Reference Checks – How to Make the Most of a Limited Interaction

A reference check is the first glimpse into the veracity of the claims an applicant makes. In addition to seeing how he/she comes off on paper, the recruiter gets to see the person behind the credentials through the references.

There is a way to perform reference checks so that the recruiter gets to know the essentials. You need to do more than ratify the known facts – such as employment verification and employment history. It helps to introduce oneself and set up a rapport through a short conversation about the work history when approaching the reference.

Salient points on approaching professional references to get the best information on the applicant:

1)    The reference is someone chosen by the candidate to give out details about him/her. This is for the most part done out of courtesy and no other consideration. It is, therefore, important to be courteous and formal during the entire interaction. Start by introducing yourself politely and talking about the company conducting recruitment. Offering a summary of the duties will set the stage for a frank discussion. You will get to know the candidate from a third person’s perspective. It is useful to mention that the candidate spoke positively of the contact as a reliable source of his/her abilities.

2)    To reach a supervisor of the candidate, a call with someone in an analogous position in the company looking to hire the candidate is best. From one manager to another, there would be several points of discussion that can be aired and ironed out immediately. This is a better idea than to have an HR person or reference check service run interference. Many matters such as the style of working and handling of stressful scenarios can be discussed.

3)    Since negatives may be discussed, it is safer to obtain leave from the candidate to discuss with a previous manager or other references. In some cases, a signed waiver might need to be sent in before the reference agrees to a frank discussion.

4)    If the reference isn’t forthcoming with the candidate’s achievements, feel free to discuss the claims they made. Talk about a particular project or tool they worked on or a job they discussed during the interview. Verify key areas such as performance metrics, numbers, and background checks for employment.

5)    Be an active listener to understand whether the reference’s opinion of the candidate is fulsome or forced. Even when you hear enthusiastic praise, it is worth noting if the claim is followed by credible facts and figures. Ask follow-up questions when in doubt and get clarification on specific points if you have queries.

Even with all these tips, remember your applicant is still your ideal source for giving you the most suitable references for their performance and strengths. Be shrewd enough to get a realistic picture by making the most of this discussion.

These tips can even help you plan your interview with a candidate and what you would like to ask a potential reference.

Rachel Mucha, The reference check: How to get useful, honest info, HR Morning, February 22, 2019

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