Whoa! This is not good news for job seekers! The whole situation of references and reference checking has recently started getting a lot more troublesome for you as a job seeker while it’s making life much easier for corporate recruiters and their employers. As you know, I’m inclined to be an optimist, but this development is challenging my inclination because it’s weighted so heavily in favor of employers and against job seekers.
A recent article on Workforce.com talks about Pre-Hire 360, software that enables employers to check your references before they even decide whether to schedule you for a face-to-face interview. The article indicates that more than 50% of companies who use this software do it after the initial phone screen so they can winnow down the number of candidates they need to bring in. That means if your references aren’t stellar from start to finish, you could be forced out of the running early on–much sooner than you might have been before automated reference checking software existed. What’s even worse is that you might never know it had happened.
Companies used to be very careful, as a rule, about how they responded to requests for references, mainly because they were scared about possible lawsuits. Many companies have a policy that basically only allows people to give “name, rank and serial number” on former employees. However, that apparently no longer applies when they’re using automated reference checking software, which allows anonymous responses. Jeffrey Wade, with Anchor Planning Group, an executive recruiting firm, noted that “without the threat of being identified…references tend to be brutally frank about their colleagues, yielding much more useful information.” Useful to whom? The prospective employer, of course–certainly not to you as the would-be employee!
As if that weren’t enough, you might now be asked/expected to supply more references than in the past. We used to say 3 to 5 (with 5 being preferable if you have them). Now some companies are requiring a minimum of 5 references, which they expect you to provide immediately following the phone screen, and at least 2 of those have to be past or present managers.
Also, we used to recommend not providing your references until after you had a chance to see that the employer was seriously interested (i.e., after you had an in-person interview). That way your references wouldn’t get pestered by a bunch of companies that might have no real intention of hiring you. However, the way the automated reference checking system is described in the Workforce.com article, it enables employers to check all the references you provide and to do it early.
Right now, the only one I see that’s potentially viable is to: