Loch Associates

Throughout employment history, references have played a substantial role in the recruitment process. However, given the relative sparsity of information supplied by employers today, Pam Loch of Loch Associates Group asks – is it time for a rethink?


Employment references first became popular during the Victorian era, when they were used by poorer individuals travelling across the country, who required written confirmation of employment to allow them to travel to take up a new role.

They have evolved into being an aid for future employers to determine if the candidate would be a good fit for a role, and validating what has been stated on CVs and/or during interviews. However, more recently, in fear of litigation, many employers are only providing factual references, confirming the dates the person was employed and in what role.

Has this now devalued the value of references? Should we lobby the Government to compel employers to provide detailed references or take a different approach to relying on references nowadays?

Generally, there is no legal obligation to provide a reference. However, there are certain sectors – for example, financial services – where there is an implied contractual right to be given a reference, and employers may agree contractually to provide one.

If a reference is given by an employer, there is an obligation established by caselaw to ensure that the reference is true, fair and accurate. As a result of the increase in claims being brought against employers who have given references which were not factually accurate, or included defamatory or discriminatory statements, the vast majority of employers now only provide a factual reference.

This has led to questioning the value of a reference which typically gives little insight into the suitability of a candidate or alerts them to any concerns. On the basis it’s unlikely the Government will introduce legislation to change the law, what else can you do to recruit the right person?

Loch HR has been helping clients do that with screening and psychometric tests which are becoming increasingly popular with employers. Integrating screening or psychometric tests into the recruitment process not only provides valuable information about
a candidate, but they also provide a standardised and objective way to assess candidates and reduce the impact of personal biases in the evaluation process.

Psychometric tests assess a candidate’s personal traits. The tests can be tailored to specific job roles, ensuring that the assessment aligns with the skills, abilities, and characteristics required for success in that particular position. Well-validated psychometric tests can have predictive validity, meaning they can indicate a candidate’s likelihood of success in a particular job role. This can lead
to better hiring decisions and better job performance.

Psychometric tests can also efficiently screen a large number of candidates in a short period. By narrowing down the pool of candidates early in the hiring process, psychometric testing can result in a more cost-effective recruitment process. It also means employers can focus their time and resources on candidates who are more likely to be a good fit. Consequently, this should result in lower turnover rates, saving the employer time and resources associated with frequent hiring and onboarding.

Other screening tests Loch HR provides enable our clients to find out more about a candidate’s suitability, and include background checks such as employment history, academic qualifications, credit and fraud checks, fitness and propriety checks, DBS checks, right-to-work checks and social media searches. All of these different checks are becoming more and more popular as they
offer an employer a much more comprehensive overview of a candidate than a factual reference.

Employers could also carry out their own online research into candidates, reviewing social media and online presence on platforms such as Google, X, Facebook and LinkedIn. Not only would this offer insights into a candidate’s professional network, endorsements and engagement in relevant communities, any obvious red-flags in terms of communication style and interactions could be identified before even meeting the candidate. If you do plan to do this though, ensure you take a consistent approach for all candidates.

Another way to assess a candidate is to require them to carry out a practical skills assessment. Candidates could complete tasks or assessments related to the specific skills required for the job, such as coding tests, writing samples, or other job-related exercises. This could be coupled with a technical interview which focuses on assessing a candidate’s technical skills and problem-solving abilities. Employers can then form a better view on suitability and identify strengths or identify any support or development needs.

Employers could also carry out ‘peer interviews’, involving current team members or colleagues in the interview process. This allows candidates to be evaluated by those who understand the team dynamics and can provide valuable input into selection of the ‘right fit’ for the role. Encouraging a potential candidate to take some time off to join you at work for a few hours or longer is a great way to assess a candidate. However, few candidates are likely to agree to do that in a tight recruitment market – unless it is a much sought after role!

Ultimately, in a world where employ-ment references are adding less value to the recruitment process, the solution has to be choosing
a combination of these alternatives to ensure a more thorough and well-rounded assessment. Without the benefit of detailed references, factual references can no longer be relied on.

If you would like to find out more about what our team at Loch HR can offer, which includes assisting you with a full pre-employment screening service and psychometric tests, or if you need help with you recruitment processes, please get in touch with me or email the team at ask@lochhr.co.uk

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