Reference checks are typically a “no-brainer” component of the hiring process. There are several variables; however, that can impact their benefit and effectiveness. Some employers even have a strict policy against giving any information besides a verification of dates of employment – makes it difficult to assess whether a candidate will be a good fit for your organization!
Effective reference checks are still possible!
While some employers continue to buckle down on references to prevent liability issues, there are still ways to use reference checks as an effective part of the hiring process:
- Make conversation. Don’t keep a reference check entirely stuffy. Yes, you have a job to do, but if you approach the reference in a comfortable manner, he or she is more likely to be honest with you. Ask easy questions to break the ice and warm up the call. “How long did you work with [blank]?”, “How would you describe your work relationship?”, and “What position did [blank] hold?” are some good basics to start.
- Don’t read from a script. Now, you may have a list of questions to ask, but specifically, don’t read from a standard reference check script, that the reference has heard dozens of times (if not more). Robot questions are much more likely to get robot answers. Throw some curve balls in there to get some unique and honest answers. “Would you work with [blank] again?”, “Can you think of a time [blank] was under stress? How did he/she handle it?”, or “Did [blank] contact you ahead of time to see if you were willing to be a reference?” are some good (soft) curve balls to toss in there.
- Keep the questions consistent. Make sure you ask each reference the same questions. It can be hard to compare different aspects of an employee’s performance, so ask each reference the same questions. Then, you can review the answers and look for trends, anomalies, or other issues/questions that present themselves.
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