In my continued efforts to check the pulse of the job market, and monitor emerging trends and hiring practices, I try to run a “career poll” approximately once per month that touches on a specific aspect of the employment scene and how people feel about it.

This past month, the survey question I threw out there was:

“Do you think checking references is still a useful and relevant step in hiring somebody today?  If not, what’s the main reason?”

The five response choices were:

1) Yes; they’re a critical part of hiring
2) No; social media substitutes for this
3) No; people never share anything useful
4) No; employers won’t give them anymore
5) No; just don’t have time for it

This time around, a total of 37 people ended up casting their vote on this particular topic, and while you’ll see a small graphic of the results below, you can click here to access the full set of results.

The Analysis?  While the response number wasn’t huge, I found the results of this latest survey pretty interesting.  In a society where so many companies seem to be busier than ever, and letting a lot of things slide, it appears that no employer is willing to hire somebody these days WITHOUT subjecting them to a reference check of some kind.  At least none of the 37 respondents seemed to think this was a wise idea, as this possible answer (#5) failed to receive a single vote.

As for the other possibilities, I would have predicted a greater number of people selecting options #2, #3 and #4 from the menu of choices.  Over the past few years, I’ve heard a lot of complaining from hiring managers that they can’t get good information on candidates anymore, since many companies won’t provide references at all for fear of getting sued.  Or they’ll avoid saying anything useful or subjective, hiding behind a policy of only verifying factual employment dates.  Only 32% of the respondents seemed to think either of these two issues has made checking references irrelevant, however.  They still give it a college try, each and every time.

And in terms of the notion that social media sites have finally displaced the need for a good-old-fashioned reference check, given the amount of information sites like Facebook and LinkedIn now contain about many professionals, that idea doesn’t seem to hold water with most folks, either.  Only 2 out of the 37 respondents went for that option.

So while I’ve definitely seen a drop in the number of CUSTOMERS asking for references, when it comes to hiring an organization to provide a product or service, apparently this trend hasn’t translated into companies doing the same when bringing in talent.  The vast majority of firms still seem to go through the motion of checking references, before hiring somebody, just to make sure they don’t inherit a “problem child” or uncover a discrepancy that casts suspicion on an individual’s credibility.  Can you say “CEO of Yahoo” anyone?  (interestingly, when verifying this fact, I stumbled across another interesting poll asking whether the former CEO of Yahoo, Scott Thompson, deserved to be fired after making some bogus claims on his resume.  The response wasn’t as clear-cut as you might think.  See the survey results here.)

Long story short?  Some things never change — and if you’re actively seeking to get hired, you’d be well-served to keep your nose clean and avoid burning bridges with past employers and co-workers.  Apparently, reference-checking is still alive and well as a critical pre-hiring practice!

As for the coming month’s poll?  You’ll find my latest question here, asking “Compared to recent years, how do you think the job market is doing so far in 2012?”