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Always Run a Reference Check Before Offering the Job

Always Run a Reference Check Before Offering the Job

To many hiring managers, checking references is a trivial formality that carries few benefits. But that belief is ill-informed. When done well, conducting a reference check can be illuminating and extremely valuable to the interview process. To be effective, the practice requires intuition, common sense, and good listening skills.

Unfortunately, there’s plenty of room for error in this arena, like failing to check a candidate’s references before offering them the job. The following are five common mistakes made by recruiters, employers, and others involved in the hiring process in regard to following up with references.

1. Not Checking at All

Strange as it may seem, many employers don’t check references at all. Given the ramifications of a disastrous hire, it’s more important than ever to carefully conduct a check before offering the job to any candidate. Prepare relevant questions and set aside some time to make those calls.

2. Checking Too Late

This is one of the most foolhardy practices in the employment arena. There are employers who only check references on the final candidate they want to hire. However, this is a mistake. You could be tempted to ask only superficial questions, and you might be missing out on other very strong candidates. Instead, narrow your list down and then check the references of everyone in that list before making an offer to any one of them.

3. Failing to Conduct the Reference Check Before the Offer

Many employers get ahead of themselves and make offers before contacting references. Once you’ve identified the top two or three candidates through CV screenings and initial interviews, you should contact references before offering anyone the position. If the references confirm a candidate’s skills, experience and ability, then conduct a follow-up interview armed with that knowledge.

Making an offer contingent on a positive outcome with references creates a legal relationship between the employer and candidate. Avoid potential headaches for your legal department by waiting on the offer until you’re sure you have the candidate you want.

4. Not Requiring References Who Have Worked Directly with the Candidate

Employers often incorrectly assume that the only references available to them are the ones attached to the candidate’s CV. Employers have every right to ask candidates to provide a list of the types of people they want to call for a reference check, not just the ones the candidate wants them to have.

A good rule of thumb is to ask candidates to provide the names of at least one former supervisor, a peer, and a subordinate. While that exact mix may not always be possible, the point is that employers should be talking with people who have actually worked with the candidate in various capacities on a daily basis within the last five to seven years.

5. Asking Leading Questions and Failing to Ask Follow-up Questions

Many employers only ask references job performance questions that require nothing more than a “yes” or “no” answer. These closed-ended questions don’t result in valuable information that can help make hiring decisions. Instead of asking, “Was Bill a good worker?” a better question is, “How would you describe Bill’s on-the-job performance?” This provides deeper, more meaningful information and clues about the way the candidate works, their performance, and other interpersonal soft skills that would make an employee successful in your company.

The other half of the problem is that prospective employers don’t ask logical follow-up questions. If a reference says Sue was the best employee their company had ever had, few reference checkers would take line of questioning further and ask the follow-up question, “Could you tell me what made her performance so extraordinary?” A good follow-up question allows you to dig deeper and obtain a more complete picture of the candidate beyond what they have personally given you.

Use Reference Checks and Other Tools to Get to the Right Candidate

The importance of checking references shouldn’t be overlooked. Careful reference checking requires time, training, and insight. If done properly, it can be one of the most useful hiring tools available to any employer. If done poorly, it can lead to hiring someone who is unfit for the job, or even harmful for the company. Could you use more tips to help you make smart hiring moves? Get started on your recruiting efforts by posting a job listing for free on Monster.