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References available before request?

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Over the years, the way we have checked employment references has changed. From providing printed reference letters on branded letterhead to automated reference collection via providers such as Xref. 

But Xref’s CEO and Co-Founder Lee-Martin Seymour asks, ‘Is time up on references available on request?’. Is there a better, faster way to have verified references ready to go when needed? 

What if we could pre-reference candidates and have a list of ready-to-go pre-verified reference checks to facilitate the immediate hiring of candidates? Perhaps this is the ultimate way to speed up the hiring process and save employers time. 

This blog explores the evolution of reference checking and hears directly from Lee as he continues to challenge the status quo that exists in the employment sector. 

What does the future of reference checking look like? Read on to find out. 

Are current processes slowing down hiring?

It’s always been important to know the professional backstory of your potential new hire - their employment history and work experience - as this helps us understand if they are a good fit and can tackle the job they are being hired for. 

When people worked close to their home, it was easier to find a relevant person to ask about the skills and experience of the job seeker. Communities were smaller and more tightly bound, so feedback about work ethic wasn’t hard to come by. A referee could be a neighbour or someone you met in the street regularly.  

Then, as time progressed, people worked further from their home and employers relied on pre-written reference letters, on company letterhead, accompanying the candidate’s CV. These were submitted early as an important part of a job application. 

Fast forward to today where digital screening is commonplace and candidates may upload their resumes to an online portal. This doesn’t always leave options to submit a pre-written reference check and candidates are hesitant to provide details. 

This is how ‘references available on request’ being listed at the bottom of a candidate’s resume became popular. References on request put the control back in the candidate’s hands when it came to providing contacts as professional references. It also meant past employers didn’t need to write a letter of recommendation anymore. 

“In a way, I believe we have moved backwards as an industry and have handed off the effort from a candidate to the employer and moved it from job search preparation into a post job-offer reactionary task,” says Lee

By putting the onus on recruiters to complete a reference check, we are slowing down hiring. In an age where hiring needs to move quickly this has a negative impact. Some processes like traditional phone-based reference checking draw out the hiring and companies are missing out on top candidates because of it.

While reference checking has certainly changed over the years, in more recent times the demand for faster, more confident hiring is causing recruiters and technology specialists to find alternate ways to screen candidates more quickly.

Automated reference checking solutions like Xref are helping, but there is still more that can be done to shift the reference checking process from an organisational level to the candidates responsibility. 

Lee continues, “When Xref launched in 2010, our main aim was to put the task of references back into the hands of candidates. We succeeded on a global scale, but have yet to be able to move the task back into job search preparation.”

Xref branded green graphic with Xref's CEO, Lee-Martin Seymour's headshot and quote (above) on the right

Keeping information private vs fast hiring

When the ‘Available on request’ tactic first hit the resume scene, it was seen as an elegant solution.

“I was recruiting when this first started appearing,” recalls Lee. 

“At the time, it in some ways bolstered confidence amongst talent acquisition because it gave that candidate an air of mystery - you’d think ‘they must be good because their references are too good to list."

However, with significant use, ‘reference available on request’ is now standard practise for candidates, so that mystery is lost. It has become a frustrating part of the recruitment process for talent acquisition who have to take another step to find out who to contact to really understand their candidate. 

It’s understandable that candidates keep their references private until the chances of securing a role are high. In a way not wanting to disturb a former manager until it's meaningful at the same time preventing recruiters from farming reference data for business development calls.

Lee questions,

“If you are a reference for a past worker, would you agree that you are always available on request to provide the feedback on a candidate you have given? And not just once, but repeatedly. Then multiply that issue by everyone who has ever worked for you. Surely, there is a better way.”

So, what could the future of reference checking look like? 

It’s common knowledge that top talent is hired first and fast, and competition for talent is at an all-time high. As such, it is imperative that recruiters and talent acquisition specialists save time and are ready to go with an offer for the right candidate. 

But, how do you build the confidence of a prospective employer without giving references upfront?

At Xref, we measure how much of your tenure at a past company overlaps with your chosen referee. 

Without this information, it is possible that a reference that was available on request may only cover a small portion of the entire time at an organisation. With this scenario, a prospective employer is only getting a portion of the full picture. 

Similarly, the seniority of a reference can play a part. If a CEO is willing to step up and speak on behalf of a candidate that would carry more weight than a past colleague potentially disguised as a manager. 

Furthermore, a referee framing themselves as someone they are not to support a candidate is also a significant concern. Fraudulent references happen and Xref’s Unusual Activity Algorithm works to protect organisations

These pieces of information, once properly verified, go some way to add colour and depth to the decision to hire a candidate.  

Pre-verified references and pre-referenced candidates might just be the future we need. 

There are two ways this could be achieved.

1. Pre-referenced candidates:

By building a history of references for a candidate, a recruiter can check what people have said in the past about that candidate. A technology solution, almost like a reference passport, will store previously referenced insights about a candidate so a prospective employer can easily see what a past employer has to say about the candidate. This will allow candidates to increase their chances of securing a role quickly and allow employers to fill open positions with ease and confidence.

2. Pre-verified referees:

Alternatively, candidates can build a list of potential referees that an employer can contact. This has two-way value - firstly, employers can gain insight into the job tenure of the candidate as well as the calibre of the people who worked with that candidate and are willing to be a referee for that candidate. Secondly, a list of pre-verified references reflects on the candidate in terms of who they know and who is willing to speak about them in a professional capacity.

A candidate can easily share a link to the list with job titles, tenure information and contact details of those referees willing to speak about the candidate. 

This is certainly a step in the right direction, but still places the act of reference collection at the offer stage and remains very reactionary. Furthermore, while it may facilitate faster hiring, what are the implications? 

Security and privacy

Reference checking as a practice emerged when organisations sought to protect themselves against potential employees who, in their efforts to secure a role, may not be honest about their experience, performance, skill set, personality, interests and more.

But, candidate and referee privacy and security still matter. 

Both candidate and referee privacy have the potential to be concerns in this space. Privacy and security of individuals’ information matters and if information of this nature is being stored, there are expectations and responsibilities that this data will be protected.

People are more aware than ever about where their data is going, how it is being stored and if it is secure. 

A candidate may wish to be in control of the references that are available for viewing from a specific role or person - ensuring they are relevant and recent. Similarly, a previous employer may want the power of consent to only share feedback for a specific role or point in time where they knew the candidate. 

However, if done in a secure way and with full consent, reference information has the value to be powerful for recruiters, organisations and candidates alike. 

Pre-verified references require job titles, tenure history, companies and contact information to be available on demand so a potential employer can understand the calibre of the reference provider or should that potential employer wish to reach out for further insights and information. 

Compliance and legal obligations

Taking and storing reference information without consent is an issue. Laws around reference back-channelling (where a reference can be solicited without a candidate’s knowledge) must be better understood. 

Storing information about a person’s work history has the potential to raise security risks. Employers must ensure that they meet privacy and compliance rules as per what is specified in their local geography. 

What makes this method of pre-referenced candidates safer than current methods of non-digital reference checking, is that all insights are stored in one secure place, that is compliant with global security standards. 

Instead of sharing information with multiple employers and trusting that they will store data correctly, a candidate can feel confident that referee contact information is only accessible from one central location.

All parties can have a say in the future of references

The good news is we can all make a positive change to the current reference checking process regardless of if you are playing the role of a candidate, employer or a referee.

Pre-referenced candidates and pre-verified referees have the potential to revolutionise hiring around the globe. A reference list could see candidates securing interviews faster as it is quick to truly see the calibre and potential suitability of that candidate. Additionally, recruiters can feel more confident in who they are hiring, whilst still filling open roles with speed. 

Providing references during a job search is a move back in the right direction,” says Lee. This adds more value for organisations during the early recruitment stages by highlighting standout candidates. As such, we could soon see the last of ‘references available on request’.

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