Written by Grégoire Depeursinge, Managing Partner AIMS International Switzerland

“Get rid of work certificates “, “away with this old-times relic “, “doesn’t bring anything”… The work certificate, a specialty of the DACH region (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) is more and more often frowned upon and considered useless. The obligatory benevolent formulation, they say, makes it impossible to write about a person’s weaknesses; many candidates even have to write the work certificate themselves, etc.

As an Executive Search Consultant, I find work certificates very useful. Of course, you can’t take everything at face value, but you can use them to find out/verify the following, among other things:

  1. Dates: do the dates of the different stations in the CV correspond to reality, or are there unexplained gaps?
  2. Titles: do the titles given in the CV really correspond to reality or were they exaggerated (e.g. marketing manager on the CV and marketing specialist in the certificate)?
  3. Scope of Duties: it is possible to get an overview of the scope and tasks of the position and, again, to check whether this information corresponds to the CV (e.g. did the candidate state that they had managed a certain project in which they were actually only a team member?)
  4. Personality: one can develop a feeling for the personality traits, especially if several references highlight the same aspects
  5. Strengths and weaknesses: work certificates primarily provide information about the strengths of a candidate. If these are mentioned by several previous employers, this can already give you an indication. More importantly however, one should also ask oneself what is NOT mentioned in the testimonial, as this may correspond to the weaknesses
  6. Success in the Role: although one must be careful, the certificate can give an indication of whether the separation was voluntary and whether the employer was satisfied with the employee or not
  7. Reference Information: as a professional in the recruitment industry, one has often had prior contact with the person who signed the certificate. In that case, it is easier to obtain the appropriate verbal information/confirmation

All in all, work certificates are of great value during recruitment. They not only give concrete information about the candidate but also provide other perspectives, thus ensuring a more accurate (less biased) understanding of the candidate. Especially with experience, it is possible to draw interesting questions even from documents that have been written too benevolently and, in this way, reduce the risk of hiring the wrong person.



This page is available also in