Even if you believe you’ve found an impeccable candidate, you must conduct precise reference checks. If you don’t, you risk paying a high price later.

Leverage lessons from the field of journalism. There’s a parallel between award-winning journalists who interview newsmakers and conduct stellar reference checks for strong results.

In other words, take a lesson from good news reporters in the hunt for information. They dig. They investigate. But just as importantly, they’re persuasive about it.

To get the most out of your reference checks, here are six strategies:

1. Describe the job responsibilities and compliment the applicant.

When you call the person for a reference check, orient the person by describing the job. Chances are the applicant listed a favorable reference because they‘re friends.

Tap into that connection by getting off to a good start in your interview. To get the person to open up, compliment the candidate.

This will likely enable you to get the most accurate, comprehensive information.

Ask questions such as “What are the person’s strengths for this position?” and “What does the person know about these responsibilities?”

2. Treat the reference as you would a new friend.

Even if you have a hesitation about the candidate, keep it to yourself. Show complete objectivity but with a friendly sales approach.

Why? If the reference is a close friend of the applicant, you’ll run into a brick wall. The person is likely to be loyal to the candidate.

You’ll also create a risk: The reference will likely bad-mouth you to the applicant. Keep your reputation intact.

3. Prepare to ask open-ended questions

Ask open-ended questions to get the reference talking. Don’t ask questions that will lead to a yes or no answer, which are also known as close-ended questions.

Don’t interrupt the reference. Let the person talk. In this way, you’ll obtain the most-valuable information. Naturally, take notes which will help you in comparing candidates and make the right decision.

4. Start by inquiring how the reference knows the applicant.

You don’t want to waste valuable time by interviewing a reference who is a relative of the candidate.

Ideally, the reference is a past manager of the applicant. Above all, make sure the reference is someone who knows the applicant well.

A good mix of references will include people who can verify the candidate’s skill sets and whether the applicant is congenial with good interpersonal skills. Such soft skills are imperative these days.

If the person is well known in the community but doesn’t know the candidate well, don’t be easily swayed.

5. Stay focused on the candidate’s salient qualities.

Stay on track. Be focused on getting the right answers.

If the reference compliments the applicant, delve into why. Don’t settle for glittering generalities.

For instance, if the reference says the applicant is a great problem-solver, find out why. Ask for the reasons behind the candidate’s accomplishments.

6. Look for opportunities for unanticipated references.

Be alert to unforeseen opportunities. When interviewing a reference, often the person will mention other people familiar with the applicant.

Consider checking other sources. For example, check applicable professional associations and the candidate’s LinkedIn page.

You might spot someone you know as a possible reference whom you can interview.

Someone you know well will likely divulge important objective information that a candidate’s reference won’t divulge to you.

From the Coach’s Corner, see these related management strategies:

HR — Avoid the 10 Most Common Background Screening Gaffes — In human resources, all background checks are not equal. It’s important to avoid the 10 most-common background-screening errors.

HR Management: Think Like a Sales Pro to Recruit the Best Talent — One-size-fits-all approach to recruiting employees is not a strategy. You and your peers in human resources might be enamored with technology, but job candidates want more focus on the personal touch. That necessitates thinking like a sales professional.

Hiring for a Small Operation? Conduct Behavioral Interviews — In this economic environment, whether you run a small operation in a big company or you own a small business, you’re wearing many hats. So you need employees who can successfully wear multiple hats, too.

Risk Management in Hiring: Pre-Employment Screening Tips — Here are two questions about hiring: 1) what’s the biggest mistake companies make in hiring employees; and 2) what’s the biggest legal obstacle employers face in hiring? Here’s what to do about background screening.

Increase Profits by Hiring Talent with the Best Trait — Enthusiasm — You’ll increase your odds for profits with high-performing employees with the right culture — if you hire for the right personality trait – enthusiastic people. That’s right. Look for people who have the makeup to being committed and who will care for the welfare of your company. You’ll increase your chances for the strongest results.

How to avoid EEOC Discrimination Suits — Here are six tips for micro-companies and 13 strategies for larger organizations to avoid EEOC migraines.

“If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.”

-Red Adair


Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.