Get the Most Out of Reference Checks in Your Recruiting Process

The recruiting process is made up of many elements, but reference checks don’t always rank very high in importance. That’s a shame. They might be the last step in your current strategy, but that doesn’t mean they’re just a formality.

Hiring managers, listen up: references are an untapped resource. You might only use them to confirm that the information on a resume and job application are true. If so, you’re missing out. You could use them to gain incredible insight into the person you’re about to hire.

RELATED: Does Your Recruitment Process Focus on Top Talent or the Right Talent?

Dispel Myths About What You Can Ask

If you polled prospective employees about what you can and can’t ask a previous employer, you might get a wide range of answers. Some are scared to bits because they wonder what the employer might say. And some believe that prospective employers are only allowed to ask specific questions.

The truth, of course, is somewhere in between. A prospective employer and previous employer could land in a lot of hot water if the questions cross the line into discriminatory topics. But almost everything else is fair game.

Pay Attention to Confirmation

Don’t assume that everything on an application and resume is true. If a candidate believes that you won’t spend time chatting with references, he might nudge anything from employment dates to his GPA into a slightly better range.

Confirmation could eliminate some candidates right off the bat. And it can also free you to focus on other relevant information. More important, it can open up topics of conversation that the previous employer might not have offered otherwise.

Don’t be Afraid to Ask the Hard Questions

You really can ask whether a candidate was difficult to work with, came in late or took extra long lunch hours. You can also ask about why the candidate left the job. The employer might not know. But then again, Career Nook says the answers could even reveal a few secrets.

Sometimes, the parting of ways is amicable. But even that could give you good insight. Maybe there are no hard feelings and he did a great job with his previous employer but was looking for a more flexible workday. If your company is shifting to or from flexible workdays, you’ll have insider knowledge on what motivates him. There is always more information to find if you only ask the right questions.

Get Creative to Learn More

The standard reference check can actually be pretty boring. But it doesn’t have to be. You could even approach it as creatively as you would a job interview. Here are some questions to ask that might offer a great return on your reference check time investment:

  • How did other employees relate to the candidate?
  • Does one impressive problem stand out that the candidate solved (or couldn’t solve)?
  • Is the candidate aggressive?
  • Did the candidate take on challenges outside his job description?
  • Would you trust the candidate around money?
  • Would you trust the candidate in communications with clients or customers who are wobbling and on their way out the door?
  • If his resume landed on your desk, would you rehire?
  • What would you call his greatest strengths and weaknesses?

References get a bad rap. There are so many other tasks in the hiring process that calling up past employers is often left to the very last one. But the information that you need about a candidate has probably already been discovered by someone else. And all that you have to do is pick up the phone.

Once you’re at the reference check stage, you’ve already navigated through the difficult terrain of sourcing. But what if that, too, could be easier and more effective?

Check out our webinar: The Emergence & Impact of Programmatic Advertising on Recruiting. You might find a whole new way to locate candidates that really fit.

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