This is what other people say about an individual in references and testimonials, as well as 360-degree ratings (multi-source feedback), appraisal and other performance management data.
Most organizations attempt to obtain reliable reports from people who know the candidate they are assessing. Many application processes ask candidates to list individuals who know them well in a relevant situation and may be contacted. There are, however, problems with such data. The first is the observer’s ‘data bank’. This is the information the observer has about the candidate. Thus a manager will have a different dataset from a colleague or subordinate. A school teacher or university lecturer will have a different dataset from an employer. The question is what they know: the quality and quantity of data on a person’s ability, motivation, work style.
The second issue is the extent to which referees are willing to be truthful about an individual. Some organizations ban staff from offering references because of the risk of litigation. They can be sued for what they did or did not say and this has led many organizations to provide references that are limited to factual statements such as ‘X worked here from date A to date B’.
Next, people choose referees who, they hope, will be very positive about them. There seems to be an etiquette with respect to what people write or rate on references. Many know the power of negative information and resist providing any. It is therefore rare to obtain useful data on a person’s weaknesses or challenges from references.