When hiring, do you do your own reference checks? You should!

I continually meet with leaders who have hired an employee, only to terminate them within months of recruiting them. When I ask why, they reveal that they were surprised by a behaviour or absence of a critical skill set that didn’t surface during the interview process. When I ask whether they personally did reference checks, the answer is consistently “no”.

Many people feel checking references provided by the candidate are a waste of time. In addition, they are uncomfortable with checking or unable to find “backdoor references” that are not obtained from the candidate.

I always attempt to find “backdoor references”; often early in the recruiting process; often before I have even interviewed the candidate. Why waste mine and the candidate’s time doing an interview if there are experience or fit gaps that can be identified early. Further, backdoor references provide information that allows me to target and probe areas of the candidate’s experience, attitudes and skills that I might otherwise overlook.

I also value reference conversations with people candidates provide. While many executives will say: “Why bother, they are only going to give you good references.”, I am occasionally surprised by the bad references that candidates unintentionally provide. Generally though, the references people provide are strong, positive and well-intentioned. Even then, I learn a lot which informs my hiring decision.

To gain value from the reference, I use the following ten questions (or variations thereof):

1) I always introduce myself and give a biographic sketch of who I am. In turn, the reference introduces themselves and gives an equal rundown of their career.

2) “How did you meet her or him?”

3) “What was he or she like to work for?”

4) “What has made her or him successful?”

5) “How does he or she react under stress?”

6) “How does she or he manage employees when they are under stress?”

7) “What is he or she like in front of a customer?”

8) “If you were managing her or him, what would you do to make them successful?”

9) “A person’s biggest strength can be their biggest weakness. What should we watch for?”

10) “Any closing thoughts that you would like to share?”

Most of the time, after interviews and shortlist, I am looking for reference interviews to give me insight into culture fit and how if I hire the candidate, can I support them to be successful. Most of the time, I get confirmation and tips on managing the person. Occasionally, I get something that stops this candidate in the process and avoids a bad hire.

I generally schedule 30 to 45 minutes for the reference call and usually use the majority of that time. I like to do 3 or 5 normal and backdoor reference calls prior to hiring so it is a big commitment of time but not as expensive as a bad hiring decision.

So, if you are hiring someone, don’t leave reference checks to your recruiter. Do them yourself.

© 2018 Meaford Group

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