One of the easiest ways to avoid some of the many hiring mistakes I’ve made is to do a thorough (but quick!) reference check. This doesn’t need to be complicated and can save you from A LOT of problems down the line.
Here’s the casual, but effective, approach I’ve found works…
First, get permission from your applicant to do the check. They may not want you checking with their current employer, but there should be no reason they wouldn’t want you checking with previous employers.
Then, get their contact on the phone. (Tip, if they’ve got someone screening their calls, don’t say it’s for a reference check as that is rarely made a priority. Instead, say it the call concerns one of their employees or it’s about a common contact.)
Once you’ve got them on the phone, introduce yourself and ask if you could do a 5 minute reference check for the candidate. Be super friendly and acknowledge that it’s probably the last thing they want to do. Try to develop some rapport as you want them to be really honest with you. Then, get into the crux of the reference check…
- Check their Position, Role, and Responsibilities
Don’t state what the candidate has told you, just ask them open ended questions.
- Check their Results
What kind of results were they able to achieve (eg sales numbers, billed hours, jobs per day, market share growth, etc). How did they compare to other team members?
- Find out about their Working Style
What were they like to work with?
Were they reliable? Did they turn up for work on time? Were they liked by other team members?
- What are their Key Strengths?
What areas were they strongest in? Even if this has been covered before, make sure that you ask this question as it leads into the next question – which is key!
- What are their Weaknesses?
What areas were they weakest in or which areas presented opportunities for development? In my experience, the answers to this question will really give you a lot of insight. Often, the reference provider will try to deflect the question, but press a bit harder and state that everyone has areas for development. Where do you see that xxxx could improve the most to be more useful in their next role?
- Are they moving into the Right Level?
If you can, find out what sort of salary, hourly rate, or commission structure they were on. This is to ensure they haven’t told you any curlies during the interview process and that they aren’t moving into a position that is too far out of their experience bracket.
- What were their Leaving Terms?
People change jobs for all kinds of reasons but it’s important they leave on good terms. Find out why the candidate left this organisation. And also ask, “Would you employ them again?”
So that’s it!
Remember, the purpose of a reference check is really to rule people out – not to compare candidates. If your reference check doesn’t uncover any nasty surprises, there’s a good chance that your applicant is solid so you can feel much more comfortable offering them a position.
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