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Do We Really Need Reference Checks?

In this day and age of social media and everyone being connected, do we really need to do “official” reference checks?  I get asked this question all the time by clients and candidates… and I always say YES.

Reference checks are an important part of the process in deciding to hire a candidate.  People often comment that “no one” provides a real reference anymore due to corporate policies and that information about past performance is often restricted.  Regardless of corporate policies, diligent clients believe it is still important to conduct 2-3 references when hiring a contractor.  

I frequently guide clients in the types of references they should be asking for.  They often accept anyone as a reference point and even more often outsource the checking process to a third party.  I tell them that the key to successfully determining if the candidate is an ideal fit, though, is to only accept a reference from a past hiring manager.

Many contractors offer other referees such as past co-workers but this is not an ideal choice for clients.  Past hiring managers are the key to assessing whether or not the potential contractor performed the role they described on their resume and in their interview.  If a past hiring manager is unable to answer a reference check in detail, they are always able to state whether the candidate is available for re-hire.  “Re-hireability” is the best question to ask a referee as this is the best indicator if a candidate was a good hire.  If a reference cannot provide “any comments” about a contractor, this is often a good indicator that the candidate was not a good hire for their past position.

From a candidate perspective, it is important to always have your references lined up before you receive an offer.  Scrambling at the last minute can leave a prospective employer wondering how credible you are if you cannot come up with references.  In this day and age of social media and being able to conduct unofficial references, it is critical to control the sphere of influence on your next career move.  Keep the bridges open with past hiring managers so that when you need that all important reference, it is an easy ask.

Regardless of what people may believe, although social media is connecting everybody in ways we’ve never been, official reference checks are not going anywhere.  If anything, they’re becoming more important because of all the clutter and potential to forge a reference on places like LinkedIn.  In my opinion, taking references seriously and planning ahead of time is a great move that can be major differentiator, whether you’re a contractor or a client.  What do you think?