Quite some debate exists on how important references actually are for your job search. However, fact is that the stories about hot shot executives that lied about their degrees or made up credentials on their resume are well-known (and in the fiction world, what about Mike Ross in Suits who invented a whole Harvard degree and never even attended Law school?) and therefore reference checks have increased in importance over the last years.
They might have once be seen as a simple formality where the phrase “References available upon request” at the bottom of your resume was enough but the role of reference checks became more and more important as companies started spending more time and effort to find the right talent to hire. However, are references worth their weight in gold? Should they play such an important role in the recruitment process and sometimes even be the deciding factor on which candidate gets the job? Do they actually give a realistic view on whether this candidate would be a good hire or are they just full of (not-so-true) stories from ex-employers?
Even some HR directors that are of the opinion that reference checks are a crucial part of their recruitment process because they can help them validate what the candidate puts on their curriculum or says during an interview, are expressing some doubts about the real insights you might get from references these days. Whereas they used to be brutally honest, nowadays employment legislation has made many ex-employers much more careful on what they say and don´t say. Therefore, although references can help you validate that the candidate was employed somewhere, they might still not give you the whole story on whether the candidate was actually a good employee or not. Many references have turned into standard declarations without any deep insights.
However, what future employers are actually looking for are those deeper insights. What was their experience with the candidates´ duties and expertise? What about their strengths and areas for improvement? What were their biggest accomplishments? Would they hire the candidate again if they had the chance?
Therefore, maybe the approach for getting those references is what determines whether a good reference is actually worth its weight in gold or not. Because if we ask the candidate to submit reference letters, chances are the letters are pretty standard and will most likely not give the deeper insights we are looking for. However, if the candidate provides us with a list of references and their contact details for us to contact, and we get into an actual conversation with those references we might actually get way more useful insights. And yes, this takes much more time and effort, however, the result will be significantly better. So, if you want to do the reference process, better do it well right? By doing so, you can use references as a way to actually complement the selection process instead of a mere way to validate some very basic data. And this digging deeper might lead to some negative feedback, which might eventually lead you to not hire a candidate that you actually considered could be a great fit. However, wouldn´t you prefer to know this feedback instead of trusting the standard reference letter that the candidate worked there and that´s it?
In conclusion, we can say that a good reference can be worth its weight in gold if it´s a personal, truly authentic, positive reference instead of a standard story. With the first case, it could be the deciding factor when you have made it to the final few of the selection process whereas in the second case it is still just a formality that simply needs to be ticked off in the process but doesn´t add any real value.
What´s your view on the importance of references in your recruitment processes?