Part of my role I dislike is reference checks. Not because I don’t want to support former employees in developing their career but because of how some companies and some personnel agencies go about the process.

What happened to written references? Surely they could call and verify that you are the person who wrote and signed the written reference. This ought to be enough – especially in the care of a glowing reference.

I have just hung up from a call from one personnel agency which kept me on the phone for fifteen minutes with question after question. I refused to answer half the questions because to do so would have required me to judge the values of the former employee. Don’t get me wrong, he was a top bloke and I’d be glad to hire him again. My written reference was very supportive.

Here are some of the more offensive questions the caller from the personnel agency wanted me to answer

Would you class his values system to be strong, average or weak?
Would you consider him to feel fulfilled in life or not?
Would you consider he puts his personal life ahead of his business life?
What would consider he should change to make him a more valuable employee?

It went on like this for too long and it’s not the first time. I took a call on Monday from an agency asking about someone who left Tower Systems four years ago and they had a similar list of questions. When I read the reference they always so “ we don’t use written references any more”. When I say, I was sorry to see them leave, I would gladly welcome them back and I highly recommend them for a role like they had with us they get agitated and tell me to stick with their questions.

These agencies get paid a lot of money to find people for companies yet they expect former employers to do a chunk of their work for them.

I’m contemplating refusing to provide reference checks in the future other than a statement of service and a written reference on departure. I have provided a reference in an immigration situation and it was less onerous than what these agencies ask for.