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A candidate reference check is much more than a formality. Employers sometimes make the costly mistake of conducting reference checks after their hiring decision has been made or even skipping them altogether.

Reference checks should never be omitted from your hiring process – nor should their value be underestimated. The cost of hiring the wrong candidate due to negligence in checking references can be astronomical.

Get the Real Picture

Research has shown that 20 percent of job candidates are eliminated as a result of reference checks. Think of hiring the right candidate as painting a portrait. The individual’s resume and interview have provided a solid outline and most of the colors. However, the nuances and new facts unveiled during reference checks are what complete this masterpiece – or render it worthless.

Carefully checking references enables you to:

  • Verify information by ensuring that a candidate has not misrepresented themselves on their resume or during their interviews.
  • Gain deeper insight into an individual’s work ethic, integrity and track record.
  • Protect you from liability and save your company from undue risk in case a candidate with the wrong past is hired.

Get the Facts

Your goal in conducting reference checks is to speak with individuals who have known and worked with your candidate, ideally for long periods of time and in different settings. Your desired outcome is twofold:

  • A well-rounded view of how a candidate interacts with people at different levels within and outside of an organization.
  • An accurate portrayal of how they have effectively achieved results.

It’s critical that you request specific numbers that define performance, such as profit levels generated or new systems implemented. The best indicator of what a person will do is a factual account of what they have done including proof of measurable outcomes.

  • If all goes well, a reference check is a step toward optimizing your new employee’s transition into your organization.
  • If any factors don’t add up, you can address these concerns with your candidate. If you still can’t reconcile the facts, then it’s your obligation to walk away.
  • It may make sense to reference check more than one finalist. The results could elevate a runner-up to the top spot or help you think about how to support and develop a candidate.

Get Critical Answers

Reference checks do far more than verify data. They help forecast whether candidate will ultimately become a productive team member.

  • By asking open-ended questions, a reference check drills below surface comments. This offsets respondents’ inclination to give only short, positive responses. In addition to hard data that confirms a candidate’s skills set, valuable qualitative information is acquired on a person’s management and communication style, strengths and areas for improvement.
  • Surprises may surface. A reference may be reluctant to say much or may offer an unfavorable perspective. Word choices, vocal tones, pauses or hesitations and enthusiasm levels can speak volumes.

A thorough reference check can mean the difference between hiring the right person and losing valuable time and productivity by hiring the wrong one. A professional recruiting firm can use its specialized experience to help you effectively manage the reference check process. Contact the executive search consultants at BrainWorks for more information.


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