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Reference Checking Tips: Top 10 Pointers for a Smoother Process

“Diligence is the mother of good fortune.”

- Benjamine Disraeli, Former United Kingdom Prime Minister

Before we get into the top tips, let’s look at what reference checking entails. It is the process of verifying information about a candidate during the hiring process. While it can be conducted over a phone call or an email, in recent times, employers have taken to other, more modern processes such as online survey forms, automated reference checking services and so on. The purpose of this is to make a more informed decision about the candidate before hiring them. One of the major challenges with the modern hiring market is that every open position gets hundreds of applicants in a given time frame.

Checking all their references can be a time-consuming and often complicated process. In this blog, we will give you the run-down of top reference checking tips that can lend themselves to a smoother reference checking process. However, before we get down to the reference checking tips, let’s briefly go over how one should go over a run-of-the-mill reference check.

Reference Checking Tips: How to Conduct a Reference Check

The first thing to do when attempting to conduct a reference check is to identify yourself, your affiliations (which company you’re calling from) and the person who listed them as a reference. Start the conversation by asking the reference if now is a good time to talk. Next, you will want to assure them that all the answers and questions will remain confidential. Once you get the green light to proceed and they seem willing and ready, you move to phase two.

Start by verifying the basic details like the dates of employment and termination, employment history up until that point and so on. You also want to dive into the candidate’s capabilities such as knowledge base, work-relevant skills and so on. Ask the reference if they think the candidate in question would be a good fit for the role. Above all else, give the reference room to breathe and answer in their own time. Don’t take them down the road to the easy answer, nor should you keep interrupting them. Give them time and have them answer directly.

Reference Checking Tips

Having reference checking as a mandatory part of hiring will thin the crowd of applicants, and give you the candidates you want.

Top 10 Reference Checking Tips

In the above paragraphs, we talked about the reference checking process in regards to the reference, now, we will take a more balanced perspective. Let’s look at how you should handle reference checks with regards to the candidates as well as the references.

Tip #1: Be Upfront About Reference Checks

Remember earlier when we said how each position can get hundreds of applicants? Well, this may be a good way of weeding out the honest candidates from the mountain of resumes. be upfront about the fact that you do thorough reference checks. This will highlight candidates that have given less than ideal references or other related issues. Before you know it, you may find your candidacy list shirking by itself. The result will be a pool of candidates that will be more ideal in terms of what you are looking for and most importantly, honest.

Tip #2: Avoid Delegating Reference Check Responsibilities

If we are being honest, some days at the office can get a little hectic, especially when you’re in the midst of a hiring process with many candidates. However, you should try your best to avoid passing the baton of referencing checking a candidate. If you do, you could potentially miss something huge with that candidate. As the hiring manager or employer, you know exactly what to look for and what you need. No one else will see it the same way, nor will they ask the right questions.

These slip-ups could be as small as a passing remark made by the reference that could have revealed something big that clashes with your company culture. Something you might have likely missed since the job was passed onto someone else. This particular point is therefore one of the most important reference checking tips.

"Diligence leads to competence."

- Jeffrey Benjamin, Author

Tip #3: Be Thorough

When you have to deal with more than one reference per candidate there is a challenge and an advantage to that. The challenge is that you have to keep track of a lot of information for correlation. To make the best hiring decision, you need to take lots of notes and double-check when you’re unsure.

If you miss a step, you might miss by a mile in terms of candidate evaluation. Now, in terms of the advantage, there are around two or three references for a given candidate. This means that you can cross-check information and see how authentic that candidate’s profile is. Getting that third reference to confirm can make all the difference.

Tip #4: Conduct the Reference Check Over the Phone

If you have the choice between doing it via email or phone, rather do it over the phone. There are a lot of nuances that you can pick up in a live conversation. Little things like inflections in their voice, tone, subtle passing comments, etc. All things that can reveal a lot about a candidate. The same doesn’t translate well into the written word and they are less likely to reveal something negative directly for fear of liability issues.

Tip #5: Start With Easy Questions

As most conversations go, start it off on the lighter side. Start the reference checking process with easy questions like: How long did they work for you? This presents a much higher chance of eliciting the responses that matter rather than jumping straight into the deep questions. Also, keep in mind that you should try to phrase your questions in a positive light.

Cross-referencing is the most important aspect of the reference checking process.

Reference Checking Tips for optimal results

Tip #6: Confirm Employment Dates

This may seem like an obvious one, but the fact is there can be minor discrepancies between the candidate’s stated dates of employment and the reality. This makes this point one of the most important references checking tips on this list. At the end of the day, you’re looking for a candidate of a certain experience, it doesn’t help you if this turns out to be false, so make sure before you hire them.

Tip #7: Avoid Close-Ended Questions

As far as reference checking tips go, this is another important one. The last thing you want as an outcome from the process is a whole bunch of vague, open-ended answers. Ask references questions in a way that will lead them to give you specific answers. For example, you might want to ask the reference: So, the candidate got along with their co-workers, correct? This would be preferred as opposed to asking a question like: How well did the candidate get along with their co-workers?

"Everything yields to diligence."

- Antiphanes, Ancient Greek Author

Tip #8: Gain Insights via Social Media

In this digital age, the social media realm offers lots of insights into who a person is. The same applies to candidates. When doing your due diligence this is a good place to look. While you may not be checking references in the traditional sense, checking a candidate’s public Facebook posts or Twitter feed can offer a lot of insight. This is especially true of their LinkedIn profile. This can quickly highlight not only their past work experiences and career orientation but also any discrepancies on their resumes.

Tip #9: Give Assurance of Confidentiality

If you have ever done a reference check in the past, you might have come across ex-employers who seem hesitant to answer some of your questions. Many times, references will hold back on answers out of fear of liability issues arising as a result. The best move you can make in these situations is to assure them that everything they say will remain confidential where applicable.

Tip #10: Watch Out for Fake References

It’s not unusual to have a candidate give you a fake reference as they may have had a falling out with their previous employer, or know that they have nothing good to say about the candidate. Hence, it is important to keep an eye on the authenticity of the references. As far as reference checking tips go, this one is cardinal, it gives legitimacy to the whole process. Verify the reference’s title, company name, their full name, dates of employment and if they were the candidate’s supervisor.

So, there you have it, some of the best reference checking tips that we think will help smooth out your recruitment process. However, if you still think that you might not have the time to sort through mountains of applications, there is an alternative: automated reference checking. Something that we here at Credibled specialize in! So, consider it and good luck!