By Chris Milligan

We recently covered some of the pros and cons of providing either standard or subjective references. While they both have their individual merits, we’re seeing employers change the way they think about them: prioritising the efficiency of standard referencing, while keeping the door open for the possibility of receiving a subjective reference. 

First, let’s frame the problem. Analysis by Reed Screening has shown that only 61% of references are ever returned, of which 81% contain dates only. That means you’ll only get 11 subjective responses for every 100 reference requests you send. Similarly, we’ve also heard from HR teams directly a movement towards internal policies preventing them from sharing anything non-factual. This means that, within those 11, the chances of obtaining information that deems a candidate a material risk to your business is low, as the information received typically regards job titles, and reason for leaving. So not only is the current risk low, but the process is slow. Painfully slow. The average turnaround time across the industry is typically 5-15 days, with subjective references likely coming in even slower. Moreover, in practice many employers will end up forgoing the requirement if they’ve tried unsuccessfully to obtain a reference three times. If that’s the case, and we acknowledge that this outdated practice is nothing but red tape, why not get on with business, and allow the remaining subjective information to come later, if at all? 

If your organisation does require a subjective assessment of a candidate’s past performance, why not begin onboarding while the almost-certainly-vanilla information crawls its way back to you? Although that might sound like common sense, data suggests that hiring strategy has drifted in the opposite direction. A Gartner study showed that time to hire increased 84% between 2010 and 2018, resulting in 16% less candidates accepting offers as they grow impatient and go elsewhere. It’s time to stop losing qualified talent. Go digital, slash your time to hire, and make your recruitment function best-in-class. Background checkers too, are embracing the shift. According to David Clark, Managing Director of Cataphract, a digital leader in Security Vetting, “When we communicate with the larger employers, we are receiving more of a standard, non-personal reply to references. If we could digitise the process, then we could speed up our checks with the same quality.”

So what does this hybrid model look like in practice? We suggest employers take a concurrent approach; use Konfir to obtain objective information (we’re instantly obtaining results in 79% of cases), then allow subjective referencing to come in thereafter. Of course, employers would be wise to keep safeguards in their hiring policies: probationary periods, additional checks such as DBS, and the eventual receipt of a subjective reference. Keep in mind the employee will retain the right to challenge any references they deem unfair or misleading, while their previous employer will need to be able to substantiate a negative reference. This ability to challenge is why a majority of employers increasingly discourage any references that aren’t strictly factual.

We believe our approach above allows employers to achieve the best balance between speed and completeness, while reducing time to hire and improving candidate experience. While every employer will have their own requirements around subjective references, we argue that having them delay time to hire certainly shouldn’t be one.

Back to blog home