Reference checks give us valuable independent insight into a candidate’s job performance and help us get a better overall picture of a potential hire. However, they can yield very little information if done incorrectly or on-the-fly. Instead, knowing the right questions to ask and how to interpret the responses are crucial to getting the most from the process.
Start the Check Early
Just like a journalist needs to fact check their work to ensure its integrity before they publish it, you need to check before you hire a candidate. Viewing the reference check as just another box to tick only harms the entire recruitment process. You might fail to probe for more information on potential poor qualities in a candidate or try to wrap the call up quickly. Instead, put yourself in a completely different mindset – one that treats reference checking as a serious and vital stage of recruitment.
Actively Listen and Ask Questions
A good reference check is similar to a good job interview: it’s standardised, structured and you’re prepared to branch from your questions based on a referee’s response. Once the check begins, keep an ear out for any implied criticism. Often a referee won’t openly complain about their previous employee – maybe for legal reasons – but it’s important to stay alert to any subtle negativity that might leak out, and probe them tactfully to get the full picture.
Good reference check questions assess how a referee feels about a candidate’s important personality traits, such as:
- The applicant’s cooperativeness
- Their general intelligence
- Their motivation and willingness to go above and beyond
- Their dependability
- How they deal with others, particularly clients and customers
Other Helpful Tips
- Call the referee for the candidate’s most recent job and their longest serving job. Choose direct managers to interview over peers
- Make sure the candidate gives their referees a heads up – it’ll help everything run smoothly
- One job and one manager doesn’t make a theme. Don’t attach too much weight to a negative call – ask another referee about the candidate
- Get organised. Reference checking involves a lot of telephone tag, so you need to be ready at a moment’s notice to call these referees back and conduct an interview
If you follow these tips, you’ll make the most of your reference checks and improve your chances of hiring a superstar performer. Check out our other HR tips and advice.