Advice from the Recruiter’s Desk: Checking References

This Post was written by Bridge Technical Talent
Date posted: September 25, 2015

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How to complete an effective reference check.

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times “no one gives a perspective employer the name of someone who is going to give them a bad reference.” This is really not the case. What is the case is that many HR people, Recruiters, Managers and the countless other types of people/titles don’t know how to complete an effective reference check.

Does this sound familiar: “Hello my name is ____ from ____ and ___ has given your name as a reference, do you have ten minutes to talk to me? Good. On a scale from one to ten how would you rate ____ technical ability? Were they on time for work regularly? Did they work well with others? ETC.”

It’s difficult to gather any real, substantive information about anyone in a 10 minute conversation riddled with closed ended questions. We all know that checking references is a critical piece of the hiring process. But all too often the individual checking the reference doesn’t take the steps to maximize the effectiveness of the check. That said, we thought we would provide some guidance on making the most of your reference check process.

So what do you do?

The first thing you should do is be prepared to have a real conversation with the reference.  Find out about them, what they do, what their team looks like, how they operate, manage etc. Is it similar to your org, group, and culture? In other words, put yourself in a position to understand the context of the reference. Otherwise, you are in serious danger of not estimating whether or not the individual is appropriate for your organization, only if they were successful in someone else’s.

Ask the right questions in the right way. Let’s take a simple question, to see how rephrasing can get you much more valuable insight on the candidate.

Instead of:  “Tell me about the person’s ability to be at work on time.”  

Ask: “How they approach their work day and how do they maximize their time during the day. How does that relate to the peers in their group/org as a whole?”

Results matter more than simply showing up at the office, so your question should reflect this.

Also, ask follow up questions. Dig in. Don’t take anything on face value and be prepared with follow up questions. If a reference tells you that the candidate works well with others find out what that means and ask a follow up question, ideally behavioral based. “Tell me about a time when X had to collaborate on a project with his/her co-workers? What was the outcome? Were there challenges with the collaboration? What were they, how did he/she overcome them.

Be prepared. Make sure you know who you’re calling (I know that sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised). Check out the reference’s Linkedin Profile, understand how they fit into the organization. Develop your list of questions ahead of time. Make sure your questions are in line with your organization’s cultural values, positions core competencies and role attributes.

If you’d like more guidance on how to prepare and conduct an effective reference check don’t hesitate to reach out. Contact Bridge for help with your hiring process.

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