People often comment on reference checks, questioning “what’s the point?” and saying the feedback you receive will be skewed in the candidate’s favour, as they will typically provide you with details for a colleague or someone who will only say good things about them.

This is where hiring managers are missing an opportunity in the recruitment process. Reference checks are extremely powerful and if done correctly, will add valuable additional insight into the decision-making process. Instead of viewing them in a negative light or as a waste of time, think of a reference check as a chance to reinforce what you had hoped or wanted to see, understand what your candidate’s motivators and demotivators are, how they led or took direction and what they are like to be around in a general sense.

To get the greatest value out of reference checking, don’t use a standard template, craft questions specific to the job, candidate, and environment. Highlight any patterns or concerns you have identified during your interview process. Treat the reference check as an interview with the referee, probe and get to the bottom of things if you want further clarification.

To do this requires asking the candidate during the interview who they reported to in each of their jobs, and requesting to speak to them as a referee. Recruiting is a combination of art and science, it’s never black and white. People will always leave for a reason and there are always two sides to every story with the truth generally sitting somewhere in the middle. In recruitment it’s our job to uncover that.

Last month I completed several references which, combined with thorough interviews, provided the clarification that while the candidates could do the job, they wouldn’t be the right fit culturally. Our reference checks provided us with sufficient insight from their previous three managers for us to pause and discuss more with the client. Understandably, the client and candidate were both disappointed, but the client agreed that this was enough to think deeply about the dynamics this would create if the individual became a new team member.

As with all things, don’t take answers in isolation, back them up with further questioning, and then if a repeating pattern occurs, pause, think, and ask yourself – if this happened in my business, how would it impact me and my team?

Please feel free to contact me to discuss how to utilise referencing checking the way it was meant to be.

Happy recruiting!

Author: Andrew Hill

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