The importance of the reference check

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Recently we had someone criticise us for the reference checking we did as an interrogation. The person making the comment was a business owner and when my staff member told me that, I said never apologise for being thorough. If they feel conducting a detailed process and asking in-depth questions is interrogation, then so be it.  The problems most companies have when hiring is lack of proper reference checking. Over stating, leaving things out, qualifications that aren’t completed – you name it, I have seen it, reference checking will sort it out if you do it right.

Here are some of my top tips for when conducting reference checks:

  • If the person they reported to won’t give a reference, because they said it was company policy not to – dig deeper. I have had cases when this has happened and when we called HR within the company the answer was no problem for verbal references. Make sure you are clear when asking that you want a verbal reference, and if they still say no, verify with HR if that is truly the policy. If it isn’t this could be a red flag.
  • Avoid using outsourced reference checking companies for your references for management and executive level positions. I don’t mean the search firms, I mean reference checking companies. The reason for this is often standard questions are asked and there is not enough depth, so answers can be basic and misinterpreted.
  • Often searched candidates are unable to give current bosses for obvious reasons, however they should be able to give a past manager. If they can’t then make sure they know that if an offer takes place you will need to verify the statements on their cv with their current boss i.e. achievement statements. In other words, their offer is subject to reference checking, If someone has lied on their cv they will withdraw from the process once they know information on their cv will be confirmed. I have had cases where candidates have listed achievements that they didn’t have which the referee confirmed as inaccurate. This is not uncommon, so do your due diligence.
  • References should be behavioural, and achievement based like the interview, i.e. – Tell me about how xyz added value to your organisation; what did their area look like when they started and how did they grow and develop it; On their resume they stated that they were 120% above target, is that correct and if so was that 120% all their contribution or did they have help? You get the idea.
  • An average reference will take from 45min to 1 hour if done correctly and with detail.
  • Don’t forget the last question – Would you hire XYZ back in the same position. Look for hesitation. If they hesitate I will simply say – you hesitated why? – If they say – it depends on the position (red flag) ask why.  What you want to hear is absolutely without doubt!
  • If you have a search consultant that you trust then by all means utilise their experience, but my advice is if you don’t, do the reference checks yourself and it will save you a lot of issues later.
  • And don’t forget to confirm the dates on the cv and fill in the gaps!

This only covers the basics, please feel free to ask me any questions you may have and I will be happy to answer, Regards Judith


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