Should you really agree to being a referee?

Ange Connor

A referee plays a significant and integral role in the recruitment process. Being a referee involves more than what you might think. It involves much more than simply stating you would hire the person again or that they did a great job or that they are awesome. Before you agree to or offer to be a referee, it’s worth taking the time to seriously think about what that means and if you can genuinely make that commitment. Once your name appears on a job seekers resume you need to be prepared for when you get that reference check phone call.

When giving a reference check, the hiring manager or recruiter completing the reference check is interested in more than the words you are simply saying about the person. It’s not just about what you say and the feedback you provide, it’s also about what you don’t say, your tone, level of engagement and effort, when you hesitate in answering a question, the depth of detail and context that you can provide and the time you commit to providing the feedback. Being a referee is a big responsibility and if you are not up for that responsibility you are better to say so up front and decline being a referee so that the job seeker can find someone who will do the reference check justice.

What do you need to consider before committing?

Are you prepared to make the time and effort to complete the reference check thoroughly?

Completing a reference check takes time and there is no set time on how long they should take but you need to be realistic; it’s not going to be a simple 2 minute conversation. For example, our reference checks take 15 to 20 minutes on average. We are all extremely busy these days and you can guarantee that you’ll get the phone call right when you are smack bang in the middle of a crisis or when you have a deadline to meet. If you can’t talk at that immediate time that’s ok, arrange a time to call the recruiter back or get them to call you back at a more convenient time. Trying to rush the reference check, giving short sharp answers and/or showing your frustration at how long the reference check is taking won’t do anything to help the job seekers chance of securing the job. Chances are the recruiter will want to complete the reference check as soon as possible as they will want to make a job offer or progress the recruitment process. Not returning calls or making yourself available could be very detrimental to the job seekers chances of getting the job.

Can you provide detail and context about the job seekers performance?

Answering reference check questions with yes, good, excellent, great, above average is not doing justice to being a referee. If you don’t have the knowledge or can’t give details about why you rate someone as good or great or excellent then you may not be the best person to be their referee. Often a job seeker will ask the business owner or someone from upper management to be a referee because they think title and status are more important or will look good but if you can’t give the level of detail required, you’ll end up giving a reference check that lacks substance and evidence. If the recruiter conducting the reference check values the reference check process they should probe you for examples and not just accept your one word answers. Regardless, you need to be prepared and have examples of situations fresh in your mind to be able to refer to. If you don’t give enough detail and context a good recruiter will go back to the job seeker and request another referee because they couldn’t get the level of information required from you to be able to make an assessment. Don’t waste your time, the job seekers time or the recruiters time; if you don’t have the detail you are better to politely decline being a referee.

Are you at risk of jeopardising your reputation and credibility?

I’ve known referees to provide positive reference checks simply so they can get a problem employee out of their organisation. If the recruiter is doing a thorough job of the reference check then they should be able to pick up on this. More importantly though, whether you provide positive or negative feedback about the job seeker you need to consider how inaccurate, embellished or lying as a referee could reflect on you and what repercussions that has for your reputation and credibility. The world is a small place (and Ballarat is even smaller – everyone knows someone who knows someone else) and you need to think about the long term impact of how you handle being a referee and the quality of the information you provide; you just never know when it might come back to bite you!

Don’t feel comfortable being a referee after considering these key points? My advice: Be honest and upfront with the job seeker from the start. They might be disappointed that you have declined to be a referee but they will have the opportunity and time to source another referee. Letting them down when completing the reference check because you are too busy and can’t commit the time or because you are ill prepared with examples and context simply isn’t fair to them.

About The Author
Ange Connor

Ange is the Founder and Director of Inspire HQ, one of regional Victoria’s leading recruitment, human resource (HR) and careers agencies. Ange is an ‘ideas’ person and a ‘big picture’ thinker. She loves to challenge the status quo – in fact, that’s how Inspire HQ began.

Ange has supported hundreds of businesses across Ballarat and regional Victoria to attract, engage, motivate, develop and retain their greatest assets; their people. Ange’s unyielding passion and invaluable knowledge of the recruitment and HR industry ensures she delivers the best solutions for her clients.

Ange has held various board positions and regularly volunteers her time to share her industry and market knowledge. She was recently a Councillor for the Victoria and Tasmania region of the Recruitment Consulting and Staffing Association (RCSA) of Australia and New Zealand, and she is a current Board Director of the Committee for Ballarat.

For more useful information, follow Ange on LinkedIn.

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