I have done a few interviews to bloggers and writers and the main topic was on if recommendations are useful. In short, they are, but it is who gives out the recommendation is key.
Recommendations are two things: trusting the references and gut instincts. Amazingly, the easier of the two behind the recommendation is trust. Anyone can give high praise, either by sincerity or fake. What makes an honest recommendation is the reference has the details. Anyone can be a good employee, but you can trust the source if they give details on their strengths and weaknesses. The more specific they are, the better result of who you’re getting as an employee and this also shows their reference cares about their former employee. That’s the easy part.
The hard part is making the decision based on the references. You have an idea of who the employee is and everything looks good to hire this person. However, recommendations are only part of the decision. The main part is if they would fit in their culture. Although the reference gives a positive review, it could be the environment that thrived is different from yours. Another reason could be the people, including the hiring manager since they have to deal with the employee and the vibe could be there or not. The chemistry is very crucial to a division and if the person comes in and ruins it, there goes the positive vibe. All these factor in a difficult decision. That is why hiring is always a crapshoot.
Overall, recommendations are helpful, but the people who are doing the reference checks must look at several areas: the background of previous companies, the background of the reference, the specifics, the culture, the personality, and others. The only issue is can you push the button. It’s simple, but it is hard to press it.