We all know the feeling. You bump into someone you haven’t seen in years, and a lukewarm wave of “oh gosh what was I thinking back then?” washes over you. We evolve. We learn, grow, (hopefully) mature. Yet, in our industry – a tight-knit circle at times – past mistakes can linger like a bad smell in a boardroom. A single, potentially outdated, reference can sink a candidacy. Here’s the thing: is that fair?

Let’s be honest, haven’t we all harboured the secret thought: “I can change, but can they?” We preach second chances, but sometimes act as if people are permanently defined by a single misstep.

Take references. We reach out to a former colleague who may know the candidate, get a lukewarm response, and bam – application binned. But what if that individual has since navigated ten different roles, honing their skills and becoming a completely different professional? Experience is a brutal teacher, but an undeniably effective one.

Here’s the problem: We judge a person based on one tile in the intricate mosaic that is their career. A single reference paints a limited picture. Think about it – wouldn’t you want someone to consider the entirety of your journey, not just that awkward phase when you wore clashing patterns and thought skinny ties were cool (we’ve all been there)?

Humans are fascinating creatures. We respond differently to different environments, different leaders. A candidate who clashed with a micromanaging boss could blossom under a more collaborative leader. Energy matches energy, after all.

Then there’s the science bit. Our bodies, it’s said, regenerate at a cellular level every seven to ten years. This brings us to the wonderful philosophical head-scratcher, Theseus’ Paradox: if you replace all the parts of a ship, is it still the same ship? Can we say the same about ourselves? Are we fundamentally the same person we were a decade ago, just with a shinier set of metaphorical planks?

The answer, perhaps, lies somewhere in between. We carry the essence of our experiences, but we’re not shackled to them.

So, here’s my call to action: let’s move beyond the snapshot reference. Let’s delve deeper, have open conversations, consider the mosaic, not just a single tile.

But how? The good news is, there’s a toolbox overflowing with brilliant resources beyond the traditional reference check. We can leverage behavioural assessments that shed light on a candidate’s working style, their preferred management approach, and what truly motivates them. These tools can reveal a candidate’s ideal work culture – does it align with the vibrant, fast-paced energy of Clockwork, for example, or perhaps a more structured environment?

Ultimately, it’s about compatibility. The right person for the role isn’t just someone with the right skills on paper; it’s someone who thrives in our environment, who gels with the team, and who brings fresh perspectives to the table.

Who knows? By looking beyond the one-dimensional reference and embracing the full picture, you might just discover your next superstar. Because as much as we may roll our eyes at our younger selves, isn’t the potential for growth what makes us human? Let’s embrace that potential, not just in ourselves, but in the people we bring into our teams. After all, wasn’t that awkward kid in the clashing patterns the one who came up with your last viral campaign?