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Is it worth trusting recommendations when hiring?


According to a survey conducted by researchers at Marksman recruiting company, who carried a study among 500 employees of Russian and international companies, everyone is ready to give (or has already given) recommendations to their colleagues. More than a third of them admitted they are not always objective when giving such recommendations: 29% of the respondents stated that their feedback may be influenced by their attitude to their colleague, and 14% said they may provide a not quite objective recommendation for a different reason. “I’m afraid of giving honest negative feedback, as a recruiter may provide this information to the candidate,” one female respondent said.


A survey conducted at the same time among recruiters revealed that only 7% of those who hire essentially pay no attention to the candidate’s recommendations: they believe that recommendation may not be objective and prefer to put a new colleague through their paces. A third responded that they would take an interest in recommendations “just out of curiosity”. A third said that recommendations are important to them: “it’s important to know that a person was in good standing, or at least, conflict-free.” 27% said that the use of recommendations largely depends on the vacancy itself and the previous positions of the candidate.

Why recruiters need this

“A recommendation is a candidate evaluation tool used at the final stages of selection when we tend to make a positive decision regarding a certain candidate,” says Anastasia Aulova, Senior Recruitment Consultant at Work Service, a member of a Labor Market Experts not-for-profit partnership.

“The collection of recommendations for practically each vacancy is a mandatory step, both for our internal organization and for our clients,” explains Marat Yafizov, a partner of Alex Primus Executive Search. However, he says, usually recommendations are of secondary importance—they can convince you of doubts or reinforce a positive impression. “Most often, we collect recommendations from the candidate’s the immediate superiors; also, there are cases when a 360 degree picture is required. In the latter case, recommendations are gathered from the colleagues, clients, and reports” he explains.

“Of course we use recommendations” admitted Felix Kugel, Vice-President and Managing Director at ManpowerGroup Russia and CIS. According the him, one the first ways of searching for a good specialist search is a survey or internal mail about the vacancy sent to colleagues. “As a rule, colleagues are eager to recommend someone among their friends, acquaintances, and relatives, not hiding their professional and personal qualities, and they try to explain the reasons why this specialist could work in the team,” he says. “Actually, each company has similar methods, and somewhere, it may be the most effective selection tool. In particular, for a number of projects, our company uses the ’Bring in a Friend’ program.”

Where it works

“Recommendations’ verification is a very important stage of a selection process, regardless of the position” assures Elena Evsyukhina, Ancor Employment Agency Recruitment Consultant Team Lead. According to her, a thorough verification can ensure that the candidate’s qualifications, achievements and personal qualities are correctly assessed; it may also disperse or deepen doubts that may arise.

“In many companies, up to 60% of entry-level vacancies are filled on the recommendations of the company employees” says Kugel. According to Kugel, such recommendations are important in the manufacturing sector, when seeking production line operators and blue-collar staff. “Due to a severe operational personnel shortage at the moment, it is almost guaranteed that reliable specialists (production line operators, qualified blue-collar personnel, etc.) having colleagues’ recommendations will be employed,” he notes. “Of course, when searching candidates for mid- and top-level positions, we pay more attention of their professionalism and work experience, but recommendations are surely taken into account.”

“Most often, recommendations from past jobs are necessary when we deal with a questionable candidate,” says Aulova. “For example, we suspect that the candidate won’t be able to do his or her job in the absence of the manager or constant monitoring. Then we contact the candidate’s former manager and colleagues and, in addition to general recommendations, we ask specific questions that will help us make the right decision.”

Who is asked about it

Recommendations are often received from the manager, partners, clients, and everyone who the person contacts at work, if he or she has no work experience, his academic supervisor at university may be contacted, according to Roman Shishkin,Kelly Services Commercial Director. He also says that companies have recently started paying more attention to a person’s behavior on-line and visit their pages on social networks.

“To increase the objectivity of recommendation, very often we question those outside of the referee list prepared by the candidate,” says Yafizov from Alex Primus Executive Search. “Ideally, the referee should be the former manager of the candidate,” believes Aulova. “The fact that our candidate is currently employed and his current manager does not know of the employee’s wish to change job is not a pretext to refrain from asking recommendations.” She believes, in this case it is useful to talk to the candidate’s colleagues, those people, who the candidate often communicates with, regarding various functional duties.

How to use this

“A recommendation shouldn’t be overestimated,” warns Akulova. “Don’t take it on trust alone,” laughs Kugel. “We try to talk to a colleague, find out why they believe one thing and not another. In any case, a decision to hire a person on someone’s recommendations is not made without a standard assessment procedure.”

’“In my experience, recommendations mostly influence the final decision to hire, including higher positions,” says Yafizov. “I heard from my clients that thanks to the candidate’s direct (or even indirect) feedback from superiors, the person was promoted to allow him to prove himself in the new role.”

“Positive and, what’s more important, constructive recommendations, really influence selection of this or that candidate,” admits Evstyukhina. “They will scarcely be the most important factor in this case, but they will certainly help make a balanced decision.”

“All recommendations are individual, as they are aimed at assessment of different qualities,” says Shishkin. “For example, a candidate may be described as someone who tends to avoid risks and skepticism, and at a glance, such a feedback isn’t very attractive. However, if the team composition is taken into account, such a person may be indispensable there if all employees are the generators of ideas.”

Mikhail Malykhin


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