So, let’s talk about references. Recently, I heard an HR generalist ask about references. They wanted to know:
a) If they were limited to the references provided by a candidate,
b) What to do if they could not contact someone because the candidate wouldn’t give permission…, and
c) What good were references anyway since past managers and HR shops can’t give out any info??
Hang on to your seats, my answers may get rough… I’m just doing some free-wheeling here, so stay with me.
Managers/HR won’t give out information? Sure they can, and from my experience, usually do. I sometimes have great conversations, and make long-term acquaintances through these calls. I have friends today whom I met as I was speaking to them about a reference. Can’t shut them up sometimes.
I do, however, ask candidates for references for 2 reasons:
1) To make my life easier in finding telephone numbers, and
2) To get an idea of whom they would prefer I call, versus not.
Neither of those reasons is to get permission. I will always talk to immediate supervisors for at least 5 years back. Always, whether listed as reference or not.
Did you get that part?? Whether they list as references or not.
I will honor a request — it IS a request — to not call a currently-employed candidate’s current employer, as long as they realize I must do so either before an offer is made, or after a “contingent” offer is made. 100% of the time. No matter what the impact may be — no current reference, no job.
Now, some opinionated rambling…
There is no legal requirement, per se, for giving/not giving references or even employment verification (for future employment).
Further, though I realize many in HR choose — on their own — to limit their reference responses, I believe that practice is both limiting and detrimental to both employers.
This whole “name, rank and serial number” thing began as HR managers became afraid (unjustifiably, in my mind) of saying something malicious that they could be held to later.
In playing this self-inflicted “don’t tell” game, we encourage people to circumvent HR in the reference process, making operational/functional managers the go-to for adequate references.
And make no mistake — regardless of policies, most managers WILL give references, good and bad.
I believe our organizations would be better served if we controlled the real reference information, instead of simply sticking our collective heads in the sand.
But then, that’s just me…