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Make reference checks the rule, not the exception

November 1, 2018

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Make reference checks the rule, not the exception

6 min read

Many hiring managers place scant emphasis on reference checks thinking they lead to unnecessary delays. Although we can get away with that kind of approach for a while, it’s bound to come back and bite us in the long run.

The reality is, reference checks should become a vital step in the hiring process if you want to prevent potentially negative consequences in the future. Without the proper checks, you could end up with an employee who lacks the experience you need, or who has personal traits that you don’t want. Worse still, you could end up with a poor quality hire that could see you have to start the whole hiring process all over again.  Of course, not every candidate is trying to hide something or con their way to a job offer. However, statistics show that eight out of ten employers experience resume fraud, so reference checks should be taken very seriously.

Where hiring managers go wrong

We’re all inclined to go by gut feel, even when there’s information available that contradicts what we perceive. It’s is part of our existence, and in every situation, we’re actively processing and assessing information from our surroundings and coming to conclusions.

Perception is a subconscious process, and individually, or as a team, we can be unaware of its magnitude in crucial business decisions. It doesn’t take much for perception to take hold and gain momentum. If this momentum gains traction (which it can easily do), we can quickly see it as the reality.

When we go on gut feel in interviews, we make snap evaluations that result in spontaneous judgement calls, positive or negative, that we don’t try to clarify. For the most part, we’re unaware of this thought process, and we begin to believe and trust our judgements without recognising any bias.

Unfortunately, our gut feel is often wrong!

Making crucial decisions in business based on perceived information only isn’t just bad for business, it can also do severe damage. Many businesses suffer financial loss, brand damage or lose opportunities because decisions were made based on perception; that in spite of their being contrary factual information available to forewarn them.

When it comes to hiring, the searchlight that reaches beyond perception is reference checks.

One bad apple spoils the bunch

No role should be exempt from reference checks; from entry-level employees to executives. Every employee who’s been employed through misrepresentation is bound to cause some issues in the long run, from negligible to disastrous.

Even if their dishonesty is never found out, the employer will pay the price one way or another because deceit has a knock-on effect. Employees who claim to have skills or qualifications they don’t have will work slower, lean heavily on their peers and can affect their entire department. People who’ve previously been guilty of any kind of theft from past employers are likely to try again because past behavior predicts future behavior. And no matter the size or reputation of your company, top executives can cause brand damage that can be difficult to salvage.

Collecting thorough references from hiring managers can spare hiring managers the misery of trying to undo the damage caused by an oversight during the hiring process.

Get accurate reference checks

Reference checks aren’t about ticking off ‘yes’ ‘no’ answers from a list; if you do that, you might as well skip them. Doing references calls well is about planning and digging in to get to know more about the candidate and the resume they’ve given you.

It’s always best to advise applicants upfront that reference checks and qualification verifications will be done on all shortlisted candidates; that way you ward off any chancers and time wasters.

Ask all selected candidates to provide a list of past managers or supervisors before you begin with interviews. A quick check on social media sites like LinkedIn should confirm if the reference supplied is or was an employee of the same company as the candidate. If you can’t verify the connection, make a brief call to the company reception where they both worked together and ask if the reference does or did work there and in what capacity.

Although this might seem like time wasting, it isn’t! Many people will try to give a work colleague, or even a friend, in the hope of getting away with a setup reference check. By checking this out, you’re actually saving a lot of time that could be wasted on interviews if the candidate is dishonest.

Once you’ve confirmed that the candidate has given valid references, you can continue with the interview process. But before making any job offers, dive into the references on all shortlisted candidates who have fared well during interviews to ensure that you keep your process fair and transparent.

Written reference checks stick!

You can speak to references and make notes as you go, but getting confirmed reference checks in writing is the best way to do it for any number of reasons.

Firstly, it makes you come across as genuine and more professional to the reference. People are sceptical of giving verbal references for fear of misinterpretation, or they’re just dismissive; either way – you lose out!

Call the reference, introduce yourself, briefly explain why you’re calling, and ask if you can email a short list of questions. Request an urgent reply because you have to decide fairly soon to who you’re going to make the job offer. In most cases, this works well because few references want to think that they cost a former employee an opportunity.

Keep your questions brief but pertinent, making sure that you avoid ‘yes’ ‘no’ type answers, and encouraging the reference to elaborate a little more. Depending on the role that you have, be sure to confirm that the candidate has the depth of knowledge as well as the experience you require.

Another core reason why written references are best is that nothing’s left out. When speaking to someone, we might unintentionally forget to ask something, or they could hurry us along causing us to end the call sooner than intended. By asking for the candidate reference in writing, you’re sure to cover all bases, and no one can come back later and dispute anything.

A written reference is also quick and easy to share with other team members, especially if you’re using a collaborative hiring structure and an ATS. Remember, well-prepared reference checks offer factual information that can eliminate hiring on perception.

Why do candidates lie on their resumes?

Not everyone who lies on their resume is inherently evil or even a bad candidate!

People who lie on their resumes are focused on getting what they want. And their desire to get what they want is greater than their fear of being exposed as a liar or a fraud. People may be driven by a degree of naiveté (particularly first-time jobseekers), desperation, ego or believe that they can outsmart anyone. Whatever their reason, people who lie on their resume are inclined to making risky decisions. That’s also most likely is a thread that runs throughout their personality rather than being isolated to job hunting only.

Unfortunately, without doing thorough reference checks, you too are making risky decisions based on your perceptions of a candidate rather than on factual information.

Recruitee supports collaborative hiring with a transparent and user-friendly platform designed for an unlimited number of users on all plans. That means that you can share verbatim post-interview references checks instantly with all team members at a single click, allowing you to speed up your hiring decisions with improved accuracy.

Bev has enthusiastically worked to match top employers and candidates for almost twenty years. An endless curiosity of the human mind, HR tech development, how to help people reach their goals and the ever-evolving hiring landscape is what keeps her fired up.
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