Weigh In: Professional and Personal References

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January 22, 2010

I recently had a discussion with a colleague about the potential danger of employees providing recommendations (references) to former colleagues on LinkedIn.  There are certainly pros and cons of doing so.  In many cases, this may even go against company policy about not providing references at all.

Requesting professional and personal references is part of the hiring process in most organizations.  I’m wondering why?  One benefit is that the company will be able to confirm some of the information on the resume or shared during the interview.  But, isn’t the potential hire only going to give you references who will speak favorably on their behalf?  Is that still valuable?

Here are my questions for you:

  • Should companies ask for references?
  • As an employer, what information do you hope to gain by checking the candidates references?
  • What are the pros/ cons of being a reference for someone?
  • Where do you stand on providing recommendations in LinkedIn?  Is this different than providing a reference for someone interviewing for a job?

Let me know in the comments.  I’m anxious to see what you think.

8 Comments

  • I’ve always said the same thing. If I ask for references, I’m only going to get the people that will say good things. And if I call a company, I’m going to get next to no information, for fear of lawsuits.

    That being said, I do usually call former employers, and run the education through with my standard background check. I consider it fact checking.

    Now that there is case law precedence in most states now that protect employers when they give truthful information, so I hope that many HR departments will loosen up the reins a bit. Just because that’s “always been the policy” doesn’t mean its a good one, and in many cases, I think this fear is old school and has been unfounded. My candidates have been signing consent and release forms for years.

    It benefits everyone concerned when you can get accurate information (on strengths and weaknesses) to make informed hiring decisions.

    I’ve had decent luck, particularly in small towns, where everyone knows everyone – in getting managers to talk to me about their former employees, and that’s helped me make some great hires, and side step a few disasters.

  • Hi Trish. I launched a recent LinkedIn discussion on reference checking in the HR Group (link below for those who are part of that group).

    We just completed a hire for our firm and yes, I asked for references from each of the top candidates and spoke to 90% of them for at least 30+ minutes each.

    Regardless of the fact they were picked by the applicant for a reason – to shed the best light on the applicant – I gleaned insight we hadn’t discovered during the entire interview process that ultimately helped me decide who to hire.

    That being said I wish we would go farther than the ceremonial reference checks and reviewing LinkedIn recommendations. I feel there needs to be a 360 approach with references — interviewing past supervisors, co-workers, industry peers, vendors if applicable, that includes other practical and validated reference assessments and skills ratings other than hearing, “Yes, Kevin did a great job for me.”

    While far from being objective assessments, a more thorough reference-checking process can be another powerful hiring tool for the tool belt.

    LinkedIn Discussion: http://tinyurl.com/yab86ga

  • LInkedIn recommendations are useful but need to be thought out before giving them. I woiuld say the same about phone references, or if you are writing a letter of recommendation.

    The major difference here are the factors of posterity and transparency.

    When someone gives a reference via LI, it is out there for the whole world to see (kind of) and it is out there forever (sort of).

    For me, this means that I think very hard when I request one or when I give one. I have to live with it.

    Not so much with the other types.

  • I’m actually surprised by how much we learn at my company through letters of reference. Because our process is completely confidential references feel free to say the truth, and sometimes people think people will say different things than what we hear!

  • We’re required to get 3 personal and 3 professional for every employee. Seems like a big waste of time for me (like you said, why would they pick someone who would say something bad?). My boss has said that they’ve caught people before that they ended up not hiring because of it, but if you’re catching one person out of 300, is it worth the time investment? Plus, most companies now just say “yep, they worked from x to y date in z position” and nothing more.

    My solutions is to train supervisors to interview better and uncover any potential weird stuff there. You’re more likely to find it than to get it from a random person elsewhere.

  • When I used to do more executive assessments, I would occasionally do selection interviews, and sometimes, as part of those, I would be asked to call references.

    I loved that.

    I would let them talk for about 10 minutes and then ask them the only question that matters: “Would you hire this person back?”

    Most everyone would say yes—eventually—but I didn’t care about that. What I cared about was how fast the, “Yes!” came. If it was enthusiastic and quick, I knew it was honest. If it came after a pregnant pause, then I knew the person was being “professionally tactful” in his or her response.

    A modified “yes” (e.g., “Yes, but not for that role. He’s better suited for…”) was OK, also as long as it came quickly.

    So yes to references… just make sure you’re using them the right way!

  • Thanks to everyone for commenting. You all had such great insight I plan to use it as part of a follow up post.

Comments are closed.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.

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