Reference Checking in the Selection Process

Updated: May 17, 2010

Why should you accept prepared referees? Ask the candidate for a selection of referees. I suggest 10 to 15 referees would be a good number. You won't check all of them, but you can make your own selection from this list as opposed to the candidate's prepped selection.

Make it clear to the candidate that you are not going to call them all. Point out that you would like to have a broader selection to choose from that covers more aspects of their previous roles. Help the candidate get over the shock of your request by suggesting the categories you are most interested in and ask for 3-4 names in each. Possible areas might include:

  • People they have worked under,
  • People they have workes alongside
  • People they have supervised
  • People in other departments they have had regular interaction with,
  • Some customers or suppliers they have had significant dealings with.

If they can't come up with enough names, help jog their memory by going back over past roles from their resume or CV.

Somethimes we just won't make those calls. Remember, if you fail to check you are reducing your chances of a successful hire by anything up to 50%. Talk to someone in sales for advice as to how you might get over this "call reluctance" hurdle. Or ask around you might even find a colleague better suited to this task.

Get beyond "Name, Rank and Serial Number" responses. HR People are their own worst enemy when it comes to checking references. But by asking for a longer list of referees, you also greatly improve your chances of getting past the "Gate Keeper" and directly to the people with the information you need. Treat it like any other task and prepare a script or checklist of areas you need to cover in the phone call or face-to-face meeting.

Remember, the candidate has supplied you with these names, you can make the call more "personal". Again, your sales people can advise you here. Use a conversational tone with the referee, don't make it sound like a call from the IRS or the police. The more relaxed the call, the better the quality of information. Use probes to get behind the issues you need to clarify.

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