Eulogies and reference checks. Compare the pair.

Eulogies and reference checks. Compare the pair.

07 Nov 14:00 by Ben Cantrall


Sometimes, I think about death. Morbid, even for a recruitment blog!

I was recently musing on the nature of eulogies.

I imagined a scenario where I had been auditioning for an afterlife. In order to qualify for the afterlife, I had to have inspired a wonderful eulogy. The heavenly gatekeeper wouldn’t let me in unless this was the case (despite having met and personally screened me on several occasions). 

So, the gatekeeper let me know they needed a 10/10 eulogy. They then asked me to nominate someone who could deliver a eulogy at this level.

Then, the gatekeeper then asked someone else (a heavenhunter?) who was incentivized to get more people into the afterlife to listen to the eulogy and deliver a report on it back to them.

The gatekeeper received the report, was thrilled by the glowing words on paper, didn't question them, and just admitted me to the afterlife.

Sounds a bit silly as a selection mechanism, right?

Which brings us to the reference check.

Occurring in the latter stages of the interview process, often times after a verbal offer has been issued “pending reference checks”. The regular scenario is the hiring manager asks the recruiter to complete references, the recruiter asks the candidate for 2 references, the candidate supplies them, the recruiter calls the references, then passes on the answers to the hiring managers.

Here’s why it’s not a great selection mechanism and is almost always a missed opportunity.

I’m a candidate. I want the job that I’ve been interviewing for. When references are being collected, I have complete control on who I nominate as my references. Unless I am exceptionally thick, I will only nominate people who will say nice things about me. I will also call them prior to the reference being completed to remind them what a great person I was to work with.

I can personally attest that some references I have taken have been so touching, moving and complimentary that I have almost been bought to tears- much like a eulogy.

I’m a recruiter. I am paid by businesses to find people for their teams. As the person who conducts the reference, I have complete control over the information that gets passed on to the business about their prospective employee. Let’s not BS here- Recruiters are financially incentivized to ensure the person gets the job- not that a warts and all assessment of the candidate is presented to the employer.

I’m a hiring manager. I want to bring this person on to my team, and I want them to do a great job immediately. Outsourcing the reference check to a recruiter is a missed opportunity to speak directly to a previous manager and properly understand the strengths and weaknesses of the person I will be onboarding and working with.This is more time consuming than outsourcing this process, however can be infinitely more informative and ensure a smoother transition into a team.

So now I’ve presented a far-fetched day dream and griped aloud like an old man shaking his fist at the breeze, here are my three recommendations for hiring managers around references:

1.    Find people that worked in your prospective hire’s previous company, give them a call and ask some questions directly. You don’t need to be a genius to understand that this will more likely give you unbiased information.

2.    Ask your recruiter to set up a time for you to call the reference yourself directly. Getting this organized will save the legwork, and allow you to ask more questions, explore specific issues and remove any element of the recruiter glossing over any information which doesn’t fit the narrative. 

3.    If the recruiter must do the reference check, ask for the zoom recording so you can watch or listen to it directly. 

By way of wrapping this up, I’d like to return to the Eulogy.

Surely it would be better if we could celebrate someone’s essence and greatest qualities, while, well, you know, they were still alive?

Personally, I’d love to rock up to a party in my honour and be hear my nearest and dearest wax lyrical about my virtues, strengths and greatest hits. Happy to accept a phone call on this subject too.