Reference checks play a traditional role in the candidate selection process, but like many corporate traditions, this ritual has taken a hit and fallen somewhat out of favor in a busy, modern, digital age. For many hiring managers and HR teams, the logic works something like this: A) References should be requested, but since it takes time and energy (aka money) to review them, the request should be enough. B) References aren’t always perfectly forthcoming when they speak about a candidate, and for obvious reasons—they don’t want to hurt his or her chances. C) References don’t mean as much as they did a generation ago, now that candidates can be researched online.
For all of these reasons, employers often let this part of the process slip through the cracks. But they shouldn’t do this. References are still a valuable resource, and every available data point can and should be used to help managers make smart hiring decisions. Here are a few tips that can keep the process meaningful.
1. Take an audit approach.
You don’t have to request five references from each candidate and then contact all five for each member of a 40-person applicant pool. Just two or three from each list will suffice. Make sure the number of checks stays consistent for each candidate.
2. Conduct checks after the pool has been narrowed.
Complete this time consuming process after the resume review stage, after the final round of interviews, and even after you’ve already narrowed your options down to one top pick and two runners up. You can even conduct your review after you’ve extended your offer; Make the offer contingent on a successful check.
3. Watch out for reluctant responses.
If your contact seems impossible to reach, doesn’t answer or return your calls, or wants to get off the phone as quickly as possible, consider this a red flag. The same principle applies to neutral or bland responses. If the candidate specifically chose this person to serve as a reference, then the response to your call should be unrestrained, whole-hearted enthusiastic praise. Anything less is a cause for concern.
4. Keep your questions targeted to an obviously biased audience.
Don’t expect the person to say anything negative about the candidate without specific prompting. With that in mind, ask for warnings by framing your questions like this: “What task would you be most likely to assign to someone else instead of this candidate?”, “Can you describe a situation in which this candidate struggled to overcome a challenge?” or “In what area has this candidate experienced the greatest level of recent growth?”
For more tips and tools that can help you make the most of your reference-checking process, contact the staffing and candidate selection professionals at Expert staffing.