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No more chasing references


Does the thought of dealing with and chasing up employee references send your head into a spin? Henry Chuks, from HR solutions provider Refero, suggests using secure electronic referencing to facilitate the process.

For busy HR managers and recruitment admin staff, one of the biggest headaches is undoubtedly dealing with employee references. It takes a lot of valuable time to chase them up, time which could arguably be spent more productively elsewhere, and delays the time taken to bring a new employee on board.

It also takes time to produce references, particularly if the information you require is not readily available, for any number of reasons, including the fact that existing references are not managed centrally.

In fact there are no end of inefficiencies in the referencing process, resulting in huge frustrations for HR staff, recruitment agencies and departing employees, all with their own, sometimes competing, agendas.

New technology

The good news is that a new technology cleverly applied is dramatically speeding up the process, offering employers and agencies a huge opportunity to uncover hidden treasure in terms of time and cost savings.

It also offers a considerable and highly attractive safeguard against possible litigation risk and reference fraud, particularly important for those recruiting staff in public services or in controlled environments such as financial services.

But before we find out how electronic employee referencing works, let’s take a look at the existing process and where the challenges lie. Here are some typical reference scenarios.

One of your employees, Joe Bloggs, leaves to work for a competitor. Two years on he moves to one of your suppliers who is now approaching you for a reference. You might not feel inclined to give out a reference, because Joe Bloggs originally jumped ship to one of your competitors. But you know you need to do so, because to refuse could lay your organisation open to a discrimination claim.

"We haven’t even begun to count the possible cost of providing an inaccurate reference because of poor quality control – that cost being the damage to your reputation or possible litigation."

Joe Blogg’s former line manager is no longer with the company at this point, meaning you have to generate the reference again from scratch. You could probably have saved yourself an hour or two if Joe’s manager, the person best placed to confirm essential facts around the role and comment on Joe’s performance, had created and saved the reference in a central point at the time of Joe’s departure.

Now multiply the one or two hours spent recreating a reference by the number of employees who have left your company this year, and you will start to see mounting up the indirect cost of not managing your referencing process properly. And we haven’t even begun to count the possible cost of providing an inaccurate reference because of poor quality control – that cost being the damage to your reputation or possible litigation.

With the process of chasing references, by the admission of most HR departments as the most time consuming part of recruiting a new employee, the situation gets worse.

Chasing references

Let’s assume that those responsible for chasing references in your company spend a very conservative seven hours chasing each reference, at an hourly rate of £15 per hour, then that’s an indirect cost of £105 just to chase one reference for each new employee. These costs are multiplied over the course of a year and the real costs can run to thousands of pounds.

Chasing references goes right back to the heart of the problem as regards the referencing process. Because they are not being managed efficiently by employers at the outset, when you come to chase a reference you become a victim of that inefficiency. A lack of priority given to employee references, seen by many as a necessary evil, means no priority is given to the task, or improving how it is conducted. In reality your request will nearly always go to the bottom of the pile.

Last but not least, a lack of quality control in the referencing process could lay your organisation open to unnecessary risk – not only in terms of the direct cost of taking on the wrong employee, who turned out to have faked a reference, but also the cost to your reputation if the employee is dealing with the public or managing financial or sensitive information.

Refero has launched a web-based secure Reference Data Management System (sRDMS), which has been given the stamp of approval by the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC).

"A lack of priority given to employee references, seen by many as a necessary evil, means no priority is given to the task, or improving how it is conducted."

Refero’s sRDMS will soon be the de facto standard for managing references efficiently and securely in organisations and recruitment agencies alike, offering them the opportunity to save time and money, stay compliant, reduce litigation risk, and counteract reference fraud.

In the world of Refero, hoping to become to employee referencing what Experian is to credit checking, Joe Blogg’s reference would have been created only once. It would have been uploaded securely to the sRDMS having been authorised by the HR department, and a unique access code given to Joe which he can, subject to any confidentiality agreement, pass on to prospective employers. This unique access code empowers Joe and puts him in the driving seat, ensuring he takes a positive impression of your organisation out into the marketplace.

The reference chaser can then log on to the sRDMS, via a secure internet connection, type in the unique code given to them by Joe, and retrieve the reference. The Refero 'verified reference' kitemark confirms to the employer that the reference is genuine, and getting hold of the past employee reference has taken seconds compared with days or weeks in the old world.

In today’s strategic HR department, there is arguably no place for inefficient paper-based processes that lose you valuable time and money, and put your organisation at risk. If you are truly committed to becoming that value-adding, strategic HR department that everyone is talking about, secure electronic referencing is a logical next step.

6 Responses

  1. Mass Buy-In -Essential?
    Thanks for your comments Mike.

    For maximum benefits to all (employers, job seekers, recruiters and HR) mass usage of the sRDMS system is preferable but we are keen to emphasise that all companies can use the sRDMS in isolation and benefit from the reduced risks and liabilities as well as the streamlining and centralisation of a standardised process throughout a company, no matter the size.

    The primary use of the system is for post-employment purposes -when staff leave. The secondary benefits are for pre-employment. Without argument most companies are interested in pre-employment concerns initially.

    I’m happy to offer complimentary accounts to any HR Zone readers who want to be an early adopter.



  2. can we rely on any reference?
    Interesting article and comments from readers.

    The succes of such a system requires a critical mass of people to commit to one system – hey even credit checking has 2 main players. And the points about ‘standard references’ has been well made.

    The one factor that is overlooked here is that people relate to people (or don’t as the case may be). Just because a person performs well in a role – does not mean they will in the next job – with a different manager and different culture. Equally a poor performer may excel in a different environment with a different manager.

    All a reference should be relied to do is:
    1) confirm basic details
    2) check the job they claimed to do – they did
    3) confirm attendance/ sickness (but even here you must be careful – a person disgnosed with diabeties or a heart condition can have a lot of time off at inital diagnosis – and then never require time off again!)

    Selecting the right person is the whole process and any manager or HR professional that relies on anything in a reference is asking for big problems – recruit the person in-front of you – not their history ( just look at the number of German scientists that did horrors in WWII but have added to the intellegence in the west ever since.


  3. How about obtaining references?

    The IRS Employment Review estimates that 40% of HR time is admin. If Henry's "1 or 2 hours spent recreating a reference" assumption is correct a central repository may help.

    How about OBTAINING references?

    1. You offer a job "subject to…"

    2. You call a past employer (and very its existence and phone number – not relying on candidate-supplied information).

    3. You're connected with HR. Unlike the 98.1% who don't consider admin most important, they prioritise your request and ask for an email to a real person.

    4. You email the request and call back. They pick up in 3 rings. They've seen your email and promise a quick reply on receipt of signed authorisation from your candidate.

    5. You fax it back. No need to get your candidate back in as the application form included an authorisation. Your candidate can wait as long as it takes as yours was the only vacancy they applied for.

    6. You call the referee who answers at once. They've received your fax, it's legible, the former employee left recently, they haven't changed their name, and the new HR system won't take long to retrieve the data. You should receive the reference soon.

    7. You call again. The usually busy referee knows you by now, and yours is the only request they've had all week. You agree a time when they'll fax the reference.

    8. You stand by at the agreed time: ! You brace yourself, hoping the reference is legible and corroborates the CV (3/4 CVs don't contain fabrications so there's a good chance).

    9. Success! You've had good luck, know-how and nothing else to do. Only one more reference to get from a US office that opens this afternoon. Then simply verify IDs and right to work (you know what to look for – you've seen countless passports, drivers licences, utility bills), check academic records (this college opens during holidays) and review credit history.

    If only you had a team of knowledgeable professionals, experts in eliciting references, dedicated to nothing else…

    David Chernick
    Reed Screening

  4. How Flexible is the sRDMS?
    I am in the management team of refero and would quickly like to point out that whilst we seek to bring a common standard to outgoing staff references, we offer to client users of all sectors the flexibility to include as much or as little information in the reference as their policies and sector permits. For example, in the legal sector, clients wish to have a different type of reference for law firm senior partners; social care clients wish to enter a far more detailed summary of the departed staff members’ personality and job performance -which is crucial to that sector for their own process and risks and liabilities.

    Our years of research showed us that a system such as the sRDMS was far more helpful to employers and job seekers than the current nebulous referencing landscape.

    Hope that brings more clarification.

  5. Changing attitudes to references
    I find that increasingly previous employers will give no more information about an ex-employee than confirmation of the fact they were employed, the dates, the capacity and the sickness record. Often that is all I am asked for by a new employer. The situation depicted by Mr Bagnall is increasingly uncommon as busy people refuse to plough through length questionnaires and job descriptions (which may bear little reality to the real job the person will do when they get into post). As he says, no-one in their right miond will give a referee they know will give a bad reference, so what is the value of a reference from someone hand-picked to give a good one? I think there is in many cases a value in the proposed system as a basic validation of an individual’s claims. If an employer wants any more they can hunt it out for themselves.

  6. How useful are standard references?
    I don’t wish to pour cold water on this idea but I really don’t like standard references which, if I’ve read the article correctly, is what is being offered.

    We tend to ask previous employers whether they think the candidate is likely to be able to undertake the tasks listed in a job description which we also include with the request. Apart from a few organisations that use a certain reply format, most do comment at some length and it is not uncommon to receive a phone call from the referee.

    Standard references tend to be so bland as to be meaningless. It is, of course, true that referees need to be careful what they write but if any candidate is daft enough to nominate a referee who is going to write a poor reference then they are probably not worth appointing.

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