Why More Candidates Are Doing Reference Checks on Potential Employers

Employment references are one of the oldest tools in the book. Companies rely on them to vet candidates and assess the stability, competence, and reliability of possible employees.

At Argentus, we conduct reference checks on all our successful placements, and it's always a great feeling when we hear the enthusiasm in a reference's voice as they speak about a great candidate we're representing. A solid reference (often arriving near the end of the hiring process) provides confirmation of a candidate's excellence. It helps our clients be confident in their hiring processes and weed out potentially bad fits.

But more and more, it appears like the shoe is on the other foot. As the job market continues to heat up, more job seekers are conducting informal reference checks on prospective employers to make sure a company is right for them from the perspective of culture, flexibility, and overall respect for employees.

Sound strange? Not really. A report from Virginia Galt in the Globe and Mail examines this emerging trend in which candidates who are close to securing job offers will not only look up an employer's reviews on sites like Glassdoor, but will also go to the trouble of looking up a company's current or former employees on LinkedIn. Then, candidates will actually call these employees up for a quick chat about what it's like to work at the company.

It's essentially a "reverse reference check," if you will.

In our opinion, we think this trend says a lot about where the job market is going and how the job search is evolving in the social media age. With such fierce competition for talent, companies need to be more aware than ever of how candidates are assessing them. Today's job seekers are doing their due diligence, and they'll walk away if they hear negative things about a workplace.

Job seekers are demanding more transparency from the hiring process. They want to know what working for a company is really like, and this information is something you can't always get from a hiring manager – hence the emerging practice of candidates calling current and former employees.

Galt spoke with a LinkedIn communications specialist about the company's 2016 talent trends survey, and LinkedIn highlighted something we're definitely seeing as recruiters: high-end talent is more prized than ever. In a hot job market, candidates can afford to ask about why a job is open, the fate of a job's previous holder, and other factors behind the veneer of a job description.

This doesn't mean companies need to be wary about prospective candidates reaching out to employees, nor does it mean they need to crack down on existing employees giving "water cooler references" to prospective candidates. It just means companies need to be all the more committed to crafting respectful and dynamic workplace cultures. That's something companies should be doing anyway, and it will lead to more employees speaking positively about their experiences to prospective candidates.

Many companies recognize the importance of positive workplace cultures. They're able to talk the talk about flexibility, work/life balance, and respect for employees, but these reverse reference checks force organizations to actually walk the walk.

Overall, we think this is a good thing for employers. After all, a positive reference from a current employee might be enough to entice a candidate to accept a job offer they might otherwise have decline.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Argentus blog.

Bronwen Hann is a seasoned recruiter with 35 years of experience in the industry. She founded and currently runs Argentus Supply Chain Recruiting.