What is the importance of referees?

In this blog, we’re considering whether including referees on a CV is important or is it regarded by recruiters as a mere formality that doesn’t provide them with any real benefit or insight?

We spoke to four recruitment professionals who provided us with differing views. On this issue, they requested anonymity.

One view was that referees carried little weight as they were always skewed and consequently, were of little value for the recruiter.

Conversely, another view was that while it’s true applicants tend to only include referees who will reflect upon them positively, verbal reference checking has become an increasingly important part of the recruitment process.

These days companies invest more time and money to ensure they land the right talent which can be in part because it is costly and difficult to get rid of the wrong people.

Another recruiter said a verbal reference check or a conversation with a former employer can confirm the truth of a person’s work history, their former role, the dates of their employment, the calibre of their work and often their results or achievements.

Reference checking is also good for validating leadership style, communications skills and interpersonal skills.

However, she stated her organisation, which specialises in executive recruitment, did not rate personal referees.

“We need people that have worked above the candidate in some supervisory capacity.”

Personal references are acceptable for lower level positions. In higher positions, references have to be verbal not written and to be of any value, from a manager.

Another HR professional extended upon this,

“Reference checking should be a proper, formal process and recruiters should only be interested in talking to referees who were senior to the applicant and had worked with them recently.”

This is particularly important for higher level positions because reference checking can be useful for finding out about an applicant’s behaviour in their former role and workplace. While the right skillset is necessary, behavior and cultural fit can tell a recruiter a lot about whether an applicant will be well suited to a role and can sometimes give an insight into their stability and potential longevity.


References do carry weight

In an article published in 2018 by Northeastern University in the US, it was stated that many job seekers regard references as an afterthought, which can be a mistake.

“Eight in 10 HR executives report  consistently contacting employee references and 73 percent of employers indicate that the references had a significant impact on their decision to hire. In today’s competitive job market, where it’s easy to get lost among virtual stacks of resumés, quality references can be the difference between an exciting new job offer and another weekend spent scouring the job boards.”

To include on your CV, or not to include. That is the question.

Some HR professionals are now suggesting it may not be in your best interest to include a list of referees on your CV. Instead, have a list of good quality referees that you can provide further down the interview process if you look like being a preferred candidate.

Reasons for not including referees on a CV are:

You might not get to speak for yourself

Although it’s not usual practice, some companies call for references very early on in the recruitment process, sometimes even before they call the applicant for an interview.

By providing your details only when there’s a strong chance of you being the preferred applicant, you control how and when your referees are contacted.

Will your referee be prepared?

Some HR departments are happy with a quick and casual conversation, whereas others require a formal 30-minute in-depth discussion that can be quite challenging for the referee. Once you attend an interview, you will get a better sense of what type of organisation you’re dealing with.

Will the referee feedback be relevant?

You might have worked well with them, but can they comment in detail about your role, responsibilities, specific achievements, KPIs, strengths and weaknesses, communication style, and your ability to troubleshoot and manage responsibility? Some recruiters, will also seek specific examples.

In summary

While some recruiters don’t see the value in referees, a lot do as they can provide important qualitative information on a potential candidate.

From a job seekers perspective however, it can be a wise move not to include referees on a CV but to have a short list of say 3 to 5 good quality referees that recruiters can call on. Adding a line to a CV saying ‘referees are available on request’ or similar is perfectly acceptable.

When you do get to a second or third interview, keep in mind that reference checks are not just a formality; they have become increasingly important as companies invest more time and money to ensure they secure the right people.

Make sure your referees are senior to you, you have worked with them recently and they can vouch for your skills and abilities but also your behavior in the work place.