DEATH TO REFERENCE CHECKS
by Matt Thomas
On average, our team submits 40-50 candidates each month to our clients. Those numbers are distilled from the thousand or so candidates we vet and assess inside the same window. Every once in a while we’ll have a client, usually close to the finish line with a candidate, call and ask, “Did we check references on them?” Cue the eye roll. Of course, we are more than happy to hear from the filtered list of people about how great our candidate is. In truth, and I suspect everyone knows it, it is a colossal waste of time.
That is why I am calling for an end to reference checks. Every business leader, hiring manager, etc. understands that best-case scenario reference checks will provide another antidote that confirms what you already know. Usually, though, reference checks are a stall tactic. You like the candidate but you’re nervous and need an excuse to wait a week before extending an offer. If that’s the case, why not just ask the real questions? How confident am I that this is the one I want and need? Are you stalling because you have real reservations you are trying to ignore? Or, are you trying to buy time because making big decisions is new territory for you? There are more you could ask, and all of them are better than checking the useless reference check box.
Here at Core Ventures, we do our best to track down references that were not given to us by the candidate. We want to talk with someone who has worked over, under, or with a candidate that they haven’t mentioned. For our general contractor clients, it is as simple as calling a few subcontractors and asking them what it was like to work for “Jimmy” (For what it’s worth, subs give the BEST references. I don’t mean glowing, I mean unfiltered, honest, and direct.) Unsolicited references are invaluable.
Internally, we are able to skip this step because we do not consider random people for a position on our team. Every single hire we have made has come via referral from either another team member or a familiar friend of our business. It is one of the things I am most proud of here at CV. We are a recruiting firm that doesn’t post jobs for our own positions. Our team members understand that we take culture fit as seriously as we do competency. Not too long ago we parted ways with one of our top performers because they didn’t fit the culture. It wasn’t a difficult decision and it’s paid dividends for our team dynamic.
I am often asked about the cost-benefit of outsourcing recruiting versus keeping it internal. Aside from the obvious reality that internal recruiters know if they perform at a high level they may actually work themselves out of a job, I usually unpack the pitfalls of traditional recruiting. Misleading assessments, unnecessarily long interviews, canned job postings, and of course, the reference checks! So business leaders, can we stop pretending that reference checks actually serve any viable purpose? Let’s be confident enough in our hiring process that we don’t have to call people to tell us what we already know. Go get ‘em.