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The value of references in the UK

 
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I have got rather far this time. I survived two rounds and two tests. Now my British recruiter is asking me for a few references. I firstly just gave them the names of two former colleagues thinking that would be enough. But they had to be managers. Also it seemed to be good for my reputation that one former manager has climbed upto the ladder and is chairman in a medium sized company now. Do they value references more in the UK than in the Netherlands perhaps? Am I underestimating their value? I thought I almost had an offer, and this was just a rat unimportant extra check.
 
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In my opinion, it's important, and it isn't important. References are always important, but references that you provide are already vetted (or should be), and hence, not very useful.

So, references do have value -- just maybe not directly. They will likely use them to find other references. In my last job, the company didn't call any of my references provided, but called a few people whom I knew, who were not on the list.


And BTW, I am in the US, so this answer is probably not really what you wanted.

Henry
 
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I have no idea what the deal is with references in the Netherlands but it is very common to have to provide them for applications in the UK. You might find this reference useful: https://www.gov.uk/work-reference.

The key point in that gov.uk document is this:

gov.uk wrote:An employer doesn’t usually have to give a work reference - but if they do, it must be fair and accurate


This means it is very difficult to give a bad reference without it sounding unfair. In practice, it means that you will either get a good reference or no reference, where declining to give a reference is interpreted as a bad reference. In terms of providing a referees in an application, I would suspect that failure to do so would be interpreted as "I don't know anyone who would have a good word to say about me". Of course I'm not suggesting that is the case in your instance, but that's how things tend to go in the UK.

It also depends greatly on where in the UK you are applying to. For example, here in Belfast the tech community is quite tight so a positive reference goes a very long way.
 
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Yes, you do need as many references as they ask for.
Yes, they do have to be people previously “senior” to you, unless it says otherwise specifically.
A good reference will not get you a job, but a bad reference will ensure you are not appointed.
You should ask your referees beforehand; they may decline for one of two reasons:-
  • 1: They are not the correct person, maybe because they only worked with you for a short time, or were not your “senior”.
  • 2: They are unable to give you a good reference.
  • They should tell you whether they can give a reference; if they say no, do not put them down.

    The prospective employer may telephone the referees. In some British industries there has arisen such a culture of litigation that a candidate who is not appointed will ask to see the references and cause trouble unless the reference was really good. In which case the written reference will be very very short because the referee expects a phone call. References are often taken up only for shortlisted applicants.
     
    Campbell Ritchie
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    Jan de Boer wrote: . . . Also it seemed to be good for my reputation that one former manager has climbed upto the ladder and is chairman in a medium sized company now. . . .

    That person would be a suitable referee assuming they agree and they have known you for a suitable duration. It will not make any difference to your reputation, I am afraid.
     
    Jan de Boer
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    Campbell Ritchie wrote:That person would be a suitable referee assuming they agree and they have known you for a suitable duration. It will not make any difference to your reputation, I am afraid.



    Ah, then it is just a pain in the neck, since that guy is very busy probably. I am a little disappointed, since I thought I already was at the brink of a new interesting job. My references should be good. At one job the whole department was outsourced, but they were very content with my work. They asked me to stay a little longer than the rest to help them out even. At one job I did a temporary project, also with success. The third was an assignment on site, secondment, where the company I was seconded too, actually offered me job, but I declined because I had a more interesting offer somewhere else. So, should be good, I hope..
     
    Campbell Ritchie
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    You should ask the most suitable people for references. As long as you can provide two or three good references, you are all right. A good reference does not make up for deficiencies in the rest of your application process. A bad one however will vitiate the whole of the application. As long as the person giving the reference is suitable (as was explained yesterday) it is not a case of “status”.
     
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    Good advice from Tim and Campbell. It also depends on the organisation you're applying to. Some companies are happy with just a quick informal telephone conversation to get confirmation from a "responsible adult" that you're not a complete idiot. Others may have a specific set of questions they need to ask in a more structured discussion. Also, it's less common to have to provide lots of references for short-term contracts e.g. they might only ask for a reference from your most recent job.

    Incidentally, written references are fairly worthless, except as evidence that you really worked at a given place for a certain period, because of the risk of litigation. And some organisations may refuse to give references at all e.g. UK government organisations may refuse to give phone references for freelance workers (I'm not sure about former employees), which makes life difficult if you're a freelancer who's done a lot of work for public sector organisations.

    I know you're not keen on the whole personal "networking" thing, but it would be worth linking up to your managers and ex-colleagues via LinkedIn, for example, so that you can easily contact them again for references in future. People move around a lot in this industry, and it's often easier to find somebody via a personal email or LinkedIn account than via the company where they quit shortly after you did.

    But its generally a good sign if the recruiter is asking you for references, as nobody wants to go through this process more often than necessary. Good luck!
     
    chris webster
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    Tim Cooke wrote:

    gov.uk wrote:An employer doesn’t usually have to give a work reference - but if they do, it must be fair and accurate


    This means it is very difficult to give a bad reference without it sounding unfair...


    I'm not sure about that. I've been sitting in the same room when a colleague gave a phone reference and was very obviously "damning with faint praise". So it's important to make sure your referee is happy to give a good reference, as Campbell says.
     
    Campbell Ritchie
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    It is much easier to give a poor reference over the phone, which is why it says on the Government link quoted yesterday that some references only confirm that the person worked there.
     
    Jan de Boer
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    Campbell Ritchie wrote:You should ask the most suitable people for references. As long as you can provide two or three good references



    Well that is the whole thing at this very moment. The recruiter told me the company asked two. I gave three. Two were managers, one was an ex colleague. Still no good. They had to be managers. Etcetera. Etcetera. Now I have given him eight (!) references mainly in management. I know the first two would not say anything negative, but I am not 100.00 % confident about the next six I gave. Also I am not sure who is the pain in the neck here. The recruiter, or the company.
     
    Jan de Boer
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    chris webster wrote:I know you're not keen on the whole personal "networking" thing, but it would be worth linking up to your managers and ex-colleagues via LinkedIn, for example, so that you can easily contact them again for references in future.



    No, I am very keen on the networking thing. I am the one who does not like recruiters. I even prefer to try to get a new job through my social network than asking a recruiter. So I could easily find a whole bunch of people willing to give me a reference. Just the recruiter was asking repeatedly, if they could be 'higher up'. No colleague, senior or team lead better, preferably manager.
     
    Jan de Boer
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    I am getting an offer. The recruiter says something like this is a very big reputatable firm that only offers a very few people ...

    To me that is strange. I am Dutch and our culture is perhaps not very hierarchic, and honour and reputation are not that much valued. I just think the jobs content is interesting, not the business card I can give to girls or something.
     
    chris webster
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    You're a hard man to please, Jan! Sure, the recruiter is probably exaggerating a bit, to encourage you to take the job. But you've commented elsewhere with concerns that you're old and your skills are ordinary, and you've just landed what sounds like a good job opportunity. Why not see it as a positive sign that you still have good employment prospects?

    Anyway, glad it went well, and good luck with the new job.
     
    Jan de Boer
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    chris webster wrote:Why not see it as a positive sign that you still have good employment prospects?




    Yes, I was too pessimistic. I think it is a more a sign that I can learn quickly! My skills were outdated half a year ago. I took up the books again. And I am sure that if I had the knowledge of half a year ago, I would not have passed the tests and interviews. The other thing I am saying is that the Dutch are perhaps not that quickly impressed by status. I just like the job.

    Added:
    Hey Chris, one thing to add here. I remember one time an article with some HR person of MicroSoft I think. They were telling that they did not like people who only wanted to get a job there to get the status of
    a MicroSoft business card. So you can also say that if I like the jobs content as such, that is positive. That is what I am trying to say. Sorry if I put it in negative wrapping, or how to explain.

    I am really happy with job, let me state that for all. :-)
     
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