by Carol Nibley
One of the questions I’m often asked by employers is about giving and receiving references. While reference checking of prospective employees and providing references for former employees can be sensitive, you have no reason to fear! Managed carefully, both can be productive. This month we focus on checking candidate references.
Perhaps you have gone through the interview process with a candidate and feel comfortable that this candidate is a good fit for the job. However, the previous person in the job really bombed and you are afraid of making another hiring mistake. Since past performance is often the best predictor of future success, it is wise to speak with previous managers to get a more complete picture of the candidate before extending an offer. Following are a few tips:
- Make sure your employment application asks for names and contact information of previous managers. In addition, request several other references from the candidates. Don’t rely solely on the references the candidate wants you to speak with.
- Request both telephone and email contact information. I often schedule an appointment to speak with the reference provider via email and then call at the appointed time to have the conversation. Sometimes I include in my email a few of the questions I plan to ask during the conversation to allow the reference provider time to carefully consider and be prepared for the conversation.
- Don’t accept a candidate’s excuse that the previous employer(s) has a policy to provide general information only (employment dates, job title, etc.). If you have a policy not to hire candidates who can’t provide credible references, the roadblocks seem to disappear! (For an effective approach to this challenge, read Topgrading by Brad Smart.)
- Listen for what isn’t said or for the way in which a reference provider answers the question. If you ask, “Would you rehire John again if you had the opportunity?” and the provider hesitates before answering, ask why.
- To the extent possible, make the reference provider comfortable with you to enable a relaxed conversation. While the call doesn’t need to take long, it will yield infinitely more information if there is an atmosphere that is friendly. I am amazed at information I have gleaned during the “chit chat” phase of some of these calls.
Since the motives and judgment of reference providers are largely unknown to potential employers, look for a similar pattern of responses in the calls you make.