Reference checking can be a pain. Often times it is unsatisfactory and time-comsuming. Unless you have a defined process for reference checking, you can be stuck with a whole lot of nothing. The goal of obtaining the proper information to make an objective decision about the hiring of your candidate can be impeded by legalities, small talk and opposition from former employers.
When you streamline the process, and focus on efficient and effective questions and practices, reference checking can become a whole lot more simple. When creating your own process for reference checks, consider the following:
Save Reference Checks for Last
It is common practice for companies to save reference checking until they are ready to make the candidate .... This practice saves time and shows respect to the candidate. When you consider that it might not be common knowledge that this candidate is looking for a new position, it is best to save this step for last. It isn't always plausable that the candidate will inform their current employer of their potential move.
Speak with Their Direct Supervisor
If at all possible, it is always best to speak to the person who directly supervised your candidate. They are more likely to have solid information. Those who did not work directly with the candidate will often give estimates, and not concrete details and dates. You can draw more from a conversation with a direct supervisor. Legalities limit what can be shared during this conversation, but there's always room for subtext, hesitations, bitter tones or, transversly, a positive attitude.
Formulate Efficient Questions
Ask open-ended questions, stay away from “yes” or “no” type questions. If you've contacted someone who is nice enough to lend you some of their time, make the most of it. When you formulate questions in the right manner, you can get more bang for your question buck. After confirming things like dates, titles and roles, it can take as few as 5 questions to get a good feel for the type of employee your candidate is. Here are a few such questions:
-What were the candidate's strengths as an employee?
This will give you a great opportunity to read between the lines. Pay attention to cues and pauses.
-Determine the candidate's advancement in the company. Did they receive any promotions or demotions, or did they remain in the same role throughout their tenure?
This question will often get the supervisor to elaborate on their own. When a supervisor is dedicated to their role, they will appreciate this opportunity to remark.
-Did the employee get along well with those in their professional circle (managers, employees, customers)?
Here you will be able to get a feel of their attitude and cultural fit. A candidate might fit in splendidly with the team, but if they treat your customers like dirt, that's not a fit.
-Is there anything else I should take into consideration before I hire this candidate?
Because of what they can and can't say, this question can be a little tricky. Again, pay attention to the subtext of the answer and read into what they are saying with an objective eye (or ear).
Don't Waste Time with Personal References
Have you ever contacted a personal reference that was bad? For very obvious reasons, personal references can end up being a monumental waste of time. This isn't a case of overyone being a liar. It is just too hard for personal references to give real, objective insights about the candidate. It is best to only ask for references from past employers. By eliminating personal referenes, you are saving time and sticking with a pool of objective references, and those are really the only ones that matter.
Reference checking doesn't have to be a frustrating, time-consuming process. Like most other processes, when you design them with consistency and efficiency in mind, time-saving and ease will follow. By implementing these suggestions into your reference checking process, your job will become a little easier.