I occasionally run into an external recruiter who, during the course of the initial phone screen, will ask me to give them three or four professional references (or in one case a few years ago, seven) before they will submit me to the client for consideration. Do not provide these references yet. Wait until after the last in person interview with the client, and you are sure that you want to receive a job offer.
There are three reasons you should refuse to provide your references until after the interviews are over.
Your professional references may be better qualified for the role than you
Your references are people you’ve met during the course of your employment at your previous jobs. They may have even done your job in the past, and may even have more experience than you.
By giving up your references early in the interview process, you give your recruiter an opportunity to go behind your back and poach one of your references for the role.
You’re giving the recruiter something of great value in exchange for very little
External recruiting is an information-driven profession, matching employees to jobs. A single successful match is worth thousands of dollars. If you give a recruiter your contacts during the first phone call, you’re effectively giving them something worth potentially thousands of dollars in exchange for simply posting an ad and telling you about an open role at a company.
That’s a lot of value in exchange for way too little.
You may burn your references
Imagine you wake up one morning and decide to look for a new job. You send out some resumes, take some phone calls from recruiters, and give out four references to five recruiters. How may references do you have at the end of the week?
When I was younger and didn’t appreciate the leverage I had in the job market, I naively gave out some references to a recruiter who promised that he would not call my references until I had a job offer.
The recruiter did, in fact, call my references without my knowledge before I had a conversation with the client, and before I could tell my references to expect his phone call.
To this day, I don’t know what the recruiter said to my former manager, but I do know that my manager called me up pissed off about the phone call he’d received, and told me to not use him as a reference in the future.
I tried getting in contact with the recruiter after that phone call, but he never managed to get back to me after I left voicemails and email.
So, in my case, the number of references I had left at the end of the week was reduced by one. And worse, the manager that I’d lost was a reliably good reference.
Know your worth
You have a lot of leverage in the job market. If a recruiter tries to tell you that they won’t submit you without providing them with your references, just tell them that you can provide them after the final face to face interview. If they refuse to continue with the submission process until they’ve shaken you down for references, just thank them for their time and work with another recruiter.