Things you need to know about reference checks
He thinks he's got the perfect job in the bag. His qualifications, experience and personality all seem like a good fit. But there’s one more step in your hiring process: checking references.
Why a reference check?
There are two main reasons why employers check references: to verify information presented as facts on the resume and to assess personality traits and work ethic. With past performance, they want to ensure there are no lies on the resume and that they're getting the absolute facts; are they getting the straight goods, do they have a date-to-date rundown of the candidate’s performance? They also want to know they're dealing with people of good character, industrious, good customer service skills and have no police record.
Reference checks process
If businesses rely only on the referees listed on a candidate's list, they're likely to get a skewed sense of the person. After all, why wouldn’t the job candidate offer a fan club's list to help nail the position?
That's why recruiters sometimes use the "360 reference check," where they locate a group of people who know the candidate and ask their opinion. That way they can gain a well-rounded view of the individual that transcends the facts on the resume. If, for instance, they're hiring a server who's worked for a competitor, they may consider asking that person for a reference. They may also try speaking to former line co-workers as well as senior individuals at previous places of employment.
A minimum of three references up to as many as nine, if they still have questions about the person's character, should give them the 360 view. Reference checks normally last 15-20 minutes, but employers may take as long as they need to get the information to make their decision about the candidate.
Typical steps taken & questions employers ask referees
- Prepare a general script, but should not expect referees to fill in a standard form which they email to them. The best reference checks are conducted on the phone or face to face, where body language can often reveal more than words.
- Keep a record of each referee, with name and phone number so anybody else in their organization can phone and follow up.
- Determine the relationship between the referee and the candidate and should not be surprised to find they have a personal connection.
- Know which questions are off limits for a reference check. For instance, areas like religion, sex, marital status and ethnic heritage are no-go zones for reference checks.
- Ask the right questions. When interviewing a previous employer, an employer should always remember to ask whether that person would rehire the candidate, if given the choice, and for what position.
- Go beyond date-to-date information. If this is all an employer is getting from the referee, they may try a line such as "What I'm hearing leads me to believe you might be hiding something." Then the individual will give some recognizable nod to real character. Most referees are concerned with saying the right thing about the candidate. The vast majority say only nice and positive things. When employers get away from these things, they want to be able to learn more.
- Use lines that provoke more than factual answers, like… "Please complete this sentence: if there’s one thing I could change about the job candidate, it’s…"
- Determine what the referee’s general responsibilities were and what the candidate's were. If the candidate doesn't work there anymore, why did the person leave?
- Ask about technical skills. Most hospitality jobs today require more than a base level of computer skills.
- Query a candidate's social skills. Customer service skills should be top of an employers reference list, but interaction skills with their other staff are equally important. They should also ask if the referee has any knowledge of problems, such as drinking or drugs, or tardiness, which could affect job performance.
- Look beyond the list. They may try and speak to referees who are not on the job candidate's list, since they can be a gold mine of information, both good and bad. But employers should make sure not to compromise the individual, if he or she is still working for the company.
- Ask questions pertaining to the new job. For instance, if they're hiring a server to work in a busy downtown bar, they may ask how the person would handle the stress of this environment.
- Close with an open-ended question. "Is there anything else you'd like me to know about this individual?"
Asking the right questions of the right people will help ensure that an employers reference checks do more than just reinforce a resume. They'll illuminate and give them the peace of mind that they're hiring the right person for their business.