Reference checking can be one of the most important portions of the hiring process. It offers the opportunity to engage with people who have actually seen your candidate at work – rather than just hearing him talk about their work in the interview. But there are many ways that the process can go off the rails if you don’t proceed carefully.
Reference-Checking Mistakes Hiring Managers Make
Not checking references. This seems obvious, but it’s surprising how many employers skip this step entirely. You may be in a hurry to fill the position or feel that it’s not necessary. But even if you are tempted to just go with your gut, take the time to check.
Not getting references from direct supervisors. You may not be able to speak to their current manager, but the candidate should be able to offer a manager or two from their employment history for you to speak to. This offers you the best insight into their on-the-job performance.
Not reading between the lines. The expression “damning with faint praise” comes into play here. Most references hesitate to say anything outright negative, but a less-than-enthusiastic response to your inquiries may tell you all you need to know.
Asking yes or no questions. Don’t let references off the hook by giving them the opportunity to provide one-word answers. Ask open ended questions and avoid the temptation to lead them to the answers you want to hear.
Not asking follow up questions. Don’t hesitate to clarify anything you want to learn more about. Ask for details and examples.
Not being consistent. Make sure to always ask each reference the same questions so that you can compare their responses and get a fair assessment of the candidates.
Not paying attention to proximity. Are you talking to a front-line supervisor or an executive that may have been several steps removed? How closely did they work with the candidate? Do they really know them or is the best they can offer is that “they seemed like a nice person?”
Making the effort to check references before extending an offer can help you to avoid costly hiring mistakes. The time you invest in your candidates up-front can pay dividends in your (and their!) long-term success.
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