The right way to reference check — and why it's important

We run a lot of reference checks for our clients, and we speak to many, many more organizations that have run their own reference checks in the past.

The most concerning thing we see? The lack of care and attention most organizations give to these checks.

A reference check is a fantastic opportunity to really get to know an applicant — their work ethic, attitude, expertise, camaraderie, and personality. Yet, many organizations rush reference check conversations, seeing them more as a box that has to be checked than an integral part of the hiring process.

With that in mind, here are five ways we make sure our reference checks are comprehensive, effective, and useful.

Seek input

The first step is to solicit feedback from all the people in your organization who interviewed the candidate, and find out their questions and concerns. Reference checks aren’t just a task for the HR team but should seek input from everyone that has, or may, interact with the applicant during the hiring process or once they are in their new role.

Set expectations

Ensure that the person you’re speaking to is aware of the time required for the check, the types of questions you’ll be asking, and what a “good” answer might look like. Additionally, start by complimenting the candidate, to ensure a positive tone to kick off the call. Reference checks can become rather defensive, particularly if the interviewee doesn’t want to share too much information or wants to get it over and done with quickly. A compliment starts the conversation off well.

Share the right context

Give the interviewee a full picture about the company, the role the applicant has applied for, and what your organization is looking for from that role. The more specific you can be about the role you’re trying to fill and its challenges, the better the answers will usually be.

Get specific

Avoid asking broad questions as these tend to elicit vague answers. Ask questions based on specific context provided earlier in the hiring process. For example, perhaps the candidate referred to a particular skill-set, achievement, or challenge. Asking a question with such context often allows the interviewee to respond with relevant detail.

Be holistic

It’s not just about the skills or experience the candidate has put on their resume. It’s also about whether they have the character to suit the role and the personality to fit into your existing team. So, ask the interviewee about the candidate’s soft skills and social and emotional-intelligence-based capabilities. Find out about what they’re like as a colleague outside of their professional capabilities.   Need help? If you know the value of a comprehensive reference check and would like professional help, get in touch with our team of experts today.

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