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Some recruiters have the perception that references aren’t very valuable. It’s generally assumed that most people enlist friends to act as references on their resume and therefore will always paint their buddies in the most favourable light. There’s no doubt that this happens pretty frequently, but irrespective of this, references can still serve several purposes. Let’s explore a few.

1. Reassurance and Validation

Once you’re at the point of calling references, you’ve usually already made your mind up about the candidate. The reference check is effectively just the final formality. It’s a chance for you to have your instincts validated and get reassurance that you’re making the right choice. Regardless of how strong your gut instinct is, it’s always nice to have other people reaffirm your viewpoint, particularly if the references hold significant, respected positions in business themselves.

2. Friends Have Great Insight

Even if your prospective candidate has only provided friends as their referees, a conversation with them can prove illuminating. You might learn more about a candidate’s positive qualities and uncover a skill you can put to use that you weren’t aware that they had. 

A reference check is also your chance to go a step further than the questions you asked of the candidate. You might ask things that you felt a little uncomfortable asking the candidate directly. Friends can teach you a lot about a person.

3. Any Red Flags

Just because candidates are always going to aim to pick references that paint them positively, doesn’t mean they are always going to nail this. Without realising it, they might choose someone that will happily discuss the candidate’s shortcomings, or even divulge potential red flags. 

Many references will happily highlight areas where the candidate might need coaching or development. Even a reference’s closest friend might still find ways to subtly critique them, while still recommending them as a great fit for the role. 

4. You Can Learn a Lot from What They Don’t Say

Most people are pretty honest and you can garner a lot from what the reference leaves out. If they pause for a long period or struggle to answer when asked about an aspect of the candidate’s character, this can be as informative as what they actually tell you. A good recruiter will pick up on these areas and know how to drill into them with unscripted follow up questions.

Ultimately, a reference is highly unlikely to change your mind about a candidate, but that’s beside the point. You can still learn a lot of extra information about the person by contacting their references, as well as getting some great additional insights into their style and character. 

References can be a really useful resource, so long as the recruiter has an awareness of what they are trying to achieve through this process. Go in prepared and ask simple, open questions – they’ll usually elicit the most detailed answers.