Is it as we have always suspected?
That recruiters are themselves, poor recruiters?
Like the cobblers kid who had the worst shoes, do recruiters have the worst recruitment process? Especially when they recruit recruiters, for themselves?
I asked that question in no uncertain terms a few years ago, when I bemoaned the fact that hardly anyone ever bothered to call me to reference check the many, many recruiters I have worked with over the years.
But, hallelujah, recently I did get such a call.
It was from an Asian office of a global recruitment company, one of the biggest in the world, and they were about to hire a senior manager who had reported to me for almost 10 years.
They had been impeccably professional in setting up the call, asking permission of both the candidate and myself. They had set and confirmed with me in writing an appointment for the call. A woman with a confident and very polished phone style called me on the dot.
She started asking basic questions about tenure and attendance, and then moved on to a series of questions about ability and skill.
When she took a breath, I jumped in and asked her three key questions.
“Tell me, what exactly is the role you are considering my ex-employee for? What are the key responsibilities you need him to excel at, and what measurable outcomes will he be accountable for?”
Once I knew those things, I could make my answers much more pertinent, accurate and relevant.
At first there was silence. I thought the line had been lost. It then became apparent that she was totally taken aback. She lost her poise on the phone completely. She stammered and stuttered.
And then she said;
“To be perfectly honest I don’t really know what the role is at all. I am just going through our reference form.”
It turns out that the person doing the reference had not met the candidate, seen the job spec, been briefed on the role, or been involved in the recruitment at all.
She was following a process. It may have been what she did all day, everyday.
I did not embarrass her about this, for she was clearly doing what she had been asked, and doing it as well as she could.
I answered all her questions as fully as I could. She thanked me, and it was over.
But this was bad. Bad recruitment. Bad management
My guy was an experienced people-manager in recruitment. He had led teams successfully. But he was also a very solid senior recruiter himself, who had billed big numbers in his day. What’s more, his best skill was business development and since parting with me, had held a senior regional role in BD.
What job was he being assessed for now? She didn’t know. I didn’t know.
When they asked, ‘would you rehire him’, my answer would have been different depending on the role!
When they asked ‘Is he good with people?’, did they mean as a manager? A colleague? Or was it his customer relationships they were interested in?
That reference-check call for all its superficial professionalism was a wasted opportunity. Done properly I could have given them excellent guidance on what his skills and weakness are, as they relate to the job they needed him to do! I could have coached them on how to get the best out of him. I could have prevented them from making a bad mistake too, if the job was not a good ‘fit’. And I would have known!
But I could do none of those things, because that reference check wasn’t an opportunity to improve the hiring decision. Not really. It was box ticking, form lodging, bureaucratic process.
I don’t blame the reference-checker in this case. Not at all. But I do turn a withering eye at the management of this business. At the ethos of an organisation (a recruitment business after all) that allows a very senior hire (I am talking AUD $200k plus) to be made without really getting at the heart of his historical performance.
Unless I know the job the candidate is being considered for, all I can give you is a generic character reference. If you want a real evaluation of ‘fit’, you have to tell me what you are looking for the candidate to achieve.
Which is why back in the day when I used to use Rec to Rec’s to find recruiters for my business, I used to shock them by always doing the final reference-check myself. I know what to ask the referee. And equally importantly what to tell the referee first! And what is more I want hear the tone of the referee’s voice. The moment of hesitation in giving an answer. The nuance in the words. A great deal resides there!
I know there are different laws about reference-checking in various countries.
But think like this
The reference-check is part of the assessment, not part of the compliance.
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