Research shows that a big chunk of job applications contain misinformation or outright lies – anywhere from 30 percent to more than 80 percent, depending on the source. That’s why reference checking remains an important tool for employers who want to verify that a candidate’s skills, experience and credentials are being represented accurately.
Still, there are plenty of organizations that forgo reference checking when hiring employees. Many companies no longer provide references for past employees, they may think. Or, they may argue, candidates only provide references that they know will say good things, so what’s the point?
The truth is that well-crafted reference check questions can provide a lot of valuable information about a candidate and help employers avoid a costly bad hire. In some cases, a low-performing (or less-than-honest) candidate will remove themselves from consideration upon learning that reference checks are part of a hiring process. Top-performing candidates, on the other hand, often have strong relationships with past managers and should have no hesitation providing references.
So what’s an effective reference check process?
Like phone screens and interviews, reference checks work best as a structured process. The reference check call should have an introduction, body and closing. Questions asked during the introduction and closing segments will be the same for every call. The body questions will be based on information the candidate has provided during job interviews.
Here’s a breakdown:
Introduction: At this point, you’re looking to establish the facts of the candidate’s employment – questions about the reference’s working relationship with the candidate, dates of employment, what the candidate’s role was and why the position came to an end.
Body: The bulk of the reference check will focus on real-world behavioral and situational questions based on what you discussed with the candidate during an interview. For instance, if you talked with the candidate about how they dealt with upset customers, you would ask the reference about the candidate’s skill with dealing with upset customers. The answers to these questions will provide insight into whether the candidate was giving accurate representations during the interview. Avoid asking the reference leading questions – like, “I heard the candidate was good at dealing with upset customers” – to ensure you’re getting thoughtful, accurate responses.
Closing: A good closing reference check question is, “Would you hire the candidate again.” Be sure to listen to the reference’s tone when they answer. Is it an emphatic “yes!” or is it a lackluster one?
For a lot more (including a reference check practice that can open you up to legal liability), watch TPD’s webinar on conducting effective reference checks below.