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