5 Keys to Getting The Truth on Your Next Reference Check

By Jezabel Southard

Posted on October 9, 2013

The need for reference checks isn’t exactly news for most hiring managers.  Nearly all HR professionals know that they should use reference checks and that such checks can uncover valuable information that may not appear in the candidate’s resume or interviews – for better or worse.

However, although most hiring managers know reference checks can be valuable, fewer know exactly how to conduct the most effective reference checks with the limited time they have available.  They may not know what questions to ask, or they may not recognize “red flags” that pop up during a reference check.

Here are a few tips on using reference checks effectively when hiring:

  • Identify yourself and the purpose of your call.  Give your name, your company’s name, and your reason for calling.  Ask if this is a good time to talk, and get a time to call back if it is not.  The best answers come from references who have a moment to think about them without being interrupted or rushing out the door.
  • Speak to the person who is most likely to know the answers to your questions.  People who have actually worked with the candidate, like co-workers and direct supervisors, are most likely to know how the candidate operates on a day-to-day basis.  They often can provide the fullest answers to your questions.
  • Ask open-ended questions.  Questions that can be answered “yes” or “no” seem like time-savers, but they deprive you of valuable information in the long run.  Instead, ask open-ended questions, like “What was it like to supervise this person?” or “What were this person’s strengths?”
  • Ask if they would rehire the candidate and why or why not.  “Would you rehire this person?” is a “yes/no” question – but it is one of the most revealing questions available to many reference checkers.  Following up with a “Why?” or “Why not?” can also reveal valuable information that can help you make a decision about a candidate.
  • Watch for hidden negatives.  It’s rare that you’ll encounter an extremely negative review.  Instead, many references may try to mask a negative.  For example, “When focused, she did a really good job.”  At first glance, this looks positive, but it might be a nice way of saying the candidate has issues focusing on work.  If you do encounter a hidden negative, ask a follow-up question to try to dig a bit deeper. 

As staffing leaders in the Pacific Northwest, TERRA Staffing, has the expertise essential to finding and screening candidates. We understand the nuances of using reference checks, as well as have access to a ready pool of qualified candidates. Contact us today to learn about our staffing services in Portland and Seattle!

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

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