Have you ever given a reference? Or called someone to ask for one? Aren’t they the most stupid things? They’re essentially asking us to know at least two people who’ll vouch that we aren’t completely incompetent monsters.

At best, they’re a final hurdle that weeds out the losers who don’t realise the person they’ve listed as a cheerleader hates them so much, they’ll go out of their way to tell another potential employer not to take them on.

A need to ban the CV reference

Recently I was called to give a reference for someone who’d worked for me years ago, for a front-line retail position. It was the most extensive, detailed list of questions I’d been asked, to the point where I felt like I’d have to front up to the shop on Monday morning and start slinging reasonably priced ladieswear.

Immediately afterwards, I called the candidate in question and told her she owes me 10% of everything she earns in the first year. I’ve had less rigorous interrogations from ASIO – and I’m a person of interest.

Even worse are the references you give when someone is looking to rent a flat for the first time. What – am I going to tell some property manager that my employee doesn’t deserve a place to live? Then sack him for looking like a homeless person when he comes into work all upset?

There’s been a million or so studies that prove job interviews are one of the worst ways to pick a new team member. Humans tend to over-rely on our own instincts compared to the wisdom of crowds. And nobody reads CVs anyway so what’s the point of all this rigmarole?

In the end, you’re essentially rolling the dice on a potential new colleague who talks a good game in your office and has – at minimum – two mates who’ll pretend to be impressed former managers on the phone when you ring to ask about their dedication to punctuality and respect for office hygiene mores.

Secret to finding the right people

I have a better idea, and it’s fairly similar to how the real world works anyway. Instead of trusting the opinions of these strangers you’re calling up out of the blue to sing someone’s praises, turn the system on its head. Let’s say you want 20 candidates for a position. Get 10 of your friends – men and women whose opinions you trust – and get them to recommend two people each.

Of course, this isn’t fair to the unconnected geniuses of the world, so you’ll also need to scrape 10 wild-card applicants from LinkedIn, the pub and/or wherever you find them. If they can impress you in person, during a one-day trial or whatever, they don’t have to hand you their references. Instead, they join the circle of contacts who feed you candidates for future roles.

See? Way better. Now. Who’s hiring freelance writers with big ideas and no mates?


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