Think Reference Checks are Overrated? Think Again!

April 17th, 2017

As you source candidates for an open position, review resumes, and conduct interviews, you rarely doubt the value of you endeavors. You feel confident that the time you invest in these activities will pay off as you narrow your options and hone in on the most qualified candidates in the pool. But when it comes to reference checks, you may feel differently.

Too often, HR pros and hiring managers eliminate reference checks altogether, assuming that the payoff just isn’t worth the effort, time, and social awkwardness that reference checks entail. But if you’ve weighed the cost and benefits and decided to skip the reference check process, reconsider. Here are some benefits you may be overlooking.

Reference checks don’t take long if they’re done right.

You don’t have to set aside an hour for a long phone call; just correspond by email. And you don’t have to allow a rambling discussion to consume your afternoon; just ask a quick series of concrete questions with easy answers. If you read between the lines, even a five-minute exchange can provide insight into how others feel about your candidate and the general impression he leaves behind.

References DO provide meaningful information.

Managers often skip reference checks because most references provide bland, non-committal, unassailable answers that won’t get them into trouble. But if you don’t let this happen, it won’t happen. Instead of saying “Did you like the candidate?” (of course the answer will be yes), ask something more pointed. Try: “Was the candidate consistently on time? What did she do best? If you had to provide a coaching tip for me, what would it be?”

References catch red flags.

Just embarking on the process can provide meaningful information. For example, if you reach out to a reference and your call is ignored or avoided, you can consider this a successful data-gathering mission. You never exchanged a word, but this non-responsive reference has shared a data point that you can add to a growing picture of the candidate’s profile.

References might give more than you asked for.

An enthusiastic, full-hearted, hyperbolic testament to the candidate’s abilities can be a powerful statement. If even one of your candidate’s references shouts her praises to the heavens, you can consider this a plus. These enthusiastic supporters can also tell you about accomplishments or proud moments the candidate herself may have omitted due to oversight or modesty.

Reference provide a point of comparison.

You may have two candidates with apparently equal technical abilities, in which case a reference check might provide a quick and immediate tie breaker. Make the calls and see what happens.

For more on how to conduct reference checks in an efficient, appropriate, and meaningful way, reach out to the Cleveland County professional staffing team at PSU.

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