Do you find completing reference checks a waste of time? Do most of the references you call provide glowing reviews and add very little additional substance to what you already know? If you answered yes to these questions, you’re not alone; many people find completing reference checks a formality in the hiring process that has little impact on hiring decisions. But, when a failed hire can be so costly to an organization (sometimes 3 to 4 times as costly as hiring them), it’s critical to be able to maximize the value of all resources available to you in making the best possible people decisions. If conducted effectively, reference checks are one of the most valuable resources available to you in selecting the right people for your organization. They allow you to validate everything that you’ve learned about a candidate from someone that has seen it and experienced it directly. So, here are some ways to ensure your reference checks are valuable and lead you to good hiring decisions.
Let Them Choose and Find Out Why
Allow your candidate to choose which references they give you. Letting them generate their own list can give you further insight into the candidate and their past. Look at who they chose as references. Ask them how they came to choosing the references they did. Is there anyone they left off, that you feel should be on there, such as a recent supervisor? If so, ask them why they left this person off the list. Discussing how they came to their list, can provide further insight into the candidate, and at times be very telling.
Add the References You Want
Once you’ve received your candidate’s list of chosen references, don’t be afraid to ask for additional references that you feel may be valuable. In most cases, the interviewee will give you a list of references that they know will speak highly of them, which makes sense, but it’s your job to get the full picture of the candidate. Look for references that may provide different or alternate viewpoints, such as supervisors they left off, direct reports they’ve had, colleagues they’ve worked closely with, and any others that will allow you to get a fuller picture. Simply say to the candidate, “We’d like to speak to a few other references as well, is it possible to speak to….?”
Conduct Multiple Calls
If you have your interviewee submit references, it’s important that you take the time to call them. Not calling is disrespectful to the candidate as they’ve probably spent some time getting permission from references and putting together their list. Although it’s not necessary to call all references, you should call at least a few to give you enough info to get a full sense of the person. Ensure all reference checks are done verbally, as email reference checks typically illicit general statements and add little value. The more references you speak with, the more confident you can be that you have a real and full understanding of the person.
Plan Your Questions in Advance
Before making your reference calls, plan out the questions you want to ask each reference. Ask questions that:
*Validate past details such as relationship with the candidate, job title, timelines,
*Allow the reference to give you insight into their experience, good and bad, with
*Give you good and bad examples of the competencies needed for the job they’re
Questions should be specific to the person you’re speaking to, and they should illicit specific examples rather than generic responses.
Ensure It Is a Good Time for Them
When conducting your reference calls, ensure that you’ve reached the reference at a time when they’re able to speak; if not reschedule at their convenience. It’s important that they have time and you have their undivided attention or you’re likely to get quick answers that may not be all that valuable. A good reference check should be about 15 minutes.
Put Them in Your Shoes
During your introduction let them know who you are, why you’re calling, and the position that the person is applying for. Once you’ve asked them your list of questions, ask them if they’d hire the candidate for the role, if they were in your shoes. It may be valuable to share some of the responsibilities they’d have in the role. Listen carefully as to how they respond. A long pause before answering compared to quick response can be very telling. Follow up by asking why, as well as what they think they’d do well in the role, and where they feel they’d be challenged in the role. Their responses will give you valuable information to compare to thoughts pre-reference check.
Listen and Take Detailed Notes
It’s important to keep your own biases out of the call. Refrain from putting words in their mouth or trying to interpret what they are saying. If you’re unclear, ask a follow up question, listen and take notes. The more you remain neutral and listen to what they tell you, the more valuable and unbiased the information will be. At the end of the call, review your notes and summarize your key learning from the call. Keep your notes and summary, as you never know when you may want to come back to them.
Thank Them and Get Their Email
Close the call, by thanking them and asking if you’d be able to email them should you have any quick follow up questions. This can validate that you are speaking to the right person. You’d be surprised how many candidates use others to fake a reference. By asking them for their email at the end you figure this out as fakes will likely be caught off guard not knowing the proper email. To further validate, look up the person online (on a platform such as LinkedIn), and send a quick follow up thanking them for the reference and their time. First, it’s a nice thing to do; and second, it will further ensure you spoke to the right person.
Reference checks will not give you the full picture alone and are just another resource to help you make the right decisions in conjunction with good interviewing. That being said, if done effectively, reference checks can validate what you’ve learned through your interviews, as well as give you new information good and bad from someone that has had direct experience with the person. They are a critical tool in building the fullest picture of a candidate and in helping ensure you’re bringing the right people onto your team.
Launch365 specializes in training, coaching and mentoring entrepreneurs through business startup and on core business skills. We provide training and coaching on all aspects of the hiring process including how to complete effective reference checks. If you would like to discuss how we could help you with your business or on these skills, contact us at: www.launch365.ca/contact-us. To download our guide to starting a business “Startup Success Blueprint” for free go to: www.launch365.ca/startup-success.