July 27, 2017

The Call From the Wild: Why References Work

By ThinkingAhead

Hardly any hiring process concludes without first consulting references. For HR professionals and hiring managers, references are an invaluable fail-safe that can prevent costly mistakes — and they can also expedite the hire of a highly qualified candidate. Resumes, cover letters, and interviews with candidates are all inherently contrived experiences; references, on the other hand, are likely to provide insight and perspective about a candidate that they may be unable (or unwilling) to share themselves. References are an important part of the vetting process that candidates, HR professionals, and hiring managers ignore at their peril.

Sometimes Yes Begins with No

ThinkingAhead’s Christy Farrell, like all of our top recruiters, understands the impact of references. However, while working with AmeriHealth Caritas — a leading provider of healthcare solutions — to fill an executive placement earlier this year, Christy and her candidate saw just how powerful a well-timed and supportive reference can be.

AmeriHealth Caritas employs more than 2,300 employees and impacts the lives of over 5.7 million members worldwide. Given its size and scope, AmeriHealth Caritas has considerable experience finding and hiring qualified individuals; at the same time, companies of all sizes in all industries are challenged by time and budget constraints during the hiring process — not to mention more intangible factors. When her highly qualified candidate was passed over for the job, Christy was surprised: “although the hiring manager felt she could do the job,” she said, “there was still some hesitation on their part, and unfortunately, they decided to pass on her.”

The Power of Connections

Eventually, however, AmeriHealth Caritas ended up eliminating the other candidates in the running as well. So Christy decided to take an unconventional step: she proactively connected the hiring manager for the position with a reference provided by her candidate. The reference was a mutual friend of the candidate and the hiring manager, so Christy knew this was a perfect opportunity for the latter to learn a little more about the former — especially if they asked the right questions. “If a hiring manager has reservations about a candidate,” Christy explains, “they can craft very specific questions to determine whether or not that candidate will be successful in their new role. More importantly, if candidates and hiring managers have contacts in common, that person should definitely be consulted; references from mutual acquaintances weigh more than those from unknown entities.”

After that connection was made, AmeriHealth Caritas reconsidered, and Christy’s candidate was offered the position — and she has been a top performer at the company ever since. Because they require interactions with a third party, references can be more complicated than other components of the hiring process; that’s where Christy’s expert knowledge came in. “Normally, I complete references myself,” Christy said, “but in this particular case I knew that encouraging the hiring manager to call the reference first hand was key to placing this candidate in the role she deserved.”

Keeping It Real

Of course, job candidates also need to be realistic about the limitations of references: not every reference (even mutual connections with enthusiastic recommendations) will translate to a job offer — and if a candidate isn’t offered a role, that doesn’t mean their references weren’t impressive. “Job seekers need to acknowledge that hardly anyone gets a bad reference,” explains Christy. “References are just one piece of the larger puzzle which contributes to an understanding of how successful a candidate will be. References help employers better understand the strengths, weaknesses, and fit of the candidates they interview.”

Ultimately, the information gathered in consultation with references should be leveraged by hiring managers and HR professionals to make important hiring decisions, especially those that come down to the wire. References can make or break a job application — or, in the case of Christy’s example, rekindle interest in a qualified candidate that was mistakenly passed over.