2 December 2007

Reference Calls

If you are like me, you probably get about three or four requests to take reference calls every month for somebody you know who is looking to switch jobs. Like me, you probably agree to take the call.
By and large, I have not been able to convince myself yet regarding the big value of the reference calls. A few observations before I get to that, though.
There are different kinds of reference calls that I have seen. Most of them are very perfunctory – either done by recruiting firms or sometimes personnel from the HR department. Usually, they want to ensure that you indeed worked during the time in the stated company as advertised in the resume. More over, this is also more of a “negative check”, I feel. In other words, they have made up their mind to go forward with the candidate – now they are checking if there are any “gotchas” that they should be aware of.
There are occasionally a few reference calls that I really enjoy. First, they ask some very thought provoking questions. One smart person once asked me “If you are so high on the person, how come you have not tried hiring her into your company”. I was impressed 🙂 And then there are some who at the end of the call push to find out more about me and ask if I am interested in looking. I get impressed by them to (not because of their instinct for talent 🙂 ) but by the fact they are always trying to sell their company.
A few questions I find uncomfortable answering are like “Would you think the person will be a good fit in the company” or (recent example) “Would you recommend this person for the position of a Program Manager”? These questions require far more knowledge on my part about the target company (and their definitions) to answer the question. On the last example, I remember asking the lady to explain what does the Program Manager role entail in the company and she struggled to explain that to me. Imagine my struggle to answer that question then.
In any case, if any of you are HR specialists, maybe you can help me understand one point. What do reference calls really achieve? Don’t the candidates anyways pre-select the calls by making sure only those people who give the best reference about them actually get to talk? Does that not give a very much skewed view, anyways?
The only value I see is in finding out what kind of person they have been able to agree to take a reference call on their behalf. If a candidate comes saying the CEO of a large company is one of his references, that probably tells something compared to somebody who puts up a co-worker at a low level as a reference. Beyond that, it beats me.
I would think, by now, with all the professional networking (LinkedIn, Xing etc) and personal networking (Facebook, Orkut etc), we should be able to quickly find out common contacts and make some discreet calls to get a better idea about the candidate.
Anybody has any insights?

Posted December 2, 2007 by Rajib Roy in category "Reflections

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