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How to Get the Most Out of Reference Checks?

  • 27th Oct'22

You believe you've identified the ideal applicant for your team, but reference checks must still be done before you can formally extend an offer to her. Consider reference checks as a chance to learn more about the applicant rather than as one last barrier.


Although interviews uncover a lot about candidates, they can skip over important information. Employee reference checks can help you learn more about a candidate's background, skills, work ethic, and other qualities. They act as insurance plans that could shield you from the expense of a poor hire. But far too frequently, recruiting managers rush through or even skip this crucial stage.


When you think about it, references may be divided into two categories: the standard type, in which you check in with the individuals your candidate has recommended, and the "back door" kind, in which you check in with individuals you already know who are acquainted with the applicant. 


It is beneficial to learn more about a candidate from various sources in order to be doubly certain of their qualifications before making a job offer. Here are tips to get the most out of reference checks that might help you enhance this crucial step in the employment process.


  1. Background and context


Calls to references begin with a confirmation of the referee's identity and connection to the candidate. It's critical to take your time with these inquiries. To better comprehend and respect this person's views and observations, spend some time getting to know them and how they have interacted with the candidate. 


Here are some sample questions to get the call going. We've created a fictitious candidate named Brad for simplicity.


  • How long did Brad and you work collaboratively?

  • What situation did you work with Brad in?

  • Could you verify your current employer and job title?

  • What tasks did you and Brad collaborate on the most closely?


Keep in mind that the reference check is not a reference interview. It's an opportunity to validate the information you learned during the interview process and/or get further information on anything that appeared a bit hazy or something you thought would later raise a red flag.


 We advise being particular and focused when asking a few that are most pertinent to forming a complete picture of the applicant you are considering making an offer to.


  1. Develop a standardized process 


Standardization is not just necessary for interviewing candidates. It's crucial to follow a consistent procedure while checking references. A thorough approach guarantees that applicants receive no unfair advantages or bias.


A trustworthy reference check procedure should comprise evaluation standards and specifically crafted inquiries appropriate for the position and team/departmental culture. Additionally, make sure to communicate with each reference through the same channel (don't call one and then email another). A great choice for gathering precise and insightful information during a reference check is to use two-way video interviews. When using a dedicated video interview platform, your interactions are also automatically recorded, allowing you to examine and share them with all involved decision-makers.

  1. Don’t forget emotional intelligence 


Reference calls offer you the chance to discover more about your candidate's emotional intelligence. The capacity to recognize and control your own emotions as well as the emotions of others is referred to as emotional intelligence. With this particular line of inquiry, you can find it useful to ask for examples in order to learn more about how they display these habits. To find out more about a candidate's social and emotional intelligence, try the following:


  • Were you able to discern how Brad interacted with his coworkers, other employees, and volunteers?

  • What are Brad’s two strengths and two areas for improvement when it comes to handling conflict (or unexpected change, uncooperative or distracted colleagues, etc.) when working with others (peers, interns, volunteers, managing other employees), whether formally or informally?

  • How did they influence the workplace culture the most? 


  • What is the work environment culture at your company, and how did they fit in?


  1. Gain multiple perspectives


You should get in touch with references who have worked with your applicant in a variety of contexts throughout a range of time periods. Make sure you allot the same amount of time to each reference when asking candidates for references. You can have a thorough understanding of the candidate by speaking with direct reports, colleagues, and even clients.


Be sure to emphasize that this procedure is confidential and that the candidate will not have access to their direct reports so that the references may give honest and accurate feedback.

One of the most instructive aspects in the recruiting process is checking references. You can help your organization hire the best candidate for the position by standardizing the hiring process and using the correct interview questions.


  1. Gain multiple perspectives 


Simply asking if you missed anything is a fantastic technique to discover any blind spots that may have been in your reference check. Your reference could find it helpful to provide any closing thoughts, anything else that occurred to mind while responding to your inquiries, or a crucial insight that wasn't covered earlier. You might think about the following queries:


  • Is there anything I missed asking about that you believe I should know or that we didn't have time to discuss?

  • Do you have any final remarks about working with them?

  • Do you have any inquiries about the position or the qualifications we're seeking?

  • We hope that these inquiries may be useful as you prepare for your upcoming reference call.


  1. Ask about leadership and working style 


Hearing former supervisors characterize and explain how a candidate completes their finest work can be instructive. Finding out more about the candidate's interpersonal skills and leadership qualities can also be helpful. To learn more about your working and leadership styles, consider these questions:


  • What best describes Brad’s manner of working? Could you give us a few instances when you saw Brad's working style in action?

  • What are some things you've noticed that enable Brad to perform at its peak level? (Supporting creating goals for a project, working on a team, having clear deadlines, etc.)

  • What aspects of working with them do you like best?

  • What aspects of Brad's working style do you think they should work on?

  • Can you give an instance when Brad faced difficulty or experienced a lot of stress and how they handled that circumstance?

  • What tips do you have for how to manage Brad the best? (If interviewing a prior manager)


  1. Don’t interrupt


Let the reference go on smoothly. If you only wait a little bit, a reference can go off the script and provide you with crucial information.

"Behind-the-scenes" references can cast a contender in a different light. The difficulty is locating the ideal link. If a name doesn't come to memory right away, check prior employers and professional associations to see if there is any similarity. Additionally, LinkedIn is always a fantastic place to look.


You can ask questions about a candidate that their own references would not be able to answer with enough objectivity, such as, "What is their reputation as a manager?" What are their coworkers and clients saying about them? Would you say that he is effective at growing and mentoring his staff?


Once more, make sure to follow up with specifics when asking how your reference knows the applicant, such as "Can you give me an example?"

Both strategies will help you achieve the same goal. By contrasting what you and your interviewing team discovered with what the references have to say, you can create a comprehensive picture of the candidate you are considering. Your references ought to support or expand on your impressions of the applicant.


Take the opportunity to go back and ask the candidate to explain if there is an unexpected disparity between what you think you understand and what you hear from one or more references. You might discover that there is nothing to worry about.


You can be certain that you and your hiring team have made a smart choice and will have the star employee you are searching for if you extend the offer to a candidate after applying these tips to get the most out of reference checks.


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Shellye Archambeau is determined to help you with all possible strategies to climb the ladder of success. She values your feedback. Do mention them in the comment section below.


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