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What if candidates took references?

By April 30, 2021No Comments

There’s a lot of nonsensical advice given to job seekers by Recruiters. Actually, scratch that. Recruiters tend to give good advice to job seekers, as their livelihoods are largely dependent on job seekers getting jobs. It’s so-called Thought Leaders that you need to be careful of. These Thought Leaders sometimes have the word “recruitment” in their job title or LinkedIn bio, so it’s easy for those not astute to the vagaries of our particular and peculiar industry to be confused. Just to be clear, a Recruiter is someone who actually helps organisations recruit people into roles. They do things like take briefs and speak to candidates. Thought Leaders on the other hand are largely self-appointed, and spend more time blogging, speaking, and at best, managing recruiters, than actually doing the hard yards. And for further clarity, I may be an opinionated prick with a penchant for a Friday blog, but my everyday life is as mundane as any other Recruiter’s. Plus, unlike the carefully manicured and contrived blogs of said Thought leaders, when I write, I’m always frank and earnest. Just like I am with women; Frank in Hamilton, and Ernest in Wellington.

One of the tidbits of advice I hear aimed at candidates is this: “It’s as much you interviewing them as it is them interviewing you”. What a lovely thought and what a load of nonsense. From some ivory tower, or in a utopian future, this would be the case. Two professional adults meeting like a red-hot Tinder date. If you both like the cut of each other’s jib, off to the motel for some lubed-up bonking. Unfortunately, hiring managers very rarely see it this way. In reality, the candidate is the eastern European hooker competing for the last spot on the Saudi super yacht. And the reason for this is money, and the direction it flows in. Sadly, when we pay someone, we create a power dynamic which puts us on an unequal footing. I can call my posh waiter “mate”, whilst he calls me “sir”. I ask my accountant to do something, he apologetic asks me to do something. That’s how it goes. And when a hiring manager is interviewing, and he or she controls the budget, it is the candidate who dances like a performing monkey. This is particularly troublesome when, like good recruiters, we headhunt the candidate from their current role to persuade them to meet with the hiring manager. This all-too-often results in the “Why did you apply?” “I didn’t, you called me” conversation. It’s akin to asking your neighbour, who isn’t selling their house, to tell you why you should buy their house.  And this brings me on to today’s thought experiment. Just for a moment, let’s pretend that Thought Leaders were actually correct. That we lived in a world where recruitment was not just a two-way process, but a totally equal two-way process. A world, a world where……hiring managers were asked to provide two references from people they have managed, including at least one who no longer works for them.

If you’re a manager, think for a moment about all those former employees. Think about your current team. What would they say if a reference was given in confidence? Well probably there’d be someone who you really believed in and worked hard to develop and train who would call you a micromanager. There’d be someone who was highly capable, experienced, and independent who would call you absent. There’d be someone who didn’t find your Bill Cosby joke funny who would call you a bigot. There’d be someone who’d say they’d never work for you again. Basically there would be just as many crap references on you, a good manager, as there are dodgy references on potentially good employees. The written reference is a very subjective  document, and this subjectivity is only currently applied to one party in this supposedly equal engagement. So, what do we do about it? Well, we could start a movement to take references on our future bosses, but frankly, that’s a terrifying prospect for almost all of us. Alternatively, hiring managers could stop making knee-jerk, reactionary decisions based on one average reference when they themselves would crumble under the same scrutiny. Now wouldn’t that be a thing?

Short one from me today. It’s not my job to tell you what to think.