Imagine that you’re dating someone for a few weeks. Everything is going well until you discover a total deal-breaker: they only shower and brush their teeth once a week!
You’d probably feel a combination of shock, confusion, and disappointment.
After all, you invested your time and energy into a relationship that isn’t going anywhere.
If only you’d known sooner!
Now imagine instead that we’re talking about a promising candidate you’re considering hiring.
You’d do anything to uncover any deal-breakers before hiring them, wouldn’t you?
Of course, you would!
And that’s why reference checks are so helpful. They provide insight into candidates that isn’t found in their applications or easily spotted during interviews.
So why do people skip checking references?
Many people don’t understand the role that reference checks play in the overall hiring process.
They often avoid doing them because they think reference checks are:
- A waste of time
- Challenging to schedule
- Uncomfortable for some candidates
While that may be the case when done incorrectly, the benefits far outweigh the perceived costs.
So should you make time to check references? Yes, but only if you want to avoid wasting your time, money, and energy on a bad hire. Here are some basic guidelines for performing reference checks the right way.
Do’s and Don’ts of reference checking.
Reference checks help paint a 360-degree view of who someone is. And who else could give you better feedback than their past supervisors? Not many others.
So here are some do’s when performing reference checks:
- Do ask open-ended questions.
Open-ended questions prompt the speaker to open up and share their feedback on a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. It lets them highlight things that you might not already see for yourself.
For example, don’t ask whether someone performed well in their role. The speaker will most likely rate their performance as good or very good.
Most people don’t want to ruin anyone’s chances for a new job.
Instead, ask them to compare the candidate to other people in the same role. Ask if their performance was below average, average, or above average.
And don’t only ask about their overall performance. Ask about specific traits that are important to you, like:
- Their ability to meet deadlines.
- How well they take and implement criticism.
- How organized they are.
These types of questions are more objective. And you’re more likely to get honest answers.
- Do read between the lines.
Most people have a hard time critiquing others, even if their feedback is honest. Look out for clues in their tone, long pauses, too many “umms..” or body language (if done via video call).
Don’t just take what they say at face value. And if you’re unsure about something, take your chances and ask the speaker for clarity.
- Do perform enough of them.
There is no perfect number for how many reference checks you should do on a single candidate. And it depends on the position you’re filling.
We’ve found that speaking with all previous supervisors from the past ten years gives you a thorough understanding of how the candidate has performed and evolved.
- Do let your candidates know you’ll be checking references in advance.
That will make them more careful about exaggerating their past accomplishments or sharing misleading information.
And here are some don’ts:
- Don’t schedule the calls yourself.
Companies may have policies restricting if and how managers can speak about their past employees’ performance.
To avoid this red tape and save some of your own time, ask candidates to schedule reference calls themselves. Provide your availability to make everything run even smoother.
- Don’t focus only on red flags and deal-breakers.
Instead, focus on insights that will help you work better with the candidate. Dig into where they have excelled and failed in the past. It’ll give you a better understanding of how they’re likely to perform in your company.
That being said…
- Don’t ignore red flags.
It’s easy to ignore someone’s flaws once you’ve formed a positive opinion about them.
In fact, you might already be head over heels for a candidate before you reach the reference check stage. But don’t let this cloud your judgment.
Remember, the people you’re speaking with have experience working with this person. So listen to what they say objectively.
- Don’t toss a candidate out because of one bad reference.
No one is perfect, so don’t expect your candidate to be. To reiterate what we said in the previous point, listen to the speaker’s feedback objectively and in context.
Depending on how much time has passed or how much someone has evolved, negative feedback might no longer be relevant or accurate.
One less than stellar reference check shouldn’t mean the end of an otherwise promising candidate.
Reference checks are time and money savers.
Consider that 50% of applicants misrepresent, exaggerate, or flat-out lie on their resumes. That’s one in every two applicants.
You’re able to weed out most liars and fakers during the interview stage (at least if the interviews are thorough enough). But no one can fake a reference check!
Save yourself the headache of uncovering nasty surprises after it’s too late. So pick up the phone and make the calls!
Don’t have the time to do the thorough interviews and reference checks required to hire A-players only? Schedule a free 30-minute strategy call with us today to see how we can help.