It is not so long ago that at least two pre-employment references were taken up on each candidate as a vital part of the recruitment process.  Offers of employment are often still made “subject to satisfactory references” and can be withdrawn if the references are not deemed suitable.

These days, for legal reasons, more and more companies are only willing to provide very basic, factual details in a reference such as dates of employment and job title.  Many companies also have a policy to this effect or have it written into their staff handbook that employees are not allowed to give a reference on behalf of the company. Taking up two of these references can be seen as more of a box-ticking exercise than a useful and informative part of a selection process.

Of course the candidate’s ex-colleagues can provide a personal reference if they want to but are these worth the paper they are written on?  Surely a candidate would only choose someone who likes them and is likely to be positive about them to be a referee?

So, we can get basic details from a previous employer and a gushing description of how fantastic the candidate is from an ex-colleague who is also a friend but how do we really know whether previous employers, colleagues or clients would recommend that individual’s work?

Word of mouth is probably the most common answer, if the candidate has been recommended by someone known to the employer and whose opinion they trust then they are certainly more likely to progress their application.  As the old adage goes it’s not what you know but who you know. Second to this though is online information in other words the recruiter will Google the candidate’s name and see what they find.  A LinkedIn profile is a likely starting point for research – does the candidate’s work history tie in with what is on the CV, are the dates the same, what skills and specialities do they have, and specifically what recommendations do they have?  Be aware though that there is no point having a well-polished LinkedIn profile is you have a Twitter or Facebook profile that gives a completely different picture of you.  Do you have lots of drunken pictures of you on nights out or have you been saying negative things about current or previous employers on your page?  These can all reflect poorly to a potential employer.

We are not suggesting that people should not be active in these social meeting settings but simply that they should err on the side of caution.  If you are job hunting try Googling yourself and double-check the privacy settings on your accounts to ensure that potential employers see just what you want them to.