Using a recruiter and running out of references
January 11, 2017 3:49 PM   Subscribe

I am currently undergoing a job search and it's almost been 2 years! I work full-time but I just need a change in scenery. I have 3 references, 2 former managers and 1 coworker, but one of my references has not been responding to my emails. I give email updates on my job search but I don't hear anything back from him. My fear is that if a company calls him and he doesn't pick up. Anyway, that leaves me with only 2 references. So instead of doing the job search myself, I was thinking of using a recruiter from a staffing agency to help me find a job, because I have the notion that recruiters at staffing agencies are not really thorough in checking references and they don't require that many (I think I can get by with 2 references); and since they are a third-party, the company that I am interviewing for will rely on the recruiter for all the screening work. Has this been everyone's experience in dealing with recruiters? Typically, the company using a recruiter will not conduct the background / reference check themselves because the recruiter is doing it for them, is this correct?
posted by four_suyu to Work & Money (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
All of my references were called by my recruiter last time, and I insisted on references for my hires. I think it really depends on the organization, but lack of reference checking was definitely not the case for me.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 3:51 PM on January 11, 2017

I had a 3rd-party recruiter check my references *before* even submitting me for a job. I get your problem, but I don't think a recruiter is going to solve it.

Honestly, if you have 2 solid references, most hiring managers aren't going to care if they can't reach the third.

I think it's going to vary if the hiring manager is going to want to talk to the reference if the recruiter already did. Talking to a reference isn't just a "background check," and they're doing more than verifying exmployment. As a hiring manager, I'm going to have specific questions for the reference based on my conversations with the candidate--verifying specific skills/experiences, addressing concerns, etc.--that a recruiter probably wouldn't ask.
posted by radioamy at 3:59 PM on January 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

You probably do not want to work with a recruiter who doesn't check all of your references.

I exclusively work with recruiters both for my own positions and for people I hire. My references are always checked by the recruiters and I will not hire someone whose references don't check out - we require three.
posted by Everydayville at 4:08 PM on January 11, 2017

Depends, depends, and depends. I've been through many cycles in the technology industry.

However, a quality concern will check your references, and these usually will be one uplevel, one downlevel, and one midlevel colleague. A good practice is to have one of each 'in the can.' I do this about once a year with a friendly phone call and an touch-base [never blindside someone with a reference request, esp. uplevel].

Again, this practice is highly variable. Some firms outsource it entirely: Your references will get maybe a surveymonkey link and a five minute phone call. This is a red flag.

Good firms will have at least a twenty-minute meeting, and really make some effort to get to know what you're about-- this isn't a 'hey what does four_suyu like for his/her birthday?' type stuff, but really 'team fit' type stuff, in a good firm.

Having all of these in the can, ready to go, with your references both expecting the call-- and having a general idea of what role you're applying for--can make a huge difference in a successful recruitment cycle.
posted by mrdaneri at 4:29 PM on January 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

If a reference is not responding to your emails, they are not a reference. Don't give their name out anymore.

You should talk with people about being a reference before you give their name out, as well.

Recruiters.. eh, generally in my experience. I have gotten exactly one job directly from a recruiter. Most are resume banks - they just file you away and throw dozens of banked resumes at firms for positions, hoping one will hit and they get paid.

I don't know why you're so focused on references, though.. that's only one bit. Review your resume, and try to customize your resume for specific roles you are applying to. It helps networking and if you know people at the firm, to ask them to submit your name for a posted job. They usually get some cash if the company hires you on their submission, too.
posted by rich at 4:36 PM on January 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

When are you giving out references? It sounds like you're providing references with each job application, and that's an outdated practice. Don't do it.

If you go with a recruiter, the recruiter WILL contact your references before putting you on any lists for their clients. Remember, if you're not paying the recruiter, then you're the commodity, not the client. They'll do what's in the client's best interest, not yours. But they will likely only contact them the once to confirm details about you.

After the first interview, if the company is interested in you, is the time for references. Let the company ask you for them, and then contact your proposed references to alert them (having received permission from them previously). That way you're only bothering them when you're being seriously considered for the job.

I'm doing some work for an executive recruiter right now, and these are some of the tips he gave me.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 4:45 PM on January 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

Personally I don't think I'd use a recruiter but I'm actually piping in to say that 2 years does not sound like a long time to me. Well, of course it IS a long time, but it isn't an ABNORMAL amount of time for job hunting. You're smart to keep your current job while you look. It took me 2 years of active looking to leave one job (corporate bus. analyst) for another job (legal defense).

Best wishes on the hunt!
posted by mulcahy at 5:41 PM on January 11, 2017

A data point from a frequent reference for others, and as a hiring manager. First, as a reference for others. I've been in my industry a long time and had a lot of people in my organization over the years, so I frequently get requests to be a reference (let's say, once a month). With rare exceptions, I'm delighted to be a reference and go out of my way to be available, write letters of reference, respond same day, whatever they need. When I'm acting as a reference, I'm pretty surprised by how seldom I get called compared to the candidates calling or emailing to tell me to be on the lookout for a contact from so-and-so. Sometimes I expect the candidate isn't advancing anyway, but I've also gotten misplaced thanks from candidates who got the job and assumed I was the tipping point, when in fact I was never contacted. My conclusion is that reference checking is pretty rare out there, certainly compared to the anecdotes in this thread. This is in the technology industry for roles like app developers, DBAs, project managers, sys admins, that sort of thing.

Second, a data point as a hiring manager. My current organization does some of our own recruiting and also uses recruiters. For the internal efforts, since we might have as many as a hundred applicants for one job, they'll push out the reference checks until the very end of the process, like when they have a shortlist of three, which certainly means you (the candidate) have already had at least one face to face interview. For our HR org, they are using the reference checks to look for deal breakers, not as a preliminary filter. For the recruiters, they have a different incentive. In my metro, the typical deal for recruiters is something like 30% of the one year salary for a successful placement (if they stay longer than 90 days). Your assumption about hiring orgs not checking refs when a recruiter is bringing the candidate is somewhat correct (caveat on that later). The whole point of paying that much money to a recruiter is to *not* have to deal with things like reference checks. There are a lot of recruiters competing for our business, and one bad placement, or a string of bad candidates, is enough for us to try someone else. So there is a lot of incentive for the recruiters to do careful due diligence up front. In my experience, the recruiters do a more thorough job of checking references than an understaffed internal HR department or a busy hiring manager.

Here is the caveat for your question about whether the hiring org would do a check on top of the recruiters reference check. It depends on how senior the role is and/or if we have close connections with one of your past employers. The more senior the role, the more likely we'll do our own check. By senior, I mean like director/VP/C-level. If we're doing that, we aren't going to just rely on the candidates refs, we're going to use our own network of contacts and LinkedIn to find someone who *isn't* on your reference list to triangulate what we are getting from everyone else.
posted by kovacs at 6:38 PM on January 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

I would hope that any employers who got two references to respond, and still cared about the third non-response, would call you and say "Bob didn't respond, can you get in touch with him or give us another name?" So my instinct is not to stress too much.

Also, once I'd agreed to be a reference I admit I'd personally be a bit nonplused about getting job search updates from an ex-colleague that weren't of the nature "Dr. E. said they'll be calling you within a week about this job." If there were an explicit question I'd reply but otherwise there's nothing actionable in knowing someone applied somewhere.
posted by mark k at 9:31 PM on January 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with Mark K., I don't think that a lack of response from your reference is a bad sign. I don't think your references want or need an update on your job search.
posted by hydra77 at 12:30 AM on January 12, 2017

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