Reference Checks (Not to be skipped!)

You have found the perfect candidate.  You’ve sorted through countless resumes, conducted numerous interviews, and even evaluated your applicants through valuable assessments.  And this is the one.  They’ve been professional, charming, impressive ,and are eager to do the job.  Technically there’s one step left in the hiring process – checking references – but it’s a small annoyance compared to the joy of successfully hiring a great applicant and putting this long, frustrating process to an end.

So do you do call the references to verify employment and cut the conversation short?  Do you skip it altogether? Let’s face it, you know you’re going to hire this person anyway and their handpicked references are just going to say wonderful things that won’t be useful for serious evaluation.

You already know what I’m going to say: reference checks are important, even vital, to making informed hiring decisions.  Skipping them may seem like it won’t make an impact, but a lot of money can be lost on a new hire that isn’t properly vetted.

There’s a reason talking to an outside source about your candidate is built into the hiring process.  Negative references could change your perspective on an applicant, and even mediocre ones raise some questions.  Is there something a reference is trying to gloss over or are they hesitating as they try to put a positive spin on an aspect of an employee’s performance?  These kinds of responses should raise red flags for your hiring team to discuss before you move forward with an offer.

On a different level, reference checks can verify that your star candidate isn’t, you know, a fraud.  It seems ridiculous, but an alarming number of people – 53 percent – put inaccurate information onto their applications.  Of that, some outright lie about education, past employment, skills, or misrepresent why they left a past employer.

I’m not saying that your best applicant is a no-good-dirty-lying cheat … but it makes sense to back up your hiring decisions with as much concrete information as you can.

But how do you move past the more general raving reviews that many hiring managers have come to expect during a reference call?  The simple answer is to tailor your questions to be specific and targeted at what you’d most like to know about an applicant.  Asking “How was it managing so-and-so?” might invite vague answers of the ‘great’ and ‘good’ variety.  By changing your question to “Can you can give me two examples of how so-and-so accomplished their main priorities?” you are asking the reference to be specific and speak directly about the applicant’s job performance.

Treating reference checks as an important part of your hiring decision is the ultimate path to conducting successful, thorough reference checks.  Develop a reference check guide or use one of the already made guides. Much like interviewing, you want your reference checking to be consistent across the board.  Then, when the time comes to pick from your top candidates, you’ll have fair and thorough data to make the best decision.

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