How to do a “Real” Reference Check


How to do a “Real” Reference Check

A 2017 HireRight employment screening benchmark report tells us that 85% of employers have caught lies on a resume. A good way to be sure that your candidate is who they say they are is to do a reference check. However, many employers don’t want to discuss the performance of a past employee because it can open their company up for liability. Candidates may be able to request copies of a reference check which can make employers reluctant to share real feedback concerning the employee’s value as a candidate. Doing a “real” reference check could save some extremely costly hiring mistakes.

Ask Open-ended Questions

While doing a reference check, it’s important to ask open-ended questions in order to get a better sense of the candidate’s performance as well as the professional relationship between the two. An open-ended question is a question that can’t be answered with “yes” or “no”. “Tell me about [the candidate’s] experience with…” is a good example of an open-ended question that can help you uncover specific details about a certain skill or quality. In a reference check, it’s a red flag if the reference gives more fluff than fact. A reference that uses a lot of generic, or overly-enthusiastic language might not be giving a full and truthful account. Generic answers also do nothing to help you determine the quality of your candidate. Specific stories that showcase a candidate’s work traits are more indicative of the quality you can expect from them.

Don’t Just Send a Form

Employers sometimes like to use a generic form for all of the references they contact in order to save time. While it might be convenient to ask the same questions about every candidate, it’s also very limiting. Different candidates with different backgrounds raise different questions. A form is often far too general to get a true gauge on a candidate’s past performance, and many employers won’t respond with real information because of a fear of liability. There’s no room for follow-up questions or a request for more specifics. It’s also limiting in that you do not get an impression of the references themselves. How quickly does it take for them to call you back? That can be very telling when it comes to the legitimacy of a reference’s recommendation. In order to make a fair evaluation of a candidate based on references, it’s important to ask questions specific to the skills and background of the candidate you are considering.

Ask to Verify Specific Facts

Perhaps the greatest advantage with deviating from the reference form is the freedom to get specific. If a reference can confirm facts from a resume, not only do you know your candidate is legitimate, but also you can be confident that your reference knows your candidate well. Use this as an opportunity to verify certain aspects of the resume such as education and work history. The reference check is one of the most important tools for ensuring there is no dishonesty surrounding a candidate’s background. Many companies will immediately rescind a job offer if they find false information on a resume or application.

Ask Behavioral Reference Questions

In order to get the most specifics, references should be asked behavioral based questions concerning the candidate. If a reference claims your candidate possesses a specific, for example, ask a follow-up question to get more information. The key to asking behavioral questions is to format your question to get the most specific answer possible. Questions that begin with “Tell me about a time when…” can be very effective in gathering concrete examples of the candidate showcasing specific skills. If a reference is unable to produce specific answers to behavioral questions it is cause for some skepticism. Again, it’s important to be confident that you are hiring a person who is who they say they are in order to avoid an expensive hiring mistake.

Quantify Work Traits and Behaviors

Measuring traits and work habits on a numbered scale can also help to evaluate candidates in relation to one another. Asking a reference to rate an aspect of an employee’s performance on a scale of 1-5 can be extremely valuable. This allows you to evaluate two candidates on the same scale in order to come to a hiring decision. It also allows you to tailor follow-up questions in order to get specific examples to back up an answer. By both quantifying traits and asking open-ended questions, you get a more well-rounded understanding of a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.

Reference checks are invaluable when it comes to getting to know and vetting your candidates in order to avoid an expensive mistake. However, simply sending a generic form might not be the best strategy, especially when employers are reluctant to share real and valuable information for fear of liability. Asking the right questions in the right way can help you to get the best understanding of your candidate’s background, skills, and professional traits. This knowledge will help you feel confident that you are making the best and most informed hiring decisions.

Bradley Staffing Group is a full-service staffing firm based in Wayne, PA. We are committed to matching A-level talent with best-in-class businesses. Our knowledgeable and well-trained staff brings a combined 70+ years of staffing experience to our clients and candidates alike.

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