You’ve interviewed a rock-star candidate, and you’re beyond excited to bring them on board. You feel it in your gut: they’re the perfect person to hit the ground running with your organization. Their resume and their experience is excellent, the hiring team all love them, and you’re absolutely certain they’re the right fit for your team. In short, you’re ready to make them an offer they can’t resist.
But in the excitement of growing a team, there’s a crucial step in the hiring process that often gets skipped by enthusiastic prospective employers—checking references. Most of us ask candidates to provide references during the recruitment process, but when someone seems perfect for the job, it can be hard to put the brakes on long enough to check them properly.
While doing your due diligence might slow you down a little, the delay to connect with employment references is absolutely worth it. In the worst case scenario, a few brief conversations could help you avoid a disastrous mis-hire. And in the best case, positive references not only reinforce your gut instincts, but can also give you valuable information that will help you and your new employee down the road.
Here’s our 7 step strategy to get the most out of reference checks:
1. Don’t make exceptions. Even if you’re worried you’ll lose a stellar candidate if you wait to contact references, it’s worth taking the time to cross your T’s and dot your I’s. Minimize the chances of a great candidate moving on by keeping them in the loop. Let them know they’re nearing the finish line, and keep channels of communication open, so they know your process and aren’t left hanging. You can prepare their offer simultaneously, so you’re ready to run with it as soon as you’ve completed reference checks.
2. Collaborate with the candidate. Ask the candidate to call and prepare their references, so they know you’ll be contacting them. This works twofold: It is easier to get in touch with a reference who is expecting your call, and it also gives you an opportunity to assess whether your new hire is the go-getter you think they are. If they can’t get in touch with their references or don’t bother trying, it says something about their ability to take initiative and follow through.
3. Prioritize the right people. Candidates often provide a long list of references, but not all of them can tell you what you need to know. Ask for their job titles and relationship to the candidate, so you can focus your efforts. Pick a few people who know the candidate in different capacities to get the most complete picture of how they work. For example, a supervisor, a colleague, and a subordinate might all be appropriate folks to check in with for a management position. Tip: getting both email addresses and phone numbers from candidates can make reaching references smoother, since it is often easier to set up calls with busy professionals via email.
4. Use your network. Informal references can provide valuable information. Know someone who used to work where the candidate worked? Have a mutual friend in common? LinkedIn connections? Ask them what the candidate was like to work with. These supplemental references can be a good way to assess soft skills and interpersonal abilities, and folks in your network are also likely to give you reliable, uncensored information.
5. Know what you want to know. Before you check references, make a list of specific concerns. Identify one or two areas you’d like to dig more into, and prepare some neutrally-phrased questions to get the information you need to make an informed decision. Even if they’re a great candidate, you likely won’t be able to learn everything you’d like to know about them during a 2-hour interview. Use reference checks to focus in on what you need to know, and supplement the information you’ve gathered during the recruitment process.
6. Ask open-ended questions. Particularly if you’re really excited about a candidate, it can be hard not to supply references with the answers you’d like to hear. Using open-ended questions and then following up by asking for specific examples helps solicit more detailed information, and gives you a more complete picture of a potential new hire.
7. Learn how you can support them. Chances are good the reference you’re speaking with has wonderful things to say about the candidate…and that’s great! But you’re not done yet—use the reference as a resource, as they’ll likely have some great insights. Asking them whether they have any advice for the candidate’s future manager is a great way to learn more about how you can support the candidate once they’re in the job.
Your Engaged HR Assignment:
Do you check references regularly as part of your hiring process? If not, now’s the time to start. Next time you’re hiring, use the list above to get the most value from reference checks.
No time to chase down references? We’ve got you covered – give us a call, we’d be happy to do them for you!