Interesting questions in this post around how folks on the hiring side use references. References are tricky – I’ll use them, and dig as i can, but who really gives someone up who will be a bad reference? What’s more telling to me is who they list (if they’re being legit). Anyone who only gives you peers, and no (or very few) former managers, is likely hiding something.
Also, what’s the guarantee that they aren’t just the candidate’s buddy in disguise (think George Castanza’s fictional “Vandalay Enterprises”). Tools like ZoomInfo’s Powersearch (full disclosure: I work for ZoomInfo), and LinkedIn are interesting ways for a good recruiter to become more like an investigative reporter, digging for the uncomfortable truths about people.