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ASK THE RECRUITER—Search consultants offer tips on when to contact references

Recruiters discreet about tapping references too early in search, but candidates can withhold contact information until right time

Zaniello, Hudson
Jim Zaniello of Vetted Solutions, left, and Bill Hudson of Heidrick & Struggles

Jan. 19, 2018

Question: How do you recommend handing recruiters’ requests for references at application stage? Candidates may not want to notify references with every application.

Jim Zaniello
President and Founder

Vetted Solutions

At Vetted Solutions, we would advise our clients that requesting references at the application stage is premature. However, associations conducting searches internally may be trying to gather as much information as early as possible to maximize the efficiency of their search.

Naturally, a candidate’s first thought may be either to provide the reference information, or not. However, a hybrid response may provide sufficient insight without enabling immediate contact. The candidate could provide the title, organization name, and a description of the relationship for each reference, with an understanding that the name and contact information will be shared if both parties agree to advance down the path. This facilitates the recruiter’s understanding of the types of references, whether those will be appropriate, and allows for guidance, but limits outreach until both the organization and candidate determine they want to move forward. 

If names and contact information are absolutely required, I would suggest the candidate politely inquire into the organization’s anticipated timeline for reaching out to the references in order to properly prepare them to receive contact.

Open communication with the recruiter is important to ensure a smooth process.

Bill Hudson

Heidrick & Struggles

Protecting candidate confidentiality is paramount. Search firms might ask for references at the application stage, but typically will not speak with references until a candidate has progressed in the process.

I recommend that the candidate always be prepared to offer references but inform the
recruiter when it would be appropriate to approach them. The timing may be less critical
if the candidate is between roles, but if the candidate is employed it is acceptable to ask the recruiter to contact references later in the process.

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