A potential employer of my best friend recently asked to speak to his friends during the hiring process. Of course I agreed yet it sounds incredibly weird to me, I have never heard of such practices in Germany, but I don't know anyone working in the insurance industry myself.
I am not too worried about the meeting myself, if it gets uncomfortable I can end the connection to the online-meeting any time anyway, but I am wonderinger:

Is this common in the insurance industry in Germany?
Aren't friends the least reliable information sources?
Is this a red flag?

The position my friend applied to was for an entry level position as a financial advisor. Some miscommunication took place, as I was under the impression he was going to be selling insurances, however that is not the case exactly.
The meeting was about 25 minutes long, where the potential team lead of my friend explained what exactly my friend would be doing if he got the job, what the company is doing and stands for and, as mentioned in the comments, tried to pitch their services to me.
He was kind of surprised when I mentioned that I had never heard of the company before and yet already had a financial advisor and thus obviously did not need their services.

My contact details never got into the hands of the company, so I believe this to not be illegal, but I still find this highly questionable because it was mentioned during the meeting that my friend has to talk to more people before he would get the position, all under the guise of training and setting up a network for himself.

There was only one question asked of me that would have been of actual interest to the hiring process: Whether I believe my friend to be up for the job, which could have shortened the meeting to less than 5 minutes including introductions, as I was already familiar with the job and thus did not actually need the company presentation.

So this boils down to a, in my opinion, highly questionable hiring process.

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    What level of job is your friend interviewing for? Entry level? Something more senior? – Player One Apr 24 '20 at 10:27
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    What means insurance company? Will you be employed by the company or by some reseller who goes from house to house to sell insurances? I believe I read french companies do this once in a while that they ask for private references. The issue being that the people who write you a letter have no idea how it may be perceived and rarely do you the favour they intend. – Bernhard Döbler Apr 24 '20 at 11:12
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    What exactly are they asking from you? Are they expecting a character reference or an actual face-to-face (during a lockdown no less). – Studoku Apr 24 '20 at 11:33
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    @BernhardDöbler I have nothing to do with that company other than my friend happening to have applied to them. I don't know if this is an insurance company or an insurance reseller. – Nacorid Apr 24 '20 at 11:41
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    I guess you don't have the full-story since all communication is being filtered through your friend? These are commonly called "personal references" but it's incredibly strange that they would ask to "speak to friends" rather than just people who can act as a character reference. Do you know if they outright asked about friends? Did they perhaps mean fellow students? Any chance your friend is trying to use you as a fake reference without telling you? (That's very rare, but not as rare as using friends as a reference...) – Lilienthal Apr 24 '20 at 12:48

From a German perspective this sounds intrusive and unusual. There is typically also less emphasis (officially) on personal references in application processes than in the Anglosphere.

If at all, I'd rather expect that for low-level jobs where you get very young people that might have never worked or studied before and the employer wants to get a rough grasp on the general (work) morale of the interviewed person. Or for entry level service oriented jobs where the employer wants to get a feeling for the interviewee's socialisation. Perhaps the person handling the interview is from an international background or in other ways not so well integrated into normal German privacy culture.

Personally, for my roles, I'd decline to provide any friend information and if the interviewer persists, decline to go any further with the interview process, as I'd consider them out of line and insisting on information that will not very much help them and waste all our time (my friends don't work with me so cannot judge my professional efforts and surely will only say nice things about me - and that only if I'd tell them explicitly to not consider the call a phishing attempt and have him bugger off).

The less senior the position, the lower paid, the more wild and mixed the applicant pool, the more I could to some degree understand such an attitude and perhaps tolerate it, while still thinking the essential information you could get from a normal interview and talking to the friends will not help in most cases.

Also, in some cases, you obviously cannot be a chooser. But I'm also pretty sure that process would not stand in front of a German court (but no legal advice here^^)

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    Good advice, though before I'd decline I'd ask the obvious question: why? There are plenty of crazy hiring practices out there and while they're an automatic red flag, they don't always impact the job or team you'd be hired into. This is where I'd reply with: "That's something I haven't been asked before, could you tell me why you'd like to speak to friends or what you'd hope to learn?" – Lilienthal Apr 24 '20 at 12:51
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    In Germany, having real, non-paper referrals is already extremely rare, "friends" is super weird. I have known my best man for more than a quarter of a decade, we have been to the same school together, but I could not tell whether he's good at his job. I have never seen him at his job. And that is for a job that I actually understand and might know whether he's good at it. Just imagine he were a doctor or submarine technician. How the hell would I know. He likes Star Wars a lot, does that help in the interview? So yeah... if you have to, do it. But don't buy anything or sign anything. – nvoigt Apr 24 '20 at 14:24
  • Worked some time in the insurance industry in Germany. Never heard of such a thing! – Daniel Apr 24 '20 at 14:58

For an entry level position (as you say this job is in the comments), employers have a more limited group of people to get references from than they do for people with professional experience.

The employer will be looking for evidence that the candidate has a good work ethic, and will be wanting to get an indication of the candidate's general attitude and skills, so that they can decide whether to invest in them by training them further.

Many entry level candidates won't have anyone apart from friends and family that they can use for a reference. It doesn't sound like a red flag (for an entry level position) to me.

  • Does this apply, too, even if the candidate had to work for a semester during their studies? – Nacorid Apr 24 '20 at 11:45
  • @Nacorid I'm not German (or from the EU), but this doesn't sound like anything to consider strange to me, even if there are other ways the employer could handle it. For a position more senior than entry level, it would definitely be a red flag to me. – Player One Apr 24 '20 at 11:47
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    For Germany, that request is super strange. It's already rare to provide people to talk to instead of written testimony. "Friends" is so weird... I'd say he'll end up with an offer for insurances he'll never need. – nvoigt Apr 24 '20 at 14:27
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    @PlayerOne In Germany, for entry level positions usually School/Universtiy grades get you in, after that you have reference letters.Note in Germay one does normally either study (which often is combined with internships) or you take an apprenticeship. So you mostly already have references when you start your first "real" job. – Daniel Apr 24 '20 at 15:04

Other answers are right at pointing at a reasonable reason ("somebody that could speak about you" might be only friends for some people), however if the job offer were any kind of scam, the "employer" could just be looking for more people to scam.

Once a potential victim is found, their friends are likely to be somehow likely-minded and from a similar background, and therefore potential victims too.

The insurance industry is a broad term that covers a legitimate industry but that also may include some shoddy commercial practices and some pyramidal schemes that could be constructed as job offers.

  • alternative take in-between full scam and scamy insuerer: well if we reject the candidate or the candidate declines, at least we have a bunch of people to contact and sell some insurances in the target demographic ;) – Frank Hopkins Apr 24 '20 at 19:30

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