The Greatest Thing Since Sliced–You Know

A few days ago, a former cow-orker–let’s call him Fred*–asked if I’d be a reference for his current job search. I’m fairly sure this is the first time I’ve been asked.

* A nice, generic name that’s not even close to the person’s real name. Confidentiality is important, after all.

It’s possible I’m not the best person for the role–I imagine prospective employers would rather hear from people still working in the field. But I also assume Fred knows the market better than I do at this point. And besides, he’s a friend. So I said yes.

I figured I might get a phone call a couple of days down the road. Take a few minutes, tell the HR person that Fred is the Ken Griffey, Jr. of his field*, and be done with my good deed.

* No, wait, Junior is retired. Not a good implication. Mike Trout? Yeah, that could work. How’s your OPS, Fred?

Nope. A couple of hours later, I got an email from an employment screening company. They wanted me to fill out a three page form on their website.

Three pages turned out to be, if memory serves, ten questions, only one of which was optional. More than I’d expected, but I did my best, fillin’ out the form and playing with the pencils on the bench there. Hit Submit, and that was the end of it.

Until yesterday, when I got an email from a different screening company, right before I knocked off for the day. They’ve got six questions, and I can answer them either in a reply email or by calling the company’s toll-free number. None of the questions are the same as the first outfit’s selection.

I haven’t done that one yet–I’ll get on it as soon as I finish this post, Fred–although I have to wonder if Fred’s going to be penalized because I didn’t drop everything to respond immediately.

Not that it would have been an instant response. These questions, like the first batch, need some serious thought. They’re the kind of questions I’d expect to be answering if I was applying for a job.

Again, I’m willing to do it for a friend, but I have to wonder how much benefit the actual employer gets from this level of questioning. Do they really get better employees from these detailed electronic references collected by employment services than they would with old-fashioned, phone-based reference checks carried out by an in-house HR department?

There’s no going back, though. Onward into our out-sourced, technological future.