Sourcing with Reference Checks

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Sourcers already know this. There is a headhunter tactic that is seldom used by corporate recruiters or human resources generalists. In fact, with technology and outsourcing around to replace traditional reference checking there is a lost opportunity to engage with a pool of passive candidates for hire: the candidate’s references. Recruiters operate on the theory that every phone call is a potential source of a candidate unless it is a busy signal. This is not rocket science, but until the technique is practiced and perfected it is lost. Even if we know that the candidate has provided a shallow list of references this is still one good reason for making the calls. We have a clear shot to the ear of the reference to learn more about the candidate, but there are no rules that forbid us from learning more about that reference.

There are multiple benefits to tapping this resource.

  • The numbers speak for themselves. For every candidate that applies to a job there will be 4 or 5 other individuals in their network submitted as references. They were probably unknown before. If the candidate was required to be added to an ATS or other database, most systems do not treat references as anything other than a checkbox or standalone field.
  • It is a “warm call.” Cold calling is hit and miss at best. We already have an introduction to someone we have never met made by somebody that has a vested interest in seeing that we have that conversation. We probably arrived at the reference checking stage because we are seriously considering making an offer, so the conversation opens with a cordial exchange.
  • We already know what they do. The use of an individual as a reference gives us insight into their areas of specialization and the level of supervisory authority they exercise. We already know something about their company from the candidate, but with some creative questioning we can learn more about how the hierarchy is pieced together and a little more about the corporate culture.
  • If the candidate left there, they may be ready too. While nobody is anxious to spout negativity that would jeopardize their current situation, active listening can detect subtle signs of discontent. A simple question, “Do you know anyone else who is looking for a job?” can result in the not so surprising answer, “Yes, me!”
  • They know other people with the same skills as the candidate. A manager will not be willing to sacrifice anyone that they would have to replace in their current job, but other people that are of high regard have already left or are known through professional organizations. The potential network is huge.
  • There is no gatekeeper. With a perfect excuse to get past the usual call screeners, investing the time to build a rapport with the reference can open the door to future calls. “May I call you again if I need any more information?” The answer is always yes. Follow-up calls can be timed to keep them warm as potential future candidates.
  • There is no better recruitment advertising for the company! It is already known that the reason for the call is because there is an active hiring campaign in progress. Sending positive impressions about the company through the conversation may stir up interest that was not there before.

This technique needs to be considered as a standard practice in all companies. The competition has passive employees ripe for the picking, but the grass at home is not much greener. The median tenure for employees in the private sector in the U.S. according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics is 4.2 years. From this data we could assume that in a best case scenario we can expect most employees to be hired for only four years before we need to look for replacements. The Kelly Outsourcing and Consulting Group Workforce Index report shows that 49% of all employees are always looking for new opportunities, 53% favor changing employers to advance their careers, 70% think that multiple employers are an asset, and less than one-third believe that their career will benefit from remaining with their current employer.

The employment churn is real and we need to remain armed to fight it.

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