It’s tempting to feel due diligence has been accomplished when you’re ready to say, “You’re hired.” With the screening, background checks, social media vetting, and interviews that are part and parcel of the hiring manager’s domain, you probably feel that you have a firm grasp of the potential candidate’s suitability and promise.
Don’t underestimate the usefulness of the reference check. Taking the opportunity to talk to another professional about how someone performs at work is an invaluable step in the process of finding the right candidate for the position.
1. Know Your Candidate
There’s more to reference checks than verifying the qualifications and experience of the potential candidate. This is your chance to learn about their work style from another experienced manager who evaluated their strengths and weaknesses on the job on a daily basis.
Reference checks are essential for risk management. The information you gain can save you from disastrous hires or help you manage the successful candidate in their new position with your company.
Keep the reference check job-related. Bear in mind that employment laws, such as anti-discrimination provisions, apply to reference checks and interviews.
2. Making The Call
Ensure you’re engaging with the person who supervised the candidate in the position. It’s unlikely that the supervisor will decline to give a reference — 90 percent of supervisors will agree. Some companies prefer that human resources departments deal with references, though a supervisor might have more pertinent information. If that’s the case, ask if a conversation outside the office is possible.
If both the supervisor and HR member are reluctant to help, ask if they could provide a confidential personal reference and a phone number where they could be reached after hours.
You might also find alternative references that aren’t on the candidate’s list through your network, professional associations, past employees, or even a search on LinkedIn.
Let the supervisor know how important it is to both the company and the candidate to ensure that they’re a good fit for the position and assure them that the personal reference will remain confidential. Call ahead and make an appointment for the conversation. This allows the supervisor to gather their thoughts about the former employee.
3. That’s A Good Question
Strategic questions will help determine if the candidate fits into your organization. Set a positive tone about the candidate to assure the supervisor of your intention to engage in a constructive conversation.
Start with the specifics — employment dates, job titles, and responsibilities. Then, compare the answers with the candidate’s resume. Describe the position you’re considering the candidate for and ask for the former supervisor’s opinion about the fit of the person for the job.
Dig a little deeper with a few probing, open-ended questions that invite elaboration about work habits and personality. What was the candidate’s record for missing work or being late? How did they perform on a team? How did they handle conflict? Were they ever promoted? Did they ever supervise another employee? Would the supervisor hire them again, given the opportunity?
This opportunity is a chance to dig into any final questions the company may have about the candidate being the right fit. Clients are never 100% sure when they make a hire, and now is when you can address any lingering concerns.
4. Cultural Fit
In addition, frame a few questions to help describe the candidate’s soft skills. Ask about their level of motivation, if they demonstrated empathy, whether they prefer working alone or as part of a team, and whether they possess flexibility, stability, or other traits the position calls for.
What kind of working environment are they used to? Competitive, collaborative, directed toward long-term goals, or short-term? These are questions with no right or wrong answers, but they help you understand whether the candidate will be a good cultural fit for the company — and that’s a major factor in finding the right person for the position.
5. Getting to the Finish Line
Whatever the outcome is for the candidate, reaching out to other professionals is an opportunity for you to expand your network and open up more recruiting avenues. Don’t forget to express your gratitude as you finish up, and let them know they should get in touch if you can be of service to them in the future. If you have any questions about this article, please contact us.
Chris Bouchard is the Talent Shareholder at Lutz. He began his career in 2005. He focuses on direct-hire and temporary staffing and strategic assessment and selection of potential candidates with an emphasis on human resources, accounting, finance, and office administrative positions.
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