: executive career briefcase
Conducting Reference Checks
It can be tempting to rush through the reference-checking process - or bypass it altogether - in order to make a quick hire. While it's important not to delay this step and risk losing the candidate to someone else, reference checking is still a critical tool for evaluating prospective employees.
Legal issues have made many firms reluctant to provide more than dates of employment, title and salary. With a little preparation and persistence, however, you can glean valuable insight from the reference-checking process.
Let candidates know early in the process that if they become finalists for the position, you will be conducting a thorough reference check. This enables applicants to start lining up references and notifying them that you may call. During the interview, make note of candidate responses you might want to verify with references.
Don't rely on just one reference in qualifying an applicant for a job. In a survey commissioned by Robert Half Management Resources, financial executives said that, on average, they like to check a minimum of three references before extending an employment offer for a senior-level position.
A Do-It-Yourself Project
Handle the reference-checking process yourself - you know better than anyone else which skills and personality will best fit the job. Additionally, by speaking with the candidate's former supervisors, your counterparts, you're more likely to develop some camaraderie, enhancing your chances of gaining useful information.
What Should I Ask?
Start your inquiry with the basics: Ask for employment date confirmation, title, job duties, salary and where the candidate worked previously. If the reference is receptive, ask for further information, such as the candidate's strengths and weaknesses, the candidate's ability to work as part of a team and whether the reference would rehire the candidate if the opportunity arose.
Keep in mind the same discrimination laws that apply to interviewing also apply to reference checking, so do not ask about marital status, age, disabilities, religion, ethnicity or other personal issues. If your firm doesn't have a reference-checking policy, or if you have specific legal concerns, speak with an attorney who specializes in employment law.
Getting "Real" References
If you encounter a negative reference among several outstanding ones, continue checking to determine if this is an isolated incident - such as a vindictive former manager or colleague - or a sign that the candidate may not be a good fit for the position. Similarly, if you suspect the reference may be a "fake" (e.g., your calls reach only voice mail or an answering machine), call the company's main switchboard to see if the person is in fact employed there, and ask for his or her title. It's not unheard of for a former coworker to pretend to be a past supervisor.
Improving the Odds
Make a thorough reference check a precondition of hiring. This is perfectly legal as long as the information being verified is job-related and does not violate discrimination laws. Candidates will likely arrange for cooperative references - and applicants with something to hide may voluntarily remove themselves from consideration. You should also get the candidate's written approval to pursue additional references of your choosing.
Going Beyond Reference Checks
In addition to checking references, some employers administer drug tests, require medical exams or conduct criminal background checks. Whether or not you decide to take these additional steps depends on the nature of your business and the type of position that is being filled. Before making any such moves, however, be sure to seek appropriate legal advice.
The reference check is one of the final - and most illuminating - steps in the hiring process. By enlisting the help of the candidate and comparing the information you receive with that which you have been provided, you can make the most informed hiring decision.