Run a Successful Reference Check With These 3 Tips

One of the biggest challenges of the hiring process is projecting how a candidate will perform on the job. Not just how they will fulfill the job description, but how they will fit into the team and into your company’s culture.

A candidate’s skills are spelled out on their resumes and you can learn about their backgrounds during the interviews. But if only there was a way to get a glimpse at their work habits…a crystal ball that would let you look back in time to how they performed at their previous jobs.

Turns out there is. It’s called the candidate’s references. There’s a catch though. The candidate provides the names of the references, meaning the people are hand-selected to provide a good recommendation.

However, there are some ways to avoid this and make the process of checking references a little more informative. Here are three ways to get more out of the reference check:

Take the Process Seriously

Because most references spew out boilerplate recommendations, the process often becomes something of a ceremony. It’s like a play, where every actor gives a boring, wooden performance.

Don’t fall into this trap. If you treat the process like a joke, it will become a joke. But treat it like it matters, you might be able to elicit some interesting information.

Prepare for each discussion. Make an effort to make the reference feel comfortable. Check that they have time to talk and if not, make an appointment to speak to them at a better time.

In short, create a situation where it’s possible to get something meaningful out of the process.

Focus on the Specifics

Asking general questions will elicit boring, canned answers you are looking to avoid. However, if you ask different questions, you might get different answers. Create a scenario where people are encouraged to wander off script. You’ll get more detailed, and likely more honest, responses.

Drill down on specific events. Make the questions particular to the candidate. Use what you’ve learned from their resume, their interview and whatever you’ve gleaned from social media or other references.

Ask questions like, “Sarah mentioned that she spearheaded the quality improvement project last year. What did her teammates think about her performance?”

Also, concentrate on lines of inquiry that have factual responses. “Did you ever have to reprimand Kevin?” is a matter of fact. “What do you think of Kevin’s workplace behavior?” is asking for an opinion. People grant themselves much more moral wiggle room when offering opinions than when reporting check-able information.

Keep an Open Mind

Psychologists call it “confirmation bias.” We have an idea about something, so we gravitate toward information that confirms the idea and downplays information that contradicts it. We end up learning what we want to learn and ignoring everything else.

This can color conversations with references.

If you happen to like a particular candidate, you’re going to accept anything positive people have to say. You won’t be tempted to drill down or push for more info.

However, if the candidate in question isn’t your preferred choice, you might press a little harder. You might keep the questions going until you find that kernel of information that confirms the person is less than ideal for the position.

Keep an open mind, in both directions. Look for both good traits and bad traits in all candidates. Try to build a balanced picture and include all the details when you report back to the other people involved in the hiring process.

Partner with Qualified Staffing!

Getting the most out of references can be tricky. Better to let an expert do it. By partnering with an experienced staffing firm, you improve your ability to learn about potential workers. Contact Qualified Staffing to find out more.

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