Ummm… the dog ate my reference…

The contingent recruitment world seems to throw challenge after challenge at us… What other profession has you committing to hours and hours of work, with constantly shifting of goal posts, trying to placate and negotiate between two parties – and then face the very real prospect of getting paid $0 for your trouble? Ok… maybe real estate… but, I’m not writing this blog for real estate agents and let’s face it, who in their right mind would mention recruitment and real estate in the same sentence? (I know I just did – no need to reference the obvious…).

Point is, if you were looking to get your tax done, is it feasible to engage multiple Accountants and then only pay the one who gets you your best return?  What about Lawyers or Tutors for your kids?

You only have to look at the Sydney City Council preferred supplier panel announced recently. I can only assume the tender process was – to an extent – price driven and I would hate to think what margins panellists were locked in at… and then to discover you were one of 38 successful panellists – it’s laughable and a little sad

The problem is over 95% of all third party recruitment assignments globally are contingent… meaning non-retained and almost certainly non-exclusive… let me say that again… over 95% of all third party recruitment assignments globally are non-exclusive, contingent…

So… what do we do? The ivory tower purists out there will tell you to only work in the retained space… ok… that locks you out of… oh… ummm… about… 95% of recruitment assignments in the market.

You could read one of the many blogs, on managing the recruitment process… there’s a thought… but sometimes, (read most times) managing client versus candidate expectations is bloody difficult. Take into consideration, the economy, timeframe expectations, other opportunities being considered, salary and career progression expectations, not to mention honesty and transparency – after all, we are dealing with people

But you know what? There is a stage of the recruitment cycle that we – as recruiters – often neglect the importance of early in the process, and quite often it can come back to bite you on the bum at the back end… (See what I did there? bum joke… and followed it up with a back end reference… sometimes I crack myself up! And now I had to go there with crack…)

Anyway, I am talking about the humble reference. Ask yourself when was the last time you made a permanent placement without you, and/or the client completing references? Almost never… right?

In the last month I have seen two placements die at the final, referencing stage. Processes that took hours of effort, only to come to a screeching halt after offers subject to successful references were pulled, because the references simply weren’t good enough, or didn’t add up.

I know… I know… why are you reading a blog by someone who can’t successfully manage the reference stage of the recruitment process? (For one, I strategically hid my guilty failure 516 words in and hopefully you were already hooked…).

But… it has taught me a couple of things…

  1. 1.    Tackle the Reference question at the beginning of the process, not the end. It may save you a lot of heartache… If the candidate is not currently working, or their current employer is aware they are looking there should be not problem at all in taking the reference straight away…
  2. 2.    If you can’t take a Reference early, probe deeply. Ask the candidate who their references will be, what was/is their working relationship, what will their referee say about them– and most importantly – Are there any hidden nasties?
  3. 3.    Make sure the candidate is completely aware of the importance of  the Reference. It is imperative that the candidate knows that anything less than a glowing, believable and auditable reference will be a deal breaker – and probable cause for embarrassment.

There you have it. My simplistic and often neglected method for improving your close rate, and ensuring you are less likely to run an entire process with no return.  Let’s face it… if you can make even one more placement per year by taking early control of references, your boss will be happier, your commission cheque will be healthier, your client will be more satisfied and your candidate will secure their new career… which – in the end – is what we are here for…

And… as a final note… one of the questions I always ask during a reference is Can you comment on the candidate’s ability to grasp tasks?  Best answer I ever received… ‘It takes him at least an hour and a half to watch 60 Minutes…’

Craig Watson


7 thoughts on “Ummm… the dog ate my reference…

  1. Aaron Dodd (@AaronDodd) on Reply

    Craig, as you know, I (and Mindset) are retained recruitment “purists”..and am passionate about that. I disagree that we are “locked” out of 95% of the market. Firstly, we aren’t actually interested in probably 70% of the market…we are focused really only on roles $80-100k and upwards. As for the remaining 25%, we aren’t locked out of them we just position ourselves differently and sell that aspect vigorously. Almost ALL of the new clients we bring on had previously only used contingent recruiters, and have realised that error of their ways and come over to the Mindset retained model in order to get better service and better recruits to their business.

    I refer you to this old blog of mine;

    1. Craig Watson rec-to-rec on Reply

      Hi Aaron
      And you know – you are my favourite retained recruitment purist! This post is more directed at those in the industry who play in that 70% of the market you are not interested in and at roles mainly below the $80k range… This is where contingent and PSA’s are most prevalent… And the 95% stat came from Andrew Banks… I’m not going to argue with him…

  2. Mitch Sullivan on Reply

    I play in the other 70% of the market and and like Aaron says, I sell the benefits of the client only having one recruiter work their vacancy.

    It’s actually not that hard to sell.

    The biggest barrier to evolving your recruitment business away from contingency to retained (without moving up the salary scale) isn’t the client’s reluctance to do it – it’s the recruiter’s inability to do real recruitment. Real recruitment is what inhouse recruiters do and what contingency recruiters don’t do.

    Real recruitment is when you are given a vacancy and you HAVE to fill it. Nowhere to hide. Have to.

    Everything else is bullshit.

  3. Bill Maynard on Reply

    Oddly, I took a reference for an ex-colleague who has relocated to New Zealand recently, before his recruiter put him out to any jobs he called me for a full reference. Have to admit in never even thinking of it before but will definitely now be doing it and encouraging this within the team. It’s the simple things hey.

  4. Kevin Geerin on Reply

    As A Consultant I always tested the water first with one Reference Check with the permission of the Candidate, one question I always asked during an Interview was “‘what would your referees say about you” This would give me a guide as to what quality Candidate I had. Going back to the basics is the way forward and I am speaking from 40 years experience in this Industry.

    Unlike some of my peers I have never joined associations such as NAPC or RCSA so therefore have never had my 40 years of service to the Recruitment Industry honoured or Received any Laurels..

    That has not stopped me from carving out a successful career in Recruitment for 40 years and I take pride in the fact I have mentored and Trained some of the current crop of top line recruiters in the Market Today.

    The point I am making is you cannot beat experience.. I am not as well known as some of my peers yet their is times when I see blogs like yours Craig I am driven to make a comment in some ways this makes me feel I am still contributing to my Industry.

    1. Bernadette Johnstone on Reply

      I also have used that question “what would your referees say about you” and also sometimes” what would your staff say about you” – this was to a Chief Publisher and his instant response was ” He is a C*#T!!

      I was almost speechless as his language but managed to get through the rest of the interview – and no, I didn’t present him to the client!

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