Do You Take the Reference Check as Seriously as You Should?

Think you’ve found a top-notch job candidate for an open position? You should still do a reference check. Here’s how and why.

Many managers skip the reference check or rely on the human resources department to send a few quick emails at the end of the interview process. Don’t fall into this trap. Given the time, money and effort involved in the recruiting and hiring process, it’s critical that you make the most informed decision you possibly can.

Following are five suggestions on conducting an effective reference check:

1. Tell the candidate about your reference check process early on. 

It’s best to tell interviewees at the outset that a reference check will be part of the process. Doing so promotes accuracy and honesty in interviews. It also offers an added benefit: Candidates with weak references or who have problems to hide may choose to weed themselves out early, saving you time and money.

2. Conduct the reference check yourself. 

Time crunches mean many managers delegate the reference check. This is not a good idea. While your HR department may be excellent, no one knows what you are looking for in an employee as well as you do. A casual remark about a particular work style may reveal something that clashes outright with your department’s corporate culture.

3. Pick up the phone.

Avoid email. How many times have you misinterpreted the tone or content of an email? In the reference check process, this is a real danger. Enthusiasm is difficult to distinguish in writing. Relying on email also prevents you from noting a reference’s hesitation before responding, discomfort with a question and variations in tone — all of which can be telling.

4. Ease into the reference check.

It’s OK to start by lobbing some softballs (“How long did you work together?”) before you get to the heart of things. Even then, pay attention to your wording. For example, “What do you feel Jennifer needs to do to advance her career?” rather than “What were her weaknesses as an employee?” A slightly different turn of phrase may just get your reference to open up more. 

5. Consider reviewing social media posts.

Checking the job candidate’s digital presence may also yield helpful information. Check LinkedIn for any discrepancies between the person’s online profile and the resume you were provided. You also might look up any publicly accessible posts on Facebook or Twitter. Additionally, you can use these profiles to see if you share any professional contacts, who might also be good to contact as part of the reference check process.

The person you hire will represent your business and reflect on you as a manager. Instead of regarding the reference check as a mere formality, use it to ensure you make the best decision possible.