When you’re looking to hire someone for an open position, the candidate’s resume can only reveal so much about how they will perform the job. While social media and online portfolios provide a more in-depth look at them as an employee, they typically don’t include the information you really need to know.
This is where reference checks come in. By calling a candidate’s references, you can learn about their past behaviour and performance in order to determine if they will be a good fit at your organisation. What skills, values, and behaviours did he or she exhibit at past positions? Surely, their former supervisors, clients, and co-workers can help provide a fuller picture of the individual before you offer them the job.
Why do you need to conduct reference checks? According to the 2010 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Background Checking: Conducting Reference Background Checks poll, here are some reasons for checking references:
- To reduce legal liability for negligent hiring
- To determine that credentials such as education, position or skills are accurately represented by the job candidate
- To assess past performance and predict future performance
- To reduce or prevent theft and embezzlement, other criminal activity
- To ensure a safe work environment for employees
- To comply with applicable state law requiring background checks for particular positions such as day care teachers or licensed medical practitioners
- To assess the overall trustworthiness of the job candidate
- To determine if salary history is accurately represented by the job candidate
Although not every past employer will be completely open about answering all of your questions, employment law strongly advises making the effort to check references. According to an article written by Dori Meinert on SHRM, employment lawyers and HR professionals recommend that employers:
- Develop a written policy outlining procedures for checking references, and then follow it.
- Restrict the employees who conduct reference checks to HR staff or hiring managers trained to ask appropriate questions.
- Ask each applicant to provide at least three professional references.
- Obtain the applicant’s written consent to contact former employers.
- Try to contact at least two of the references via phone call, e-mail or online survey.
- Document attempts to contact references, and note their responses.
Worried about not getting the information you need? If you’re calling a job candidate’s references, here are two ways to learn what you need to know:
Listen carefully. Pay attention to the tone of their voice in order to read between the lines. Take note of pauses or hesitations when answering certain questions. Even if they are only answering the basic questions, you may be able to gain some insight from the way they provide their answers.
Ask the same question in a variety of ways. If they don’t answer one question, move on to another to help them open up. When you come back to that question later, they may be more prone to providing an answer.
You can also consider turning to online surveys for checking references. Online tools such as SkillSurvey and Checkster provide services for employers to perform reference assessments that can provide much more insight than a phone call. Implementing this type of tool can return reference check questions more quickly and may result in more candid answers, particularly if the survey is anonymous.
“There’s little behavioural information about a candidate’s probable success on the job that comes out of most pre-hiring activities,” said Ray Bixler, president and CEO of SkillSurvey. “That’s why a web-based reference-checking system is a growing option that employers are adding to their pre-hiring process to capture feedback from a candidate’s real references (including open comments from references).”
Here are Bixler’s tips for pre-hiring through reference-checking:
Moving reference-checking up earlier in the recruiting process is beneficial, before final interviews. Feedback from references often influences which candidates are invited in for final-round interviews and which are not. Save the time and travel expenses associated with candidates who were going to be interviewed, and now don’t need to be.
Send an online reference-check to all your final candidates and get feedback from five references in two days for each candidate.
Discover false information. The online reference-checking system identifies candidates who are possibly submitting false information about their references. For example, a nationwide children’s hospital found an applicant who was submitting falsified email addresses for the references. The addresses could not be verified and that person was not hired. Pause the hiring decision when you need to.
Reference-checking is back on the scene after being able to navigate around the old phone-checking system that was providing only yes/no responses. Now recruiters get behavioural and skills information about a candidate’s prior work experience without picking up the phone.
Leverage information from references to choose your strongest candidate or to adjust onboarding plans. All feedback from references is aggregated and is confidential before it comes back to the recruiter, and the information is presented as a comparison report. The report shows how the candidates scored compared to each other, easily allowing a hiring manager to see which candidate is the best choice. In some cases, a candidate might be an acceptable fit with heavier investments in certain areas of the onboarding procedure or training during the new-hire period at the company.
Checking a prospective employee’s references provides valuable insight into things their resume might not, such as their values, work ethic, and potential fit within your company. It also helps you improve the quality of your hires and reduce employee turnover.
How important are reference checks in your hiring process? What tips do you have for conducting them?
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