Specialist Recruitment and Consultancy
24th Jun 2013 | by: robsteed

It’s always nice to be endorsed for doing good work, and I’m very proud of the testimonials and references that I’ve received in recent years.  However, I was also given a reminder about how un-reliable, un-trustworthy and un-helpful references and testimonials can be when recruiting, thanks to Linked In’s new “Endorsements” feature.

I received an automated email from Linked In to tell me that Mr Nameless had endorsed me for “strategy” and “coaching”.  Now don’t get me wrong, I feel I’m quite good at “strategy” and I know a bit about the world of “coaching”, but I’m certainly not a coach.

Mr Nameless is someone I was introduced to through another contact who thought he may be interested in a role I was recruiting for.  We exchanged 5 emails (3 from me, 2 from him) to establish that it wasn’t the role for him, but we’d keep in touch.  We never spoke, we’ve never worked together, he knows nothing about my skills or capability.  But, anyone looking at my profile will see that I’ve been endorsed for “coaching” by him, and no-fewer-than 8 other people, none of whom I’ve ever coached and maybe 3 of whom realise that I understand the sector.  Maybe.

So, my issue with these particular endorsements on Linked In is with the fact that they (and many other forms of personal reference) lack value because of the expected reciprocity and ease of providing them (one click).  It’s pretty clear that I believe you shouldn’t pay much attention to these endorsements on Linked In, but what value do any form of references have?

Not a lot!  I’ve mentioned this study before (here) which looks at a variety of methods for predicting future success.  Reference checks have a reliability range of .14 to .26 (0 is no predictor and 1 is 100% reliable), which is near the bottom of the list of options used in that study.

But they can be useful when managed correctly.

Here are my tips for making sure a reference is useful….

  • Tell the candidate who you would like as a reference.  Their last job and their longest-serving job that are most relevant to your role would be a good starting point.
  • Speak to the referee.  Don’t do this by email or post, and especially not by using a pro forma.
  • Understand the relationship to the candidate.  Are they in a position to judge?
  • Understand the job they did for them.  There’s no point taking a reference from someone for whom the candidate did strawberry-picking if this is a role as an airline pilot.
  • Read between the lines.  What they don’t tell you is as important as what they do.
  • Structure your questions of the referee, but….
  • Let the referee speak.

But remember, there are many better methods for predicting success, and I’d obviously be delighted to discuss these with you!

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