Andrew Reed, who has more than 20 years of experience in the recruitment industry, knows what it’s like to be on the hunt for the right person for a crucial role and says thoroughly checking with the supplied referees is a crucial step.
“Effective and rigorous verbal reference checking with valid referees is arguably the most important component of any recruitment process,” Reeds says, adding that the checking needs to be “done by a human being”.
Automated online reference checks are dangerous and inadequate says Reed because only a human can pick up on the nuisances when speaking with a person.
“Listen intensely for tone, emphasis, pauses and an excess or lack of superlatives,” advises Reed.
“Encourage the referee to give you examples as well as adjectives regarding the candidate’s performance.”
Reed says this keen observation can also work in reverse when interviewing the candidate.
“Try mentioning potential referees known to you in the interview and watch closely for the candidate reaction,” he says.
Reed says it’s best to include key selection criteria questions for the actual position rather than gathering a generic impression of the individual because the referee is most probably biased toward the candidate.
“If a professional has agreed to be a referee they are likely to be leaning towards the positive so focus on the negatives, limitations and areas for development for the candidate,” Reeds says.
“Ask the referees for their understanding of the reason the candidate is looking for a new role.”
Before wrapping up, Reed says to add one final question after the classic “Would you re-employ?” and ask “Is there anything else you, in good faith, feel you share with me at this time?”.
Reed also says that although checking most candidate’s references is critical, very occasionally references can be redundant.
“For example, the primary referee may be on the (selection) panel or the preferred individual may be a proven internal candidate,” he says.
“In this situation, it is not a lack of due process to waive the references.”
In most cases, however, checking references is an important task and Reed says the following checklist can help ensure the job is done in the most efficient way and done right:
Top 10 reference checklist
- If you are not happy with the nominated referees, ask the candidate for more
- Reference checks should be rigorous and be conducted late in the process after interviews
- Give candidates the chance to alert their referees and give them context before you call
- Check the identity of the referee and the direct visibility to the candidate’s experience
- Do not contact referees without the candidates’ knowledge. You are breaking their privacy and potentially compromising their career
- Provide context to the audience if the reference was brief. It may simply be a very busy referee or one who is not prone to being effusive, but may still be very positive
- References are potentially and legally discoverable by the candidate and referees should be made aware of this
- Respect the wishes of the candidate, such as the timing of a call to their direct current manager
- Consider potential conflicts of interest for the referee which might trigger false negatives or positives
- If utilising psychometric testing, use valid primary referees to validate the report
Reed says that most of all it is important to remember that reference checks are part of due diligence and not a selection tool.
“Choose your preferred candidate and then use the reference checks to confirm she or he is who you think they are,” he says.
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