Reference checks could be worthless and even dangerous if superficial and inadequately performed but extremely valuable if done properly following good preparation!

The use of reference checks is becoming more widespread.  It can be a worthwhile extra tool to use when making hiring decisions, particularly for critical appointments at a senior level.

Remember that reference checks can be a powerful tool if done professionally but can be fragile if certain fundamental principles are not followed.

The process needs to be organized carefully and failure to do so, or a poor implementation may mean that the result of a reference check quickly diminishes in value.

The strength is in the detail, objectivity and focusing on the right aspects in order to ensure relevant information is obtained thoroughly and professionally.

The structure

You should inform the candidate that you are following best practise and as such, will be following up references.  Therefore, ask for the names and contact details of former Line Managers and other people who would be able to give an informed view of the candidate’s performance in the role.

Explain to the referee the purpose of your call.

In advance of the call with the Referee, make sure you plan in advance and prepare the questions you want to ask.

Try to make sure that the referee is not simply offering a personal opinion but is giving specific examples which demonstrate the candidate’s competence in a particular area

Clarify the working relationship between the referee and the candidate – did the referee directly line manage the candidate?  Find out what the candidate was responsible for in his/her role, how was his/her performance measured, how did the candidate perform against those measures, what did he/she do particularly well, what were his/her development needs, what specific contributions did the candidate make to the team’s performance, how was he/she viewed by his/her colleagues, would the referee re-employ the candidate?

Ensure you ask for verification of any specific claims the candidate has made during the interview to ensure he/she is being truthful and not taking personal credit for something which was actually a shared achievement.

Think of the role the candidate is being considered for and ask for examples of work the candidate may have undertaken in his/her former role which would have parallels with this position.  It will normally be helpful for the referee if you give a description of the role and any specific experience the recruiting company is looking for.

At the end of the reference discussion, make sure you have asked why the candidate left the organisation and ensure this is consistent with what the candidate told you during the interview.  It could also be useful to understand if the candidate had remained with the company, how his/her career may have developed and what roles the referee could have envisaged he/she would be holding.

Following the above process will provide you and/or your client with valuable information on which to make an informed judgement about the candidate whilst also enhancing the professional image of your company with a new professional contact.

Article written by Jos van Bree, CFR Global Executive Search The Netherlands BV

Photo source: Pexels

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