Reference Checks Should Be More Than a Casual Activity

“Would you hire this person again?” is probably the most common and most useless question asked in reference checks.  Almost every time the question is answered in the affirmative and provides little insight into the candidate’s work history.  Most hiring managers have made their decision to hire a candidate before reference checks and, if they do references at all, do them casually.

In fact, references are an important step in the selection process and should be conducted with as much concern as interviews.  We recommend allotting 20 to 30 minutes for the reference check call and at least that much time preparing.  The questions asked of the reference should be behavior based and tied to some concern you might have about the candidate.

No candidate is perfect; your job as the hiring manager is to find the candidate’s weaknesses and determine whether or not you can accept them.  What better way to understand this than by asking someone close to the candidate about their observations?  For example, if you are concerned about a candidate’s ability to handle conflict, one of the questions we would ask would be:

“We want to make sure we position Joe for success and like all of us I’m sure Joe does some things better than others.  We’d like to get your observation of some situations in which you observed Joe at work.  Can you describe a situation in which Joe had conflicting opinions with a co-worker?  How did he react?  How did the situation turn out?”

Don’t be afraid to push for specifics and ask for other situations.  References want their associate to succeed and often freely recount situations that will help you position the candidate for success.  These same recollections often help you decide whether you want to hire the candidate or not.

Explore posts in the same categories: Leadership, Selection

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