Maximising value from employment references

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An employment reference is more than just a few pleasant words about a
potential employee?s capabilities; it is an opportunity for potential employers
to gain insights into the person?s work ethic, character and values.


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An employment reference is more than just a few pleasant words about a
potential employee?s capabilities; it is an opportunity for recruitment consultants,
HR professionals and employers to gain beneficial insights into the person?s
work ethic, their character and even their values.
So says Maryanne Tiedemann, General Manager Network Recruitment
Johannesburg, who adds that reference takers must be thorough in gathering
their information to ensure this value is derived. "You need to act like a private
investigator when taking a reference! There is often juicy information that the
referee does not mention but that you can pick up if you read between the lines.

It?s imperative that the person taking the reference probes the referee
thoroughly and "connects the dots? to follow information to its logical conclusion
to get the full picture,' Tiedemann explains.
This starts with checking the names of the references provided - are they
really former employers or managers, or a friend doing a favour? Sometimes,
Tiedemann says, candidates provide friends? or family?s names as references, so
the legitimacy and credibility of references must be established at the outset.

To do this, she advises contacting the HR departments of all the previous
employers listed and verifying the candidate?s designations, dates of
employment, reason for leaving and the managers they reported to. "References
listed with just a cellphone number should send up red flags immediately. These
names must be confirmed with the HR department of the company concerned to
guarantee their authenticity. If there is a discrepancy between the reference
name on the CV and that provided by the HR department, the candidate should
be contacted directly and asked about the discrepancy and for the correct
reference name,' Tiedemann offers.
Next, the CV should be scrutinised and close attention paid to the
candidate?s former roles, duties and responsibilities. This enables the reference
taker to identify inconsistencies between the information provided on the CV
and that being verbalised as part of the reference. This is important in
identifying possible embellishments or fabrications. Employment dates on
references are also valuable clues to determine discrepancies if there is
misleading information on a candidates CV.

Although written references are acceptable, these too should be verified. "Due
to the importance of background checks and the risk of receiving fraudulent
documentation, the referee should be contacted to validate the contents of their
reference,' she adds.
When taking references, it?s important that specific information that does
not allow for opinions and biases is requested. If at any point something is
unclear, the referee should be asked to clarify their statement. "References have
a major impact on an individual?s career, so assumptions should never be made.
A good habit to adopt is to read the referee?s answers back to them to avoid
any miscommunication,' Tiedemann concludes.

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