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Bad Idea: Balk at Giving References

Nikole TuttonPosted by Nikole Tutton on April 2, 2010 at 5:01pm on 

This would seem like a no-brainer. You are right in the middle of the candidate process for a great job at a company that you admire and the inevitable question comes up, “can you provide professional references and written permission to check them?” Umm…you know I have some questions about that for you, Corporate Recruiter. Can we talk?Most large companies with an extensive web career portal are asking for at least three professional references before your resume is submitted to a Corporate Recruiter. However, in this economy where downsizing is prevalent in HR, some smaller companies who can’t afford the behemoth ATS systems, are delaying the reference check; asking for permission to talk to former employers before a face-to-face interview or verbal offer. As a job seeker, you should happily provide them immediately to show good faith and reinforce the idea that you have a credible background and reputable work history. If you delay providing names and contact information, it raises a red flag and will undermine your efforts to get the position you want.

Scenario #1: Telling the Recruiter, “I need to check with them first.” This tells me that you have not prepared for your career transition and have been caught off-guard, and you might be caught off-guard in the job, too.

Scenario #2: “I don’t have their current phone number.” Then you probably don’t know them very well and they won’t give me a good idea of your overall work ethic.

Scenario #3: “I don’t have that information with me right now.” With today’s technology and smart phones, this is not an effective tactic, unless the Recruiter is calling in the middle of the night or you are in a cave.

Scenario #4: Trying to talk the Recruiter into diverging from the established hiring process. “Boy, most reference checks are done right before the offer, not prior to the onsite interview. I really expected this to be later in the game. Are you sure it has to be done now?” Bad move. Not only have you cast yourself in a bad light over references, you have questioned an established company practice. Right or wrong, are you sure you want to do that?

Scenario #5: “I don’t want to burn my references out.” Thanks – that makes HR feel as though they have branded the company well – (sarcasm). Either the company isn’t attractive enough or the candidate is not prepared for his/her job search. Either way, most Recruiters will cut bait at that point.

Scenario #6 “I need to know that the company is serious about me before I give out any references.” Yikes. HR Pros and Corporate Recruiters HATE it when candidates ask for a thinly-veiled quid pro quo – it can be construed as an offer of employment and those experienced in the ways of HR law will run screaming from that statement and any candidate willing to make it. Plus, this translates into mistrust over the Recruiter’s ability to keep things confidential and that will strike him/her as criticism.

Like it or not, most recruiters are a valued consultant for hiring managers at the company level – not just a gatekeeper. Treat them with reverie and respect. Even though your intent is not to minimize their role in the process, the scenarios above show how they perceive the delay as a warning sign.

If you are not prepared for a reference check – get ready. The best job seekers have references already in their arsenal – contacted, with current contact information or documented on LinkedIn or prepared as reference letters. If HR wants to talk to them – the best candidate for the job already knows what they are going to say and that it is positive. If you don’t, the one who gets the job will.