In general, habits and processes are good things. Habits can help prevent decision fatigue, and processes – especially well-thought-out ones with good documentation – can help ensure you get the same results every time you do something.
Every once and a while though, it’s important to review these things to make sure they’re still helpful. Occasionally, we’ll find one that has become counterproductive.
Asking for references, whether we’re talking about a job application or a university or college application, strikes me as one of those things that no longer serves a useful purpose.
They don’t provide any new information
If someone provides you with references, of course those references are going to be positive. Of course they’re going to say that the applicant is very well-suited for the job or degree. That’s because the applicant gets to pick his or her reference contacts, and they’re only going to give you the names of people who will support the application.
They can be faked
Like anything else in the 21st century, you can purchase fake references as easily as you can purchase a lottery ticket. All it takes is two minutes of searching online and a bit of money, and you too can have someone willing to testify to your good character and suitability.
They’re a holdover from a previous era
References come from a time before we had other means of verifying someone’s identity or determining their ability. I know it’s hard to remember, but there was once a time before email, fax, and even telephones. So it’s not like you could just ring up someone to ask if they knew your applicant. The only way to get the measure of someone unknown to you was to ask to see a letter of reference, and typically this letter had to come from someone the employer or school knew personally, or at least knew of, and whom they could trust.
We have other ways now
For better or worse, people now put a lot about themselves online, whether it be through social media accounts like Facebook and Twitter, or on blogs, or simply by leaving comments on discussion sites. Although potential employers shouldn’t use information from social media to influence hiring decisions, many of them have admitted to doing so in surveys. Depending on jurisdiction and local legislation, employers may also make use of background checks to verify someone’s record before considering them for a position.
They create a burden
Writing references creates a lot of extra work for the people who are regularly asked to give them; here I am thinking specifically of academia, where professors are asked to provide letters or references for further academic study or jobs all the time. Indeed, given that each school seems to have its own forms and format requirements for references, it’s not like a professor can even just hand out a standard letter.
But enough about what I think; what’s your opinion? Is there a better way? Or do you think references still have value?
Photo Credit: Silverije via Wikimedia Commons