A Twist on Reference Checks

A Twist on Reference Checks

One of the most important steps in the hiring process is one of the most over-looked: the Reference Check. Checking references is usually done in haste in order to get an offer out to a candidate as quickly as possible. If you take the time to conduct a well-conceived reference check earlier in the process you’ll benefit in several ways:

1. 5-10% of the time red flags about the candidate will pop up in a reference check conversation – not necessarily huge problems, but enough of a concern to potentially give an edge to another candidate. It is far better to have this information early in the process so you can effectively recruit the “back-up” candidate(s).

2. You can gather important information by going beyond the standard questions that ask the reference to rate the candidate on a variety of parameters. Instead of asking “would you rehire the person?” or “what are his/her strengths and weaknesses?” consider the following: “you’ve mentioned a number of real strengths and attributes that he/she offers, what about areas for development that for him/her?” Most references are reluctant to discuss overt “weaknesses,” but they recognize that we all have areas for development.

3. Although it takes some time, you can use a reference check call to a peer or colleague of the candidate as an effective recruiting opportunity for future openings you may have that could be a fit for that person. For that matter, if the reference is a senior level executive you can use the reference check call to build a relationship with a potential hiring manager for yourself in the future.
As a recruiter, I jump at the chance to do reference checks mainly for the reasons outlined above. So, I’m not trying to get you to do my job for me. Even if your recruiter performs the reference checks, I still recommend the hiring manager call with a few questions. The reason for that is because so much about what is said is how it is said. Typed notes can only tell you so much. Many hiring managers skip doing reference checks because they expect the comments to be positive. That’s usually true, but 5-10% of the time it’s not – helping to avoid the huge debacle of a “mis-hire.” What about the other 90-95% of the calls? They are extremely helpful because you can rate the enthusiasm with which a former manager talks about their former employee. If two former supervisors go out of the way to gush and praise them, then you now you have an A Player and not a B. It helps you rank the finalists.

4. Timing is critical – I recommend that if you’re going to have your recruiter do reference checks, have them done before the final interview if possible. Now, this isn’t always feasible, especially if you have a large pool of finalists or if the candidate only has references from their current employer. If it is possible, doing them before the final interview can help you craft your questions and can help you identify areas of concern that you want to further vet.

I hope these tips help strengthen your hiring process, and if you want to discuss these ideas in more depth, I’d be more than happy to carve out some time.

Dave Murphy
The Alpine Group
dave@alpinesearch.net

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