One more in a series of wake-up calls for recruiting ; )
Most recruiters have an opinion about references...they are valuable or they are not...they check them or they don't. And identifying the right references to include with your application is usually a ritual that every job seeker has to go to at some time in their career. Well, I have an opinion on references...surprised? I think that the people that feel there's no value in reference checking aren't trying hard enough.
Think "everyone can find 3 people who can say something nice about them"? Wrong. Witness the candidate whose only references are "personal" references. Even after several years in the industry. Think that's a red flag? Yup! (Advice for job seekers: It's OK if you don't include a reference from your current employer because they don't know you are looking, right? But maintain those relationships with previous employers. You should have references from at least the previous two and they should be people that you reported to, if possible. If you don't have those work references on your application, the recruiter will wonder why. There may be a reason...be prepared to explain, if you need to.)
Think that nobody will give you the real scoop on the person because of company policy? You aren't listening hard enough. It's a good sign if they return your call. It's a good sign if they say "I'd really like to help you out with information on Sue...we miss her". Most will give you some info with a little friendly coaxing ("darn, I really want to get this offer out to Sue, but I need to check one more reference...can I call you at home tonight?") There's a lot to be said for reading between the lines too.
Still checking titles and dates of employment on people? How fun and totally beside the point of reference checking. Their payroll department can do that. The single most important question recruiters should be asking: "would you rehire Sue if you could and why?"
Oh yeah, and also, "can we stay in touch?". Because good people know good people. Hello...your candidate just gave you a list of people they respect and trust. Um, yeah. those are called leads. So why aren't you checking references again?