It is not worth the risk of hiring someone on face value alone. No matter how well a candidate is dressed or how impressive his or her résumé may be, there is really only one way to validate what you know based on a job seeker’s work history and interview performance: professional referrals. Here are some tips that will make reference checking simple and constructive:
Put the reference contact at ease – The goal of a reference check is to get the most constructive information as possible, and the best way to achieve that goal is to make the contact comfortable. If you start a conversation with “I’m calling to conduct a professional reference on Scott,” the contact may become guarded. When you reach a reference, try a less formal approach, as in, “I’m calling to talk about your relationship with Scott. He gave me your name and mentioned you’d be able to tell me about some of his professional accomplishments and experiences.”
Ask the same questions of the reference as you did the candidate –Use this opportunity to validate the accomplishments, strengths and results the candidate presented to you in the interview by asking the reference contact the same questions you asked the candidate. If you asked the candidate what his or her greatest accomplishment was at their former workplace, ask the referral the same thing: “What would you say was Scott’s greatest accomplishment while with Company ABC?” Ask performance-based questions and determine if the candidate was being forthright in their interview answers.
Make it easy for the reference to offer honest criticism of the candidate – Employers complain that reference checks often lead to a pleasant but generic image of the candidate. To get the kind of information you’re seeking, re-phrase your questions. Don’t ask “what were Scott’s weaknesses?” Instead, say “We are really excited to add Scott to our team. If we bring him on board, what are some areas in which he could use some development?” These types of questions open the door for honest and constructive criticism.
Make the most of this opportunity with your candidate’s former employer. By asking the right questions, you’ll be able to get the information you need to make an informed decision on hiring.
John Uprichard is president of Find Great People International, a recruiting firm that specializes in finding outstanding applicants for great companies. Reach John at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.fgp.com.