Optimize Your Candidate Reference Checks

In the digital age, references seem quite easy to obtain.  An employer can simply log onto LinkedIn, read the bevy of recommendations and move on.  Not so fast.  Those recommendations could be friends, family and even strangers with nice things to say about the person.  They may not represent the candidate's work style, ethics, or values in any way.  The old way of doing reference checks is not dead yet.  But it's still an imperfect process.  If you're looking to screen your candidates better, use these great tips to optimize your candidate reference checks.

Enhance Your Reference Checks

There's a reason why reference checks exist in the recruitment process.  You just never know who you're dealing with when it comes to candidates.  You could be charmed by a candidate who turns out to have an authority problem that brings down morale in the entire company.  Or you could be sitting across from someone who doesn't possess any of the skills he or she claims to have.  Reference checks are still a critical piece of the hiring process. In today's litigious environment, many reference checks won't provide much information other than confirmation of date of hire and name.  However, shouldn't there be a variety of references out there excited to share their experience with a top performer? If you're hitting walls when it comes to references, there may be room for improvement.  Try the following tools:

  • Call the candidate's last 3 companies yourself. It's a bit of a red flag when candidates don't have their previous bosses as references on their resume.  The natural thought is to ask why.  Was the candidate a problem? Their current employer may not know they're looking, but you should certainly follow up with their previous companies.  Give an impromptu call and ask the HR department if this candidate would be eligible for rehire. Previous employers will shed a lot more light on a candidate than calling their list of preapproved references. 
  • Ask candidates to provide a list of coworkers and supervisors at their previous positions. Often, by asking for a variety of coworkers and supervisors' information, a hiring manager can get a more nuanced view of the candidate. Suzie may have loved this candidate's excitement and experience.  But Tommy may have hated their lack of collaboration. Bonnie may have thought the candidate was a bit too green for the role. By asking for the names and information of their entire team, recruiters can get a more nuanced view of the candidate.
  • Send references a survey with questions regarding the candidates' skills and competencies. Another great way to optimize your reference checks are to send over surveys of candidates' skills and competencies.  This can shed light into whether a candidate is as skilled as he or she believes themselves to be. This can provide great information for a recruiter who is weighing multiple candidates' skills against another.
  • Schedule a video interview with the reference. I know that most employers are used to using video interviews for candidate screening but it can be used for so much more.  Consider the ability to invite a reference to film a brief video interview answering 3 questions about a candidate.  Once your recruiting team receives the video, you can view the facial cues and expressions that bring this reference check to life. The technology is also highly shareable, so everyone on the hiring team can view the reference check and make their own decision. 

If you're struggling how to improve your reference checks, you may want to try out these great tips!  Don't just scrape a candidate's LinkedIn recommendations.  Go deeper and find out more information.

Views: 302

Comment by Katrina Kibben on October 5, 2015 at 10:54am

Thanks for sharing your post Catherine - great tips.

Question - what types of questions do you include in a reference survey? Do you recommend that people customize at all based on the candidate? 

Comment by Catherine Hess on October 5, 2015 at 12:49pm

I think it depends on the stage of interview you're at.  If you're initially screening a candidate, it's helpful to ask the same questions of all candidates to avoid discrimination and to really compare apples against apples.  If you're at a later stage of interview, customized questions are very helpful.

Comment by Katrina Kibben on October 5, 2015 at 1:19pm

So are you thinking standard "how do you know them" questions or other types of questions? I guess i'm really asking for sample questions to ask for reference checking that would be better than the standard... 


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