ESP In the News

A Lazy Summer Shouldn’t Lead to Lazy Reference Checks

supermoonIt’s (astronomically) official. Last week’s solstice confirmed the arrival of summer, and with it: warmer and – let’s face it  – often lazier days. While it’s tempting to let everything slide a little during this time of year, checking references could be the difference between a great hire and a terrible one.  References from former managers can offer valuable insight into a candidate’s working style and personal character. Avoid poor reference checking, by avoiding these three lazy approaches:

Don’t be lazy by…being a “robocaller”.
Encourage detailed answers by establishing a friendly tone.

While you should have questions prepared, you shouldn’t sound like an automated machine when contacting references. Remember, you set the tone for the interview. Be courteous and friendly; conduct the interview like a conversation. Begin the call by explaining your purpose and asking if it is a convenient time to talk, and if not, reschedule for another time. If you sound like you’re just reading from a script without really building off the conversation, the contact will not likely make the effort to give thoughtful answers about the candidate.
Don’t be lazy by…failing to go the extra mile with your questions.
Ask open ended questions, contextualize, and ask for examples.

Avoid yes/no questions to allow the reference to open up about the candidate. Contextualize your questions with some brief background information about your company’s culture, challenges, hiring criteria, or about the position to be filled. This will tailor your subsequent questions to determine the candidate’s “fit” rather than her/his more general qualities. Ask for specific situational examples of how the candidate demonstrated certain qualities, rather than a mere laundry list of qualifications. This can help you gauge whether the candidate can effectively handle the responsibilities of the position.
Don’t be lazy by…taking responses at face value.
Try picking up on any subtle hints at red flags.

The candidate listed these individuals as a references because they will most likely say positive things. It’s important for hiring managers to determine whether these positive qualities are suited to the company’s needs. Although managers will be reluctant to directly state the candidate’s weaknesses, there are other ways to get an idea of a potentially bad fit. Ask about how a candidate reacted to a negative situation or conflict, and about why the candidate decided to leave the former position. Did the manager give a vague answer, fail to provide concrete examples, or hesitate before answering a question? If so, ask a follow-up to get a better picture of the situation.
While they require time and effort, diligent reference checks done right are well worth it. To ensure the best hire for your organization, dig beneath the surface. You can still give in to summer while staying on top of your game!
If you’re not sure what questions to ask during a reference check, here are a few examples to get you started:

  • “If Candidate X were to come work for us, are there any things about him that we should know to give him the best support?”
  • “Could you describe an instance in which Candidate X was perhaps not as successful as she had hoped, and how she dealt with the situation?”
  • “We’re a company specializing in _____. Above all, we value ______. How do you feel that Candidate X would work in a culture like ours?”
  • “In the past, we’ve hired candidates for this position who are X, Y, and Z. How do you think Candidate X is similar or different?”