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Why Do Recruitment Consultants Always Want My Referees Details

Posted on
November 29, 2016

One of the most regular, emotive and hotly discussed topics amongst LinkedIn status updates, are tales of interactions between contractors and recruiters on the subject of references.

They tend to follow the formula:

X recruiter’ demanded I provide ‘ Y number’ of references, without telling me ‘ Z details’.
It’s a scam.

What this blog covers, are the reasons you may be asked, ways to deal with these requests, and the benefits you as a job applicant can gain.

Why do they ask?

  1. Sometimes, rarely, it is a scam. The consultant has no role they are vetting you for, and are conducting a contact harvesting exercise, poised to rain a plague of unwanted cold calls upon your previous employers.
  2. Sometimes, occasionally, it’s a process. The consultant is relatively new to recruitment and is following a training template for all telephone conversations with candidates – regardless of having a vacancy (or not) – too afraid to deviate with a seemingly scary manager watching over them.
  3. Sometimes, usually, it’s a requirement. Recruitment Consultants as a species almost pathologically avoid all but necessary paperwork, and for an increasing number of vacancies, references up front are compulsory.

Compliance, regulation, assurance, risk management.

These are all words that sectors including financial services, healthcare, education and law rightly pay great attention to in their activities.

A result of which, over the last decade, is the evaluation and evolution of recruitment processes to protect against risk, safeguard reputation, further assess applicant capabilities for shortlisting and identify fraud.

An activity which helps all of the above is reference taking; as such a vast swathe of organisations have made it a contractual obligation, burdened upon their recruitment partners (agencies and/or RPOs), to have references before they will accept a CV submittal.

This is not simply a face exercise. Audits are conducted, checking the information agencies hold, and the dates it was obtained – backed with financial consequences, including loss of fees, contract or PSL position for non-compliance.

Make a call

When a recruiter asks you for reference details, you need to make a call – do you provide them or not?

You need to assess whether they fall into scenario 1, 2 or 3. Is this a legitimate request which will benefit you? Some points you can benchmark against are:

  1. Is it following a discussion on a role you are interested in?
  2. If it’s not for a live vacancy, does the agent work on fast moving contract roles with companies you’d like to work for – and who have a process which would likely require references on file?
  3. Have they given you enough information, or have they been vague? ‘It’s with a large financial institution in London’.

Methods to deal with requests

  1. Ask why they want your references. A good consultant with a genuine reason should be able to allay your concerns;
  2. Check when your referees will be approached. Some companies require recruiters just have the contact points on file at CV submission stage, with references taken once an interview has been offered;
  3. If the recruiter is being cagey about the client, request they send you a ‘right to represent email’ – a message which details the vacancy job title and end client, and provides written assurance to the recruiter you won’t go forward through another agency – to which you’ll reply with reference details;
  4. Career contractors often have a large number of employers over the 2/5/10 year period the recruiter needs to cover off – offer some up front, with full details to follow at a stage you both agree e.g. 1st / 2nd interview or offer.
The single most useful piece of advice I give to career contractors in regards to references, is to keep copies of them yourself.

You can ask your previous employers directly, or request from agencies which have them on file.


Successful recruitment is all about relationships. Build a strong relationship with two or three competent consultants you trust, provide them your references, and they can support you by:

  • Moving rapidly when a suitable vacancy arises, out pacing your competition
  • ‘Selling you in’, speaking directly with recruiting managers, and going over your references with them. You’ll stand out from the field, and gain an immediate advantage.
  • Actively working on your details. Consultants like nothing more than taking a good candidate, with excellent supporting references, to the market place.
  • It allows us to have a topic of conversation when we call, other than ‘do you have any jobs?’
  • We can target those organisations you want to work for, rather than just those who have a position advertised. Companies will often have roles which become available when the right CV is presented to them.
  • From a recruiter’s perspective, it’s also a sign of good faith, and builds confidence in you. Over years of experience, recruiters develop markers against which they assess candidates, and decide how far up the priority list they are when a vacancy comes in. Openness regarding previous employment, and in particular references, is one of those markers.

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