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Reference Checks: Don’t Overlook This Crucial Step

July 11th, 2014

No hiring process for a high-responsibility job should be considered complete without a reference check. But this final, crucial stage of the process can take time, and this exercise often provides managers with subjective, open ended data points that are difficult to measure and quantify and even more difficult to compare across a candidate pool. After all, most managers don’t get very much out of bland phrases like: “We never had a single problem with him,” or “She was great. Really great.”

So if you’re staffing a critical position and you don’t have hours to spare in exchange for vague, meaningless feedback, keep these considerations in mind before you abandon the process altogether.

1. One red flag can prevent countless headaches and regrets.

Nine reference checks out of ten may not provide game changing information. But the tenth may be worth more than gold. If your contact says something like “I’m not sure why he submitted my name as a reference”, or “She’s great as long as you don’t expect punctuality (or public speaking skill, or written communication skills, etc)”, then your time will have been well spent.

2. It’s okay to read between the lines.

Sometimes great management decisions come from the gut and can’t be easily quantified. If you hear something in your contact’s voice that you can’t even describe in words, let alone measure, that’s okay. A slight hesitation, a moment of confusion, or a genuine tone of enthusiastic, heartfelt support can shine a legitimate green light on the candidate or allow you to shift focus to another qualified candidate.

3. Word your questions thoughtfully.

Try to add meaning to the process by investing in your wording. Instead of a bland, empty question like “Would you recommend this candidate?” try something more focused, like “Which responsibilities should I hand to this candidate? Which tasks should I hand to someone else?”

4. A neutral answer (or no answer) speaks volumes.

If you find a candidate’s references difficult to reach, or in a hurry to end the conversation, take this into account. You’ll also want to scrutinize answers that aren’t answers at all, like “I can’t really say very much about him”, “I didn’t work with her on a daily basis”, or “She was a nice person…I can’t tell you anything about her technical skills, but she was pleasant enough.”

For more information on how to keep your reference checks valuable and efficient, reach out to the staffing experts at Merritt.

 

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