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Know Thy Hire: How to Do Reference Checks Well

do reference checks well

Know Thy Hire: How to Do Reference Checks Well

We recently posted tips for job candidates about how to line up the best references before they start the application process. But what if you’re on the other side of the hiring table? How can you do reference checks well and learn the most about your potential hire?

do reference checks well

Here are things to keep in mind to do reference checks well:

Just do it. One of the number one problems that employers have when they discover – too late – that there is a problem with an application is that they didn’t run a background check and call references.

When someone offers references that doesn’t mean you should be confident – even if they are. And, of course, if someone is reluctant to offer references, that is a big red flag.

Listen to your instincts. It may sound cliché, but don’t doubt yourself if you sense the person giving the reference is hesitant. Anyone who says they didn’t know the candidate well, or only worked alongside them as a colleague, not as a manager, is basically saying they can’t vouch for them.

People who are truly enthusiastic about someone they have worked with say it. They’re happy to give specific anecdotes or list achievements. And remember – these are the people the hire put you in touch with, so if they can’t speak well for them, that’s not a good sign.

Ask open-ended questions. It’s far too easy to avoid hard truths if you only have to say yes or no. Don’t ask if they were a good employee (“Um, sure.”). Ask the reference to describe their strengths and weaknesses (“What does Bob do particularly well?”).

To do reference checks well, you need to ask the right questions. Don’t ask leading questions like, “Jill did a good job, right?” which makes it easy to concur. Ask neutrally, “How do you feel about Jill’s performance?”.

Get the end story. Find out why they left, if possible. Some companies will only confirm dates of employment and most recent salary. But if you can ask more, do. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing – people move on, organizations change, and yes, good employees get let go. But check for inconsistencies.

[bctt tweet=”It’s key to determine if what you’ve learned from the potential hire is lining up with what you hear from the reference.” username=””]

Ask for more. If you don’t feel good about the references you’ve been given, there is no reason that you cannot ask for another person to contact. Be especially vigilant if you have only spoken with colleagues, subordinates or clients of the candidate. You will be this person’s employer, you need to speak to someone else who was directing the person to get a similar perspective.

Learning to do reference checks well can prevent a poor hiring decision.

It can seem tedious to go through the extra work of chasing down people who no longer work with your candidate. And the more excited you are about someone, the more tempting it can be to just blow through this step and move on with the hiring process. But taking a little extra time to get a full background on someone will save you time, money and a great deal of disappointment.