Checking References – Don’t be annoying, be organized!

Recently I was contacted by someone to provide a reference for someone else. I was surprised to receive the call because I had not been informed that I was on someone’s list of references to begin with. A helpful tip for those of you reading this that may be seeking a transition in your career; people don’t often like these surprises. I felt unprepared and wasn’t sure what I was speaking to until I asked some questions in order to gain some context into the circumstances at play.

Once this hurtle was cleared and I was ready to be questioned I said, “Ok what’s your first question?” The response I got in return made my stomach go into knots, “Umm… I don’t really have formal questions or anything, I just need to know if this is a good person or not?” My initial reaction was to respond with, “I don’t think I would consider this person to be innately evil and thus I suppose they project an image of a good person.” I refrained from that though and instead tailored a response in accordance to the information I had just learned from the caller. So for those of you reading who make the calls requesting a reference, my tip to you is this; be prepared. Not being prepared tarnishes your credibility, the professional image of your organization and annoys the heck out of those of us who normally have the courteousy to be prepared.

So here are some thoughts on getting prepared to check those references.

Checking references is NOT an opportunity to ask about information that was not previously discussed with the candidates. It is a process that is used to verify the information the candidate has offered us during the selection process. If however information is offered that is unrelated to the questions being asked it is ok to make note of it.

Use a Reference Check form that is standard for the role or your organization. Normally there are some very standard questions you will find yourself asking about each candidate. Make it easy on yourself and develop a form that can be used with little to no modification needed.

Questions should relate directly to the hiring criteria that was developed using the job description and were listed in the job posting. For assistance in the creation of questions or to have them reviewed to ensure the wording is appropriate contact a Human Resource Consultant.

When contacting a reference be sure to identify yourself clearly and let the person know why you are contacting them.

Example: “Hello John, my name is Colin Finlay and I am calling on behalf of ABC Corp. Jane Doe provided your name as a reference for the “Staff” position. Would you have 15 minutes you could spare to discuss their performance?”

It’s important to maintain consistency when speaking with references and recording information. Always be sure to ask the same questions, in the same way, and in the same order. This alleviates the possibility that a referrer might interpret the questions differently than others based on the actions of the person seeking the information.

While recording responses it is important to provide as much detail as possible and accurately transcribe what is being said. Paraphrasing a response may not be appropriate especially if the applicant is potentially going to be rejected based on that response.

It’s normal for some references to offer very little information and others to speak in great length. In circumstances where more information is required ask probing questions that relate directly to the information desired while maintaining alignment with the intent of the question. If the question has been answered and the referrer continues to speak at length without providing any relevant information it is appropriate in respect of their time to interrupt politely and move forward with the next question.

To conclude a reference check, thank the person for their assistance and taking the time to answer the questions. If people don’t feel their time was valued they may not continue to provide references for people which in turn might make future hiring decisions more difficult. This is especially the case in some industries where suitable candidates often have experience with one particular employer that specializes in that field.

Once the reference checks are complete they should be reviewed by a Human Resource Consultant in order for them to assist management in making a final decision regarding the successful candidate.

I hope this helps some of you organize your reference checks or at least reminds others of why it’s important to do so. Do you have any tips for checking references I may have left out? If so, drop a comment to share and have a great day!

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This entry was posted in Human Resources, Management, Recruitment and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Checking References – Don’t be annoying, be organized!

  1. Good article Colin. Very informative. Keep up the good work Son.

  2. Tracy Proutt, CHRP says:

    Good article! I have found it very frustrating over the years when I’ve been contacted for a reference without knowing I was going to be, and/or contact references that hadn’t been informed by the candidate. I always ensure I have prepared questions that correlate with the information gathered from the candidate, and that are relevant to the position.

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