The HR Advisor

3 Key Aspects Of Effective Reference Checking

conducting a reference check

If you ask a chef what the key to their signature dish is, they will tell you that having the right ingredients and applying the proper method are the foundations of every great meal.

There are a number of crucial ingredients to a successful new hire, each of which must be applied systematically, much like baking a cake. Effective reference checking should be a key element in your recruitment and induction recipe as it allows you to substantiate the thoughts and data that you have gathered through the interview process.

Here we outline three essential elements for conducting effective reference checks.

Consistency Is King

Running a consistent, thorough recruitment process is imperative, as the cost of a bad hire will far outweigh the benefit of time saved by cutting corners in recruitment and induction.  Given the necessity to ensure your new hire will be a solid cultural fit, your reference checks should include asking their previous manager or colleague about how they operate day to day and engage with others.

Prepare your questions based on the critical requirements of the role and use competency and values-based open questions. By asking the same questions in each reference check, you can accurately benchmark all candidates. 

A reference check will usually go for about 20 minutes.  Take the time to document the responses accurately, noting the referee's name, role and contact information so that others in your organisation can follow up if needed.


Who Is The Right Referee?

Speaking with the right person matters, which is why validating the referees via LinkedIn, or another reputable industry medium is important.  Often the candidates are employed, so you may be unable to speak with their current manager.  However, there may be a stakeholder that has seen them operating in their role that can provide a reference check. 

Ideally, you would want to conduct two reference checks with individuals who have managed the potential hire within the past five years.  This will depend on how many years they have been in their current role.  If one of the two reference checks gives a glowing endorsement and the other is average, it would be useful to conduct a third check to ensure that you understand the differences.

Self-awareness is essential, so when conducting the checks, ask yourself; does the referee sound genuinely supportive of the candidate? Were they satisfied with what the candidate had to offer the business? Do they give quick responses and want to get you off the phone? Consider these responses and interest and willingness in being interviewed.  Does it sound like the referee is best friends with the candidates and therefore it is possibly harder to give independent, unbiased feedback?


Asking The Right Questions

It is vital that interviewers use investigative and behavioural style interviewing techniques.  Open questions allow the interviewer to drill down on the candidate’s ability, experience and soft skills.  If the right questions are asked, then the reference check has credibility and can genuinely help the hiring manager make the right decision.  

Always keep the questions legal! This may sound simple but asking about a person’s personal caring situation, for example, is not something that you can directly ask. If the referee discloses this in the process on their own accord, that is ok.  You need to know which questions are not ok to ask for a reference check.  Areas like religion, sex, marital status and ethnic background are not appropriate or legal!

Truly listening to the response and then asking the next question to get more details about their experience will make a difference in gathering meaningful feedback.  When interviewing a previous employer, always remember to ask whether that person would rehire the candidate and why or why not?  Always close with an open-ended question. "Is there anything else you would like to share about this candidate?"

Once you have conducted the reference checks, debriefing with the people that have been involved in the hiring process is a valuable and essential step. 

All stages of the recruitment process are about gathering information and validating it with the further stages of the process. No stage should be viewed in isolation. The information gathered at each recruitment stage is a tool in assessing a candidate’s suitability for the organisation and the role. 

Asking the right referees, the right questions helps to ensure that your reference checks do more than just support a resume and the interview data. They provide the assurance and support that you’re hiring the right person for your business.


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