References: essential or pointless?

There may be a parallel universe where references have value but not here and now. Despite this they form an essential part of many employers’ hiring process. There are numerous reasons for scepticism:

  • Unless entirely unavoidable candidates will not provide referees who are likley 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 are no good, asking the wrong questions or questions which deliberately or accidetally elicit the answers they want to hear because they want to fill the job
  • It’s just their opinon: 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
  • 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 givees them a right to see written references OR (and don’t quote me on this) presumably notes taken during a verbal reference

References are meaningless: the only decent measure of an employee is whether he/she sticks around and does well. You can forgive one or two swift job moves but if a pattern develops there is a problem somewhere. The KEY reason for contacting former employers is to confirm dates and job titles: now that really does sort the sheep from the goats and lying on the CV is definitely grounds for withdrawing a job offer or dismissal in my book

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