To many hiring managers, checking references is a trivial formality that carries few benefits. But that belief is ill-informed. When done well, reference-checking can be illuminating and extremely valuable to the interview process. But to be effective, the practice requires intuition, common sense, and good listening skills.
Unfortunately, there is plenty of room for error in this arena, like failing to conduct a reference check before offering someone the job. The following are five common reference-checking mistakes made by recruiters, employers, and others involved with the hiring process.
1. Not Checking at All
Strange as it may seem, many employers don’t check references at all. Given the ramifications of a disastrous hire, it is more important than ever to carefully conduct a reference check before offering the job to any candidate. Prepare relevant questions and set aside some time to make those calls.
2. Checking Too Late
This is one of the most foolhardy practices in the employment arena. There are employers who only check references on the final candidate they want to hire. This is a mistake. You could be tempted to ask only superficial questions, and you might be missing out on other very strong candidates. Instead, narrow your list down and then check references on everyone in that list before making an offer to any one of them.
3. Failing to Conduct the Reference Check Before the Offer
Many employers get ahead of themselves and make offers before contacting references. Once you’ve identified the top two or three candidates through resume screenings and initial interviews, conduct the reference check before offering anyone the position. If the references confirm a candidate’s skills, experience, and ability, then conduct a follow-up interview armed with that knowledge.
Plus, making an offer contingent on a positive reference check creates a legal relationship between the employer and candidate. Avoid potential headaches for your legal department by waiting on the offer until you’re sure you have the candidate you want.
4. Not Requiring References Who Have Worked Directly With the Candidate
Employers often incorrectly assume that the only references available to them are the ones attached to the candidate’s resume. Employers have every right to ask candidates to provide a list of the types of references they want, not just the ones the candidate wants them to have. A good rule of thumb is to ask candidates to provide the names of at least one former supervisor, a peer, and a subordinate. While that exact mix may not always be possible, the point is that employers should be talking with people who have actually worked with the candidate on a daily basis within the last five to seven years.
5. Asking Leading Questions and Failing to Ask Follow-up Questions
Many employers only ask references job performance questions that require nothing more than a “yes” or “no” answer. Instead of asking, “Was Bill a good worker?” they should ask, “How would you describe Bill’s on-the-job performance?” The other half of the problem is that prospective employers do not ask logical follow-up questions. If a reference says Sue was the best employee the company every had, few will take the next step and ask, “Could you tell me how her performance was so extraordinary?” A good follow-up question allows you to dig deeper and obtain a more complete picture of the candidate.
Use Reference Checks and Other Tools to Get to the Right Candidate
Careful reference checking requires time, training, and insight. It can be one of the most useful hiring tools available to any employer, but if not done correctly it can lead to hiring someone who’s unfit for the job, or even harmful for the company. Could you use more tips to help you make smart hiring moves? Monster has expert solutions to share. Find out how you can get free access to the latest hiring resources, from recruiting tips to job market insights, and much more.