You can spend some time studying a candidate’s resume and chatting to them about their work history, but in the interview you’re only getting their best first impression. Why not take the word of others who have spent quite a bit more time with your candidate and really find out who it is you’re considering for a job role?

Reference checking is valuable. I can’t say it any more plainly than that. But it is only as valuable as the questions you choose to ask. What I mean by that is, if you’re not asking insightful questions that are designed to give information that is of worth when assessing if the candidate is right for the job, then you have wasted your time in making the call in the first place. So what questions should you ask? Here’s a few to consider…

  • How effective was Jill in the performance of her role? Why do you say that?
  • How was Jill’s performance measured?
  • Based on your experience of Jill what areas did you note as needing further development?
  • Are there any areas for improvement which you can suggest as Jill moves forward in her career?
  • Can you give me some examples of times when Jill was under a lot of pressure?
  • How does Jill interact with different levels of management and other employees in the company?
  • What is the best way to manage Jill? Why do you say that?
  • Did Jill supervise anyone in her position? Can you tell me about Jill’s supervisory skills and style?
  • Are there any other comments you would like to add?”
  • Would you rehire Jill?

The questions asked may differ depending on the level of job being filled. Likewise you would not have the same person conducting all reference checks. When contacting a CEO for information on their 2IC, you would not assign the task to a junior in human resource. No, the CEO is much more likely to open up to another of similar workplace status, namely the Human Resource Manager or their counterpart. And the CEO will be acutely aware of the information they are and are not allowed to legally divulge.

Understandably there are rules to giving a reference check. You cannot simply reveal everything that you know about a candidate. How would you feel if your referee spoke of your religion, or that you were homosexual, that you have epilepsy or are a reformed alcoholic? These factors are rarely likely to affect your ability to perform in your chosen career, so be mindful not to discriminate against others if providing a reference. It may just come back to bite you! If you are the one asking the questions, it is important to read between the lines. Yes that’s right, you need to listen for hesitations, changes in the tone of a voice, and what isn’t being said. It goes without saying that you need to find a quiet space where you will not be interrupted in order to reference check your top candidates.

Due to the legalities surrounding the provision of a job reference, some companies forbid their employees from providing references. If you are struggling to gain feedback from a nominated referee, ask them if they are aware of someone more suitable to provide information about the candidate. Of course you need the candidate’s permission before you can stray off the beaten track and converse with someone who did not make the list of nominations. Generally a candidate will not have an issue with you seeking out another referee and may even supply you with the details of others to contact. If you can, speak with people of different levels of responsibility, those the candidate reported to and those that reported to them. Engaging with both superiors and subordinates will give a more complete picture of your future hire.

As past performance is often a great indicator of future performance, reference checks represent one of the most important steps in the recruitment process. And as you would generally only reference check your top two or three candidates, it is not a laborious process. The time that it does absorb will be time well spent. Done well, you will soon learn if your candidate has misrepresented themselves. I have seen too many employers fail to conduct a reference check and discover only too late that their new hire was very good at bending the truth and not so good at delivering on the requirements of their role. So if you gain nothing more from reading this article, learn that you must do your due diligence for every new hire.

If you need assistance with conducting a reference check, or need to know more about what your responsibilities are when investigating a potential candidate, don’t hesitate to contact me at SJ Personnel, I’m always on hand to assist. You can find me at [email protected] or by telephoning 0487 591 660.

SJ Personnel…connecting you with your future.

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