· Features

It's time HR got more professional about job references

Referencing shouldn’t be something left to the last minute. But it often is, and that can be damaging to your business in more ways than one

Imagine this. You’ve just landed a new job. Excellent rewards, great location and the new team you’ll be leading is an enthusiastic and talented one. Your resignation has been handed in and in three months you’ll be starting. You cannot wait to get going.

Then, out of the blue, one of your referees calls you up. She’s being hassled by a call centre – six calls in three days – all chasing her up for your reference, which they say was sent to her several days before. She can’t remember anything about it, and anyway hasn’t got time right now with a new website going live any day and a big conference in Barcelona to prepare for. She knows she agreed to write a reference for you, but she didn’t expect it to be as complicated as this. I mean, who uses paper forms these days? Please, can you sort it out?

Yes, you promise, you’ll get on to your future employer right away. Not a good start, is it? It also gets worse, because the very next day a recruiter rings with an even better job offer. Given the problems you’ve been having, you’re definitely tempted to ask for more details. It’s all so predictable, and so unnecessary.

Not going to happen to you? Well think again. From evidence I’ve picked up, drop out rates between a job offer being accepted and a new employee starting have rocketed to twice the level they were just three years ago. Given that it's already a tough market out there to secure the best talent, can you afford to lose so many good people simply through poor handling of the onboarding process?

Companies put a lot of effort into creating the right kind of image to attract and retain their employees. The careers sections of their websites lay out just what employees can expect when they join. But in reality we all know that you don’t so much attract candidates as have someone go out and find them for you. That process can be a long one – not least the potential three month wait while the new employee rides out the end of their contract and you take up their references. But given the amount of effort taken to find and attract them, far too little attention is paid to that final hurdle of the onboarding process – the gathering of those all important references. The traditional referencing process just doesn’t work as well as it should.

When so much effort, time and money has been put into finding the right talent, the taking up of references seems almost an after thought. What should be an essential part of the process is often poorly handled. Emailed forms, with follow up phone calls to chase referees if they don’t return them within an allocated timescale, seem designed to alienate both the candidate and the referee. Rather than being a smooth and efficient part of the process, onboarding seems to be something tacked on at the last minute. In fact, the onboarding process really starts the minute you decide to create a new role in your organisation.

Given that the technology exists already to make things better, isn’t it time we started to see the onboarding process as just as essential as that first interview? It’s as much an opportunity to impress both candidate and referee as that bright shiny new website and, equally, has the potential to reflect negatively if it isn’t handled well. In addition, your best candidates are free agents and open to other offers unless you act swiftly. In short, with so much at stake, isn’t it time we all got more professional about referencing?

Ed Allnutt is managing director, EMEA, at Xref