Following a job interview, many managers do not feel comfortable extending an offer to a candidate of choice without talking to the candidate’s references. Conducting reference checks is indispensable to validate perceptions of the candidate from an hour-long interview and to discover minutiae that may not be evident from the candidate’s resume or interview. Hence, talking to references gives the manager a distinct perspective of people who may have observed the candidate at his/her work.
Candidates often list as references only individuals who will present upbeat reviews. Further, many references hesitate to provide precise information on the candidate to minimise legal risk (defamation, privacy, etc.) Consequently, some organisations believe that talking to references hardly ever has value. Despite the bias, however, references frequently drop inferences or provide details that may point to important clues to the candidate’s credentials or personality.
Conducting a Reference Check
Ask the candidate for professional references and obtain his/her permission to contact former employers. Setup a twenty to thirty minute telephone meeting with the reference. At the appointed hour, describe the background of the discussion to the reference, inform that the information he/she will provide is valuable and guarantee confidentiality. Consider questions such as the following.
- “What was your relationship with the candidate? Did you supervise him/her? How frequently did you interact with him/her?”
- “What kind of supervision did the candidate expect? Did he/she learn quickly? Was he/she open to feedback and change?”
- “What were the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses? How would you compare him/her to his/her peers?”
- “Was he/she good at working with people, negotiating, etc.?” Pick a few important professional traits that you believe are critical for success in the position for which you are considering the candidate.
- “Would you hire (or rehire) the candidate for a similar position in your company?”
- When the references state general observations such as “Sujay is creative” or “Smitha is a good communicator,” ask for specific examples.
- Try to read between the lines. Be careful of potential misinterpretations; ask for further details and clarify your understanding of the reference’s information.
- Check independent references, wherever possible. Talk to a friend or people within your network who may know the candidate.
Obtaining meaningful data from reference checks and interpreting this information in the context of the rest of the interviewing process helps managers make objective decisions on job candidates.