Reference Checks – Pay Attention to What You DON'T Hear

By Jezabel Southard

Posted on March 22, 2013

Many hiring managers see reference checks as a chance to hear affirmative things about the candidates they’re considering. However, it’s also wise to remember that silence can speak volumes. During a reference check, what you do hear about a candidate may not be as important as what you don’t hear.

If you’re alert for the gaps in the information you’re receiving, you can choose whether or not to ask follow-up questions that probe the silences more deeply, or you can understand what’s not being said based on context. If you’re not listening for the gaps, however, you may lose valuable information.

Here are a few tips for performing more effective reference checks:

  • Talk to references who aren’t on the list. Candidates will naturally list those references they believe will discuss them in the best light, despite – or perhaps because of – the fact that those references might not be the ones who know the candidate best. Don’t hesitate to ask the candidate for individuals who worked with or supervised the candidate directly, and ask them about the candidate’s work habits, performance, and other key traits.
  • Ask open-ended questions. One way to listen for what’s not being said is to ask an open-ended question and let the reference speak Those who are genuinely enthusiastic about a candidate will tend to respond at length, while those who have few good things to say are more likely to keep their responses short and vague.
  • Find out why. Two highly valuable “why” questions: Why did the candidate leave his or her previous job, and why would the reference choose to hire or not to hire the candidate again? These answers are valuable not only for the information the reference provides, but also for comparison to how the candidate answers the same questions. Inconsistent or outright contradictory information indicates that either the candidate or the reference is hiding something – which needs further investigation.

At TERRA Staffing, our experienced recruiters can help you with every step of the recruitment process, from creating an effective job ad to sorting through applicants, and screening and interviewing your top candidates. Contact us today to learn more!

Categories: HR and Management Advice, Staffing Tips & Recruiting Trends

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