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Some hiring managers check an applicant’s references after the in-person interview, just to confirm information the candidate has given them. Other hiring managers check references right off the top, thinking it is a good way to spot red flags and more efficiently eliminate candidates from the hiring process.

Regardless of when in the process you check references, it’s important that you do so the right way.

Looking at reference checks as a formality is a major mistake. Even if your intuition is right most of the time, the few times you’re wrong can be damaging for your company. For example, if an applicant has vastly overstated their qualifications, it could mean lost productivity, liability risks or worse.

Worst-case situations aside, reference checking often gives you crucial details about an applicant. External observers are in a better position to provide you with a precise picture of an applicant’s skills and ability to succeed within your organization. References also offer perspective on candidates’ strong points and limitations.

Consider the following tips the next time you have to check references.

Get input

The first step is to ask for input from all the people in your organization who have been a part of the interview process for a particular applicant. Also, consider who in your organization is best situated to offer the context and insight on the open position. Ask these people if they have any concerns or follow-up questions you should ask.

Then, think about which references will supply the most useful information. For instance, if you want to evaluate the candidate’s leadership abilities, contact references who are former subordinates. For questions about the candidate’s teamworking skills, speak with former supervisors.

Set the right tone

At the outset of the conversation, ask how the reference knows the applicant; double-check the person you’re talking to can offer good information about your candidate. Next, compliment the candidate and establish the idea they could be a good fit for your open position. If you display any skepticism or seem hesitant, the reference may become guarded out of loyalty. Setting the proper tone in this manner sets the stage for a constructive conversation for your purposes.

Ask specific, but open-ended questions

After describing the position to the reference, ask questions founded on particular details learned from the applicant during the interview sequence. For instance, if the applicant helped put a new payroll system into place, ask about their particular role in that initiative.

Don’t forget to ask questions that pertain to character and cultural fit. Figure out what type of environment this person had success in previously and ask questions about personality traits. For instance, you could ask for examples of a candidate’s leadership, teamworking or communication abilities.

Looking for help with hiring?

At Cornerstone, we take the heavy lifting out of the hiring process, so our clients can put more focus on their core business activities. Please contact us today to find out how we can help your company succeed.


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