A reader wonders whether it’s right that employers demand references before the employer even talks to the candidate, in the November 3, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.
After I submitted my resume, I was asked to do on-demand video for eight questions. I had no problem on this part, then luckily I made it to the second part, an online interview. They confirmed my interview but wanted five references within 24 hours, and this needs to be done before the interview. The references will be sent a link to an automated survey, the system will gather their responses, and I will be given a rating based on their responses. The company said background and reference checks are very important and I agree with this. However, I do not want to burden my references before my interview with impersonal forms to fill out, especially because the job opportunity is uncertain. I would like to know how you feel about this process. Do you think I can tell them that I would rather provide references after they have provided a real human to interview me first?
Has anyone from the company spoken with you on the phone? If yes, who, for how long and about what?
I received all communications via e-mail and have not spoken to anyone on the phone. The e-mails are from a third-party HR agency and the company. My video interview is scheduled 10 days from now with 4 people. This is a healthcare company with operations in several states, and the position is a Senior Finance Manager. I really appreciate your feedback and response.
Thanks for the additional information. It reveals a lot. You must use your own judgment on this – it’s your “opportunity” on the line, not mine. But here are my thoughts.
Don’t use up your references
A company that does not give you the courtesy of at least a personal phone call does not deserve access to your references – especially when it’s all automated and handled via a third party. It’s unprofessional, rude and ridiculous.
I agree with you that such an uncommitted employer could be an unreasonable bother to your references. It could also compromise your references’ willingness to help you when you really need them. Good references can get “used up.”
Now they will automate requests to five people for reference checks. Then they will automate the reference checks using online surveys. (By the way — five references is two too many for any employer to demand.) Finally, it appears the review and scoring of your auto-gathered references will be handled by more automation.
At this point, you and five other people will have devoted hours of time for the convenience of the employer. The employer may have devoted a few minutes of effort, if that. That’s ridiculous.
Judge the employer’s commitment
This is a lot to demand of a job seeker without as much as a phone call from the employer to demonstrate respect and real interest.
You and your references are not being judged, but processed. Worse, you may be processed by a third party that is not the employer.
I judge an employer’s sincerity and integrity by the level of commitment they make to job applicants. This employer expects personal commitment from you and your references. But I don’t see any corresponding personal commitment from them. I see no sign of sincerity or integrity. You could invest your personal time on all the automated tasks they set before you and receive an automated rejection with no explanation and without any real opportunity to win the job.
That’s unacceptable. More important, it signals that you are disposable.
My added concern is that the introduction of a third-party HR firm and an unknown fourth party (the company that makes the software) creates more risks. You may have no idea how your data will be stored and used.
- Your references and your score may be re-used without your approval by other employers you have not yet applied to, but who buy reference reports from the same third-party HR firm. You could thus get rejected instantly by other employers without even providing references — and never know why.
- People that serve as your references could be subjected to requests you don’t know about. It’s a common trick for a recruiter to request references in advance, then to solicit the references for the same or other jobs. (Yes, you could be competing with your references.)
- Sometimes the goal is not to interview you; it’s to use you to gain entry to more senior-level contacts who are solicited as clients.
I’m not saying such shenanigans will happen. But I believe the more automated the hiring process is, and the more parties are involved, the more likely abuse is to occur.
Protect yourself and your references
I would not agree to the employer using automated means or third parties to check your references. Ask that an exception be made. “I respect my references and I don’t want them bothered with impersonal surveys. Would you please contact my references personally and actually speak with them?”
Whether you get that concession or agree to automated reference checking, data gathering and third-party processing, and if you agree to automated video interviews, ask for full disclosure in writing.
- Who will handle your video interview and personal data about you and your references?
- Where will it be stored?
- Who can see it?
- How long will they keep it?
- Will your data be shared or sold?
- If someone violates the agreement, what penalty will they incur?
Don’t sign waivers or permissions unless you really understand what they mean. Check the reputations of any parties involved.
This might all be on the up and up, and it may be worth your time. You are the best judge about how real this opportunity is. But I have little respect or trust for any employer that asks so much of a candidate before it puts its own real, human skin in the game.
What you can do
I would politely call a time-out. Thank them for their interest and confirm your interest in the job. Then ask to speak briefly with the hiring manager via phone before you provide highly personal information like references, or invest further time in interviews.
Ask the manager to briefly describe why they think you’re a good candidate. Then judge the manager’s level of interest and decide whether this is really an opportunity. A committed manager will have good answers and demonstrate enthusiasm about meeting you for a full interview, and will be content to wait until afterwards to personally speak with your references.
Do what you think is best, but please be careful about how you risk your references.
At what point do you provide references? How many? When do employers normally request them? Has a recruiter ever abused your references? What do you think of third-party reference checkers?