A new hire who doesn’t have the skills and experience needed to do the job can result in a loss of productivity, while one who has a bad reputation in your industry can cost you customers.
Everyone wants to put their best foot forward during the interview process, but candidates aren’t always exactly forthcoming about their background, experience and weaknesses.
Performing a candidate reference check before an offer is made may help you avoid bad hires.
Why candidate reference checks matter
A candidate reference check will usually validate that your top choice candidates have the skills and experience they say they have, and help you get an idea of what it’s like to work with them.
However, it may also uncover red flags that didn’t come up during the interview process, to give you a 360 degree view of your candidate. References can share valuable insights about your candidate’s personality, past responsibilities, strengths, weaknesses, successes and failures.
Which references to request
Most candidates will send their best references, but you may fare better by asking to speak with people who can validate claims made during the interview process. It’s usually a good idea to speak with a direct supervisor, someone they worked with closely, and a direct report to get a view of the candidate from all sides.
For instance, if a candidate mentioned specific results they achieved on a project, ask to speak with a manager or colleague who also worked on that project. If they mentioned their leadership skills in a specific job, ask to speak with someone who reported to them in that role. Just keep in mind that their job search may be confidential – so you may not be able to speak with references from their current employer.
Who should call the references
The best case scenario is that your hiring manager would call each of your candidate’s references. Hiring managers are the best suited to ask questions and interpret answers to validate a candidate’s potential. It’s also a nod to the person providing the reference: if a past manager or colleague is volunteering their time to help the hiring manager make a decision, the least they could do is reciprocate with their own time.
Sometimes, however, HR or the direct hire agency recruiter will perform the reference checks if the hiring manager isn’t able (either due to time constraints or lack of comfortability), or they may hire an outside firm to do background and reference checks.
What to ask in a candidate reference check
The goal of a candidate reference check is to get a better view of your candidate, so try to ask open-ended questions. Ask for examples of the candidates past experience and performance, such as, “The candidate mentioned she worked with you on [project].
Can you share a little more about her role and responsibilities, and the outcome?” Try to uncover deficiencies by asking questions such as, “Are there any areas where you think the candidate could improve their skills?” Learn what it might be like to work with the candidate by asking questions like, “Would you want to work with the candidate again in the future? Why or why not?”
You want to look for consistencies between what each reference is saying, and what the candidate has said during the interview process.
There will always be some risk involved in hiring, but you can mitigate that risk by verifying your candidate’s skills and experience with people they’ve worked with in the past.
Most candidates won’t stray too far from the truth, but some may have skeletons in their closet that you’ll be glad you found. If nothing else, you may learn some valuable information about how to work with the candidate, to ensure that they’ll be successful in their new role.