I just had my first conversation with a recruiter about a position that seems like a perfect match. He asked for my references and said that he would be making a few calls. I thought this was a bit unusual. When in the hiring process are references checked by recruiters?
Generally the practice remains that references are checked (always with the candidate's permission) either just before an offer is to be made, or an offer is made contingent on references being checked to the satisfaction of the hiring organization.
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However, there are some instances when recruiters ask to speak with references earlier in the process. Usually, when recruiters ask to do this, it is because they want to get a better feel for the candidate before they present to the client. Or the client, once presented with a candidate's background might respond, "Let's see what the references have to say, and if it's positive and to our liking, then extend an invitation to meet."
If you are asked for references very early in the process and you are uncertain that you are interested in the position or uncertain that the interest in you is serious, I would recommend that you hold your approval until you are confident that once the references are checked the hiring process will move forward. After all, references are people who are prepared to go to bat for you, but they are also busy and you don't want to go to the well too often and wear out your welcome!
One last note: Be sure to keep your references informed of the status of your search and the prospect that they will be getting a call. And always, ALWAYS follow-up with a thank-you and status report on results.
Hope this is helpful,
Dave Opton is CEO and Founder of ExecuNet, an online career services center for executives. Questions can be sent to Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org, he can't answer each individually but look for yours in an upcoming column.