When is the best time to conduct reference checks?
I thought I knew the answer to this question, but events this week have compelled me to put this question out to you all in recruitment land. Help me answer this question.
The reason I must know is that our standards of service have been called into question this week. A recruitment client has sought a fee discount on our service because references weren’t conducted until offer stage. The references raised some concerns, not insurmountable, but concerns nevertheless, and the client felt we ought to have conducted at least one reference before presenting the candidate in the first place.
It seems like every other placement we make recently ends up in fee negotiations upon reaching offer stage. Excuse me while I scrub the word “GUM” off my forehead (well that’s what it looks like in the mirror anyway). But that isn’t the real issue here. Putting that aside, have we actually performed poorly in our recruitment process by not conducting references until offer stage?
Our policy has always been to leave references until later in the process. As we recruit recruiters, it is usual for our candidates to be seeking extreme confidentiality, especially in a small industry prone to the odd bit of…what would you call it…gossip? Obviously it is usually desirable to leave the current employer’s reference until the very last minute, but likewise many candidates don’t want their old bosses being contacted until later in the process either. An initial interview might make it immediately apparent to both parties that the match is not right and it just makes things more awkward if the cat is already out of the bag that the candidate is looking for a new job.
Now there are occasions I will definitely insist on conducting at least one reference before presenting candidates to clients. Candidates appearing shifty, evasive, or non-committal at interview stage, for example. What they are unwilling to divulge in interview just needs to be dug up by other means, and a reference check is the best way to do that. Similarly candidates who are phone interviewed. If we are unable to meet someone in person and gauge the whites of their eyes then a pre-referral reference check is often in order.
So while we now know this new client’s expectations, and will make sure every candidate presented is referenced prior to arranging initial interviews, I’m not so sure if this is something we will apply as a widespread policy on every occasion. My wife is an internal recruiter and told me that she used to receive numerous CVs floated in from a variety of recruiters, and never received references at the same time.
Have times changed? Has best practice around this advanced? Am I indeed providing a sub-par service by failing to reference check until offer stage?
What are the rest of you doing?