Conducting Reference Checks
The most important goal of every reference check is to help your company make the right selection decision. However, don't stop there - bear in mind references also furnish insights on how to manage an employee once they are on board.
Is referencing potential employees worth the time and trouble? Of course they are. An incorrect hiring decision will cost you ample in dollars, lost time and lost morale.
When recruiting senior executives or, for that matter, any new hire with a job history, reference calls are a must. It is during this cycle of the hiring process a candidate's actual on-the-job performance and behavior can be viewed through the eyes of past and current associates and managers. Through reference checks, you can confirm or deny your own interview impressions and judgments.
The key to reference checking is to direct your questions on the fundamental elements of the post and your firmâs environment, and to encourage each reference source to be open and honest. The do's and don'ts of candidate reference calls include the following:
Do ask a candidate for references who can comment directly on their past performance - referees who can provide information from diverse points of view;
Do be prepared. Reread the job spec, think about the interview, and determine those areas in which you want more information on the candidate. Make a list of specific questions. Relate your questions to the requirements of the job and company culture;
Do call multiple references. Five or six is not too many, especially when your questions aren't fully answered, or if you have lingering doubts;
Do remember that few, if any, successful people are universally liked. Ask a candidate for a referee that is likely to be unflattering;
Do ask probing, evaluating questions to open up reference sources. Then, ask questions to delve deeper into a topic area;
Do listen to what a referee is really saying, and how it is being said. Read between the lines of the conversation. Look for subtle clues. Be sensitive to what isn't said, or how enthusiastic or unenthusiastic a reference is;
Do track the data to see that the information provided by one reference source is consistent with information provided by others;
Don't hire a candidate without checking references;
Don't call references without the candidate's knowledge, particularly when dealing with a candidate on a confidential basis;
Don't rush to judgment or be fooled by limited information. No one is perfect. Some less than positive comments should crop up;
Don't accept vague answers, dig deeper. Make the reference think and describe events, actions and personalities as they really are;
Don't telegraph 'correct' answers. Ask the question and wait for the answer. Accept or press forward based on the response;
Don't accept names of people who were not close to the person. One peer is fine, however most, if not all references, should be supervisors; and
Don't ask questions which elicit a simple yes or no answer.