So What Else Is New?

How About Instant Reference Checking via the Internet?

by Kurt Smith, Co-founder, Easy Job References

“Oh, and could you please include three references, with at least two professional – former supervisors or managers would be the best.”

It’s always interesting to really listen to how the prospective employee responds to this.  Sometimes there’s dead silence, or wary agreement to provide the fodder for the calls.  Maybe they’ve been looking for a while, and their references have been called a number of times already.  Maybe it really hasn’t occurred to them that you’d ask.  Most of the time, of course, they’re ready and expecting that they will have to provide a list of people for you to call, people who would tell you that if you look up employee in the dictionary, you’re likely to find Joe’s picture next to it.  Never late, appropriately dressed, regular hours – absolutely, I’d hire him back in a minute.

So sometimes I hang up the phone and muse on the subject.  To many of us in HR and recruiting, references represent a dichotomy.  They are a necessary evil – we need to get some confirmation of the prospect and the words on his resume, but they often cost considerable time and effort to obtain, and there is no guarantee as to the accuracy or validity of the data. I’ve actually heard of references trashing the person, and wondered why would you ever give a person as a reference if you weren’t sure that he’d say the “right” things for you?  They tell lawyers never to ask a question they don’t know the answer to – maybe recruits ought to take this to heart – never give a reference if you don’t know what he’s going to say about you.

If you haven’t lost someone while trying to get the references your corporation or client requires, you know someone who has.  Some of these high-tech guys are in such demand that, if the process takes a few days, he’s gone somewhere else.  You can be pragmatic about this, but if a manager thinks he’s found just the right ORACLE DBA, and his former manager is on assignment your anxiety level rises proportionately to the distance.  If he’s in Australia, with 12-hour opposite working hours, it could take days to get him on the phone, while the guy’s getting offers thrown at him daily.  “But they need to check the same reference!” you say.  But then a little voice inside says “Sure, but will they?”

I’ve heard about cutting corners, not really checking all the references as thoroughly as you might.  Nobody who’s ever worked for me has done it, but I’m sure others have.  They’ll rationalize it by saying they “have to” to get the job done.  Of course, with outside recruiters, there’s the financial aspect – their business is to get the right recruit for the position, and their income depends on the placement.  If the person goes through the interviews, the employer wants him, he wants the position, and you’ve gotten through to his first reference, who raved about him – isn’t it OK to just let the process move along?  I mean, he’s a sharp guy, and he’s not going to give a reference that trashes him, and they’ll get in touch eventually…

I think sometimes about the real cost of reference checking.  We tend to brush it off as a quick call, but most of the time, that’s not the case.  There are the back and forth calls, the phone charges, and the actual weighted FTE time.  Now, some of the independent recruiters like this, because they regularly pitch the reference, trying to get some extra business (this really irritates some managers, I’ve heard).  But the real cost is still in lost prospects and time.

A new idea concerning this has come to light recently.  Of course, it has to do with the Internet.  Some sites have been popping up to allow the jobseeker to have a reference, or letter of recommendation, stored for him in a database that the HR manager can access.  When I first heard of these, from a friend of my wife, I have to admit that I thought it would never work – too impersonal.  We need to actually HEAR the person’s voice, right?

For a day or two after the phone call, my mind kept returning to it.  I’d told him that we like to call the person at work, to verify somewhat that he is who he is.  But how many times is a direct line answered – we don’t really know where.  Or are we getting the reference when the call is returned to us, and could be from anywhere.  In fact, we really don’t know that the reference isn’t his best buddy, or father-in-law, or even the recruit himself.

I’m now looking at these sites with a new eye.  Maybe they won’t ever replace the phone reference, but they can complement it.  Maybe a recruiter or HR office can use a site to take the bulk of the references load, and just spot check others at random.  The idea of a jobseeker having his references ready to be emailed to me instantly does have a definite appeal.

I started looking at some of the sites.  Some allow the posting of references for free, and some charge a fee to either the jobseeker or the recruiter.  I spoke with Bill Ritzel, President of ReferenceDepot.com, who developed his site to alleviate repeated calls to his references.  He was a consultant, and his references were called each time he changed contracts.  “I thought there should be a way to make it easier on them,” he says.  “Most of the references ask the same general questions every time, and get the same answers.  This way, they can just pick it up whenever they want.”

When asked about his site’s charges, nominally $20 per reference, he said “We looked at what some reference services were charging, and tried to stay under that.  Plus, we’re delivering the text of the reference, not just a Yes or No as some services do.”

Peter Berst, President for Recruiting Solutions, calls the idea “revolutionary”. He recently previewed the services of one of the on-line reference providers and thought it was a “great idea”.  Peter sees many benefits to this service, including convenience and savings of both time and money, and feels this service will assist him in the field of recruiting high-tech contractors.  “We have to hire many contractors in a short period of time, and this would result in significant savings to us.”

One of the industries that will benefit the most is the Temporary Staffing Business.  Lisa Whitley, Branch Manager with Creative Staffing in Charlotte, NC, understands the many benefits of checking references on-line.  As Lisa stated, “With the volume of applicant flow we have and the number of references we check, this type of service will save a significant amount of time, effort, and money.”  For independent recruiters who are required to provide references for prospective employees, they will now be able to forward the actual text of the reference answers to the employer, without the overhead of transcribing the phone calls added to the time and effort of the call itself.

It looks like reference checking in the future does not have to be a challenging process!  With the introduction of on-line reference checking, recruiters now have a tool to make this process less time consuming and very cost effective.  Many more references can be checked in a very short time.  And services are expanding to offer discounted links to background check sites for “one-stop shopping” for recruiters.


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