Posted by Prospect‘s UK Team

The Reference Process

ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), heard of it? Seems many of us in the PR & Comms sector haven’t because if we had we’d know that there are some pretty clear rules around the reference taking process. In summary:

You don’t have to provide a reference but if you do, it must be fair but it can be brief, oh and you have to seek permission from the prospective employee before you start talking to people….

The above statement seems to create havoc amongst most.

From the candidate perspective, being asked to provide a reference is all part of the job search journey many adding contact details to the bottom of their CV. This is in itself is a big no no in my view. It encourages future employers to jump straight to the reference stage and also gives rogue recruiters your ex-boss’ phone number – ideal for their new business performance. So, getting back to the candidate providing reference details, there’s no rule about whose details they need to provide. So who wouldn’t give the name of the ‘associate’ you reported in to in the pub on a Friday afternoon. It’s a no brainer.

Former employers that are a little more savvy about what goes on behind closed doors have installed a business wide rule that states only basic references can be given and they must come from HR. These rarely say anything more than confirming an employee was in the building and for how long. Not much use to the prospective employer when all you really want to know is: can they write, how often they were late and did they pull a load of sickies?

A further question around the validity of references has to be that many job offers are subject to the candidate being able to provide ‘satisfactory’ ones. It’s a tricky one in that as a future employer, you are more than likely to want to hear from their current employer which is pretty impossible as they won’t be telling their boss until you have formerly offered the job. Bit of a Catch 22 really which begs the question . . . whether or not references play a vital role in the recruitment process at all and if they don’t, what’s the alternative?

Here’s a few of our suggestions:

Whilst we’re in a talent short market and it can be tempting to offer the right candidate a role after the first meeting try to keep to your process. Use the first stage to pull them in and let them leave wanting more. In doing this you shouldn’t have any problems getting them back to do a live brief or a writing test at the next stage. What better person to be the judge than you, the potential employer?

Flip it over to the candidate & ask them the questions you would ask the referee. How many sick days did they take last year or are you a morning person or a night owl? This could give you an idea of their work ethic/time keeping.

Make every question count – Do questions such as ‘if you were an animal which would you be’ really help you to determine what type of employee they might be?

Use the probation period wisely. The first 3-6 months of employment is essentially a trial period for all concerned, have weekly updates, ask colleagues for feedback. If you’ve used a recruiter such as Prospect to make your hire and anything goes awry during this period you should have some sort of guarantee in place. The key is to keep talking to each other and to us. You could perhaps speak to the previous employer retrospectively. Having the reference ‘chat’ with in the 1st couple of weeks, perhaps to help you determine objectives to set or areas of development which can be highlighted early to fill those gaps, could be a really useful way of taking a reference. Think of it more as handing on the baton.

So, while we are not suggesting you give up on the art of taking references, what we are suggesting is that you use them wisely, take some perhaps with a pinch of salt and ensure you have your own checks in place. That way it should mean you land an employee who has, themselves identified any problem areas which may crop up and in return you have a realistic view of who and what you are getting. Maybe approaching the whole reference situation in a different way could be the answer to a long and happy union.