The Importance of Reference Checks

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If you place reference checks at the very bottom of your list of priorities during the selection process, you’re not alone. Many managers overlook this ritual or don’t invest much weight in the task, and some skip this step even after asking candidates to provide a list of names and phone numbers. If you’re sidelining reference checks, it may be time to reconsider, especially if you’re doing it for any of the reasons listed below.

“Reference Checks Take Too Much Time”

You don’t have to spend an hour on the phone with each reference an employee provides. Keep your questions pointed and specific and you’ll maximize the information you receive, even if you don’t walk away with an entire treatise. Drop meaningless questions like “Did you enjoy working with this employee?” Of course the answer will be yes. Keep your questions open ended and encourage the reference to speak off the cuff and get to the point quickly. Try questions like “How closely did you work with this employee on a scale of one to five?” and “Can you name one task that you would rather assign to someone else?”

“Reference Checks are Always Positive, so Why Bother?”

Read between the lines as you speak to a candidate’s reference. Of course none of these people will speak directly about the candidate’s weaker traits, or they wouldn’t have been offered a place on the list. But if you listen closely, you may spot subjects that spark momentary doubt or hesitation, and you can feel free to follow up on these threads. Most important, watch out for bland, neutral reports that indicate the candidate met minimum expectations. Make note if a reference neglects to call you back, hurries to get off the phone, or edits every word as if fearing negative backlash.

“References are Unreliable”

No intelligent candidate will provide references who she can’t trust to support her efforts. By nature, this is a list of friends, advocates, and possibly even family members, and of course they care more about the success of the candidate than the success of your company. But if you take this in stride and stay cheerful, honest and positive, you can still glean a general sense of the candidate’s reputation and how her presence in the workplace influences those around her.

“I Ask Each Candidate for Five References…I Can’t be Bothered to Call Them All”

Use an audit principle as you conduct your reference checks. Ask each candidate to submit three to five names and phone numbers, and then feel free to contact only one or two people from each list. Just make sure that you stay fair and choose the same number of contacts for each candidate.

For more on how to choose the right candidates for your open positions, reach out to the experienced Little Rock staffing team at Career Staffing Services.

 

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