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Structured versus unstructured references

Like the employment interview, references can be classified on the basis of how structured or standardized they are, ranging from completely unstructured (‘What do you think of X?’) to totally structured (e.g., standardized multiple-choice questions, checklists and ratings). The latter require referees to address predefined areas and are often merely tickboxes. One of the most well-known structured references is the US Employment Recommendation Questionnaire (ERQ), developed for the civil service and investigated in many psychological studies. The ERQ covers five core areas referring to the candidate’s competence or ability, reputation or character, qualifications relevant to the job, employability by the referee, and prior record of any problems at work. McCarthy and Goffin (2001) tested three rating items (rating on multi-item scales or making global trait ratings) and found the relative percentile method the best: that is where people rate an individual compared to the peer group. They gave a rating (percentage) that refers to the percentage of people in the applicant’s peer group who would score lower than the applicant did.

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