You know how the job process goes. You send a CV in and if you’re lucky enough to make it past the interviewing stage your potential employer will probably contact your references before making you an offer. It’s pretty straightforward- it makes sure that the candidate didn’t lie about their CV and will be able to meet all of the requirements that their potential job will have.
Many recruiters have already made up their mind by the time they get around to conducting a reference check and it becomes a formality to do so. They are just looking for some kind of reinforcement that their hunch is right. And why wouldn’t they get it when most candidates will only put a reference on their CV that they are sure will say all the right things. Now don’t mistake this for blatantly lying on your CV which could rule you straight out of the process without a second thought but very few people are obnoxious enough to list a reference who would damage their chances of landing a job.
They’ve probably been all over your social media accounts by this point and if they were going to find something they probably would have identified it by now. Furthermore, referees are often warned by the candidate when a company asks for permission to contact them to give them a chance to prepare the right answers. I know for a fact that my referees were well briefed beforehand on what kind of questions they would have to be prepared to answer. The recruiter would have probably have been well aware that this is fairly common practice, but what can they do about it, and do they even care if they are only looking for a reason NOT to hire you.
That’s where my current job differs from the rest. I had an interview with my potential boss and things went great. The next day we met up again and the CEO tagged along for coffee, again I came out of the interview with a positive feeling. A day or so later I get the follow-up call asking for permission to contact my referees but instead wanted to talk to someone I hadn’t put down on my CV. This caught me a little off-guard, I had nothing to worry about but my potential employer wanted a fresh perspective from someone who hadn’t had a script put in front of them. The end result, my sister got a phone call a little later on and the only remarks I had been able to give her was to ‘not to be too harsh on me’. By law, this is completely acceptable- provided they get your prior consent.
Now this might make it seem like I’m trying to hide something but being a recent university graduate desperate to land my first full-time job I found myself in a position where I could take no chances. I had worked in plenty of jobs before and there had never had an issue raised, but most were for temporary positions and did not hold enough merit to qualify as a suitable referee. In the end, I had a character reference from one previous employer with the most relevant experience and my old tennis manager who was listed as a character reference. This is not the case for everyone, and as people progress through various stages of their careers they will have different requirements for themselves.
Both my references know me well enough to give an honest appraisal to a recruiter, but having had me in their ear at some point almost renders the whole process pointless. A professional recruiter would be able to tell when a referee is staging their answer and be able to ask a range of questions to draw meaningful answers out of them. But for my current boss, there was no need. By circumnavigating to talk to someone who knew me well but had not been pitched to give him an opportunity to ask specific questions and not get a generic response. Sure there might still be a bit of bias, but at least there is some originality behind it and the recruiter can get some actual facts that haven’t been sugar coated.
Now you cannot say that it is a more effective method than contacting a work referee- who else would know better about your work ethic than your previous employer, but it did add a bit of variety into the recruitment process and eliminated any speck of complacency which I came to appreciate.