of hiring within companies generally. The interview was in aide of an eBook we at ReferenceInConfidence are currently working on which will look at the importance of references how they can be used most effectively, and without fear of legal ramifications.

David says that there is a big difference between permanent and contract employees when dealing with references, because of how they are seen by the companies that will employ them. With permanent employees it is generally the case that the hiring company will run their own reference checks, as it will come as part of their strict hiring process. However David says they have occasionally run reference checks on permanent candidates, but only on request of the hiring firm. With contractors the opposite is true. David says recruiters like to run reference checks on contractors as they are often seen as representing the recruitment agency, rather than the company, as they will not be with the company for a long period of time. This means it falls on recruitment companies to make sure contractors are who they say they are, because the employers don’t do it, and it reflects badly on the recruitment agency if the contractor turns out not to have the skills required and suggested by their CV. All reference checks carried out by the recruitment company, David says, will be shared with the hiring company on request, whether that is for permanent or contract applicants.

What I really want to know is: does David believe references are an important part of the hiring process, and do they give a competitive advantage to getting a job, for those who have them? David thinks that there is the potential references can give an edge, and he gives the example of having two contractors going for one position. It is useful for the recruitment firm to be able to say which has the better skills, and a reference can provide this type of information. However he claims the problem is that it’s very difficult to give a bad reference. Apparently, 30-40% of companies only give dates of employment. This can have a very limiting effect on the usefulness of references, and could negatively effect a candidate if he can only produce a limited reference against someone with a far fuller one.

As for the importance of references to a company’s employment process, David tells me references can indeed still be a very effective part of hiring, mainly because they provide a way of validating claims made on a CV, where it is easier to mask the truth. This means any sort of verification of candidate claims can be useful, even if it is only terms of employment and final salary. Of course, the more information given in a reference, the more useful it is going to be to the potential employer, and therefore a fuller reference is always preferred. David says that the job interview is, in his opinion, the most important part of the hiring process, and that references are limited because of the fact that so many of them are being restricted because of a fear of being sued.

So what is David’s understanding of the law surrounding references? He believes it is difficult to give a bad reference. He doesn’t know the exact laws but does know that references have to be based on fact, not opinion and it has to be very formal. This is a commonly held belief among professionals and is something that will be explored both in a later post, and in the upcoming ebook.

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David Bloxham is a Managing Director at GCS Recruitment Specialists. David joined GCS as a trainee and quickly became one of the company’s most successful consultants. Moving through team leadership and then management, David became GCS’ Managing Director in 2008. Fiercely passionate about business beyond his own company, David was named President of the Reading Chamber Council in 2013.

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