5 Tips for When and How to Conduct Reference Checks

Organizations have varying philosophies regarding reference checks during the hiring process. As a result, they are often misunderstood and underutilized by employers seeking to identify the best candidate for their open position.

These varying philosophies involve both when and how to conduct reference checks. First and foremost, though, recognize that references must be part of your organization’s process. There is a place for them, and using them haphazardly is nearly as counterproductive as not using them at all.

With that in mind, below are five tips for when and how to conduct reference checks:

#1—Conduct reference checks once an offer is extended and accepted.

In my many years as a search consultant, I’ve found that this is the best time to check references. Make the hire contingent upon successful reference checks. If you check them before this point, you could jeopardize the candidate’s current employment situation. If others learn that the candidate is looking for a new opportunity, the company may develop competing offers for the candidate once word get out.

#2—Ask specifically how the reference knows the candidate.

How much you dig depends upon how much information the candidate has provided about the reference. If it’s just a name and telephone number, you might have to bring a big shovel. You must know the relationship between the reference and the candidate before you can accurately gauge the weight of the reference and the corresponding light in which it casts the candidate.

#3—Address any and all concerns from the interview phase.

If you’re checking references after an offer is made and accepted, then you’ve already conducted the face-to-face interviews. During those interviews, one or two concerns may have surfaced. The reference checking stage is a great opportunity to address those concerns. Instead of asking general questions, you’ll be able to pose specific questions relevant to whatever value the candidate will bring.

#4—Focus on the bottom line: results.

Yes, the candidate might be a great person. They’re kind, generous, caring, etc. However, those wonderful qualities do no matter as much if there are not quantifiable results behind them. What did the person accomplish? How did they achieve these accomplishments? What characteristics or attributes have helped the candidate in their success?

#5—Stay positive and upbeat.

A reference is a person from which you would like to solicit information. You are more likely to get that information if you handle the conversation in an engaging manner. People are more likely to open up if the discussion is positive in nature and infused with energy.

Does your organization conduct reference checks in the above manner? How important are reference checks to your hiring process? What improvements could you make in that process?

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