Job references used to be an essential part of the employment process: are they still?
Any employer has grappled with how to REALLY find out about the candidate behind their interview face. A beguiling option is to speak to previous employers who know them well for the “job reference”. But as many find out that’s far from fool proof too:
- Unless entirely unavoidable candidates will not provide referees who are likely to be negative
- Even the most honest (or vindictive) employer is unlikely to want to say something that might prevent them getting a job
- Many reference takers ask the wrong questions or questions which deliberately or accidentally elicit the answers they want to hear because they want to fill the job
- It’s just their opinion: just because the candidate performed to a certain standard in one employer has no bearing on their ability to do a different job in a different employer
- Company cultures are all different: an employee can be a fish out of water in one employer (which might be reflected in a negative reference) but perfect for another or vice versa
- Many departures are subject to compromise agreements which may prevent any references with any level of detail
- Many companies’ policy is to only confirm dates of employment and job title
- Referees have to be mindful of the threat of legal action: slander, libel or in a recent case “post employment victimisation”, as the Data Protection Act and GDPR gives them a right to see written references OR (and don’t quote me on this) notes taken during a verbal reference
In Prism’s experience references are meaningless: the only potentially valuable measure of an employee is whether he/she sticks around and does well and the best measure of that is promotion and or other verifiable achievements. One or two swift job moves are entirely forgivable but if a pattern develops there may be a problem somewhere.
A very vital reason for contacting former employers is to confirm dates and job titles: few employers have any problem with providing this information and in Prism’s experience there is, not infrequently, divergence between what’s on the CV, what’s on LinkedIn and what’s on a company’s records. But references as an objective measure/reflection or past or future performance? No.