You’re working your way through the hiring process and down to one or possibly two good candidates. The candidates have relevant experience and skills and did well in interview. Reference checks are a good tool to support your understanding of the candidate from a third party.
Referencing a candidate’s work history isn’t likely to bring up any surprise issues and nor should reference checks be weighted highly in any recruitment process. Nonetheless raising specific questions and or concerns can help you make better hiring decisions.
As well as verify the basics, such as were they in the job they said they were in, a referee can give you further evidence around culture fit. Carrying out reference checks is also necessary for due diligence in hiring decision when things go wrong. If the new employee turns into a monster, HR and the hiring manager can demonstrate they did everything possible to mitigate any risk.
The assessment may provide you with questions specific to each candidate. Thus best practice is to complete the reference after you’ve finished interviews and before making an offer.
Depending on your needs, quality information can be taken from a peer, direct managers or customers. Reference the most recent 5 years where applicable.
Here are six topics to cover when conducting reference checks.
1. Context. First, confirm the basics. Check you are speaking to the right person, ask their title and context of the relationship with the candidate in question. Then confirm dates of employment, candidates job title and their responsibilities.
2. Strengths. Ask about the things they did best in the role. What did they bring to the role/team/organisation? Use specific examples from the interview to confirm your assessment.
3. Specific competencies. Ascertain the candidate’s strengths in specific skills and or knowledge they need to be successful in your role.
4. Weaknesses. Just as important to delve into the downsides of this candidate. Consider aspects like how they worked with other members of the team, such as clashes? Why? How did each situation play out? Has the referee noticed any progression in the candidate
5. Personality. What is their work ethic like? By what means did they motivate the person? ? How do they tackle problems? Would you hire this person again? Why did the person leave this role?
6. Looking forward. Speak to the referee about your role and environment. Lay out the objectives. Then ask the referee if they would hire the person if they were you.
Remember the referee is not obliged to provide information and in some cases may be strictly limited in what they can say about the person. This isn’t bad news, ( though it might be) it does mean however you need a new referee.
Keep your questions relevant to the role you are recruiting. Continue your line of questioning until you’re satisfied that you’ve got the complete answer. Finally, try and include the topics above in your reference checks to build out a better assessment of each candidate.