Getting the most out of a reference check

8/3/2018

Getting the most out of a reference check

When companies are sifting through even the most qualified job candidates' resumes and cover letters, one thing that can often help differentiate workers is the quality of their references. However, the fact that candidates themselves provide those contacts presents a problem: How can hiring managers know when references are being fair and honest about a candidate?

Presumably anyone being contacted by a hiring manager is going to have a good relationship with the interviewee and is likely to speak glowingly of their work ethic, talents, disposition and teamwork, making it difficult for companies to sift through all the exaggerations to get to the truth and determine the best candidate, according to Wharton professor, author and hiring expert Adam Grant. As such, hiring managers can reconfigure the questions they might usually ask to be more along the lines of "either-or" propositions.

For instance, asking a reference if a candidate is perhaps too assertive in their jobs will likely lead to that contact saying the person is just the right amount of assertive, but framing it as either "too assertive" or "not assertive enough" will likely yield far more complex analysis of a person's strengths and weaknesses, the report said.

"My favorite way to get references to tell the truth is to give them forced choices between two undesirable qualities," Grant wrote.

More questions to ask
It's wise to be open-ended with the questions, asking things like the most memorable accomplishments a candidate had while with the previous company, because that will give the reference cause to think beyond the person's day-to-day performance and really highlight the heights of their capabilities, according to Glassdoor. Even if it's just one or two examples, the extent to which an applicant went above and beyond their normal call of duty could help inform just how much extra work they're willing to put in.

It can also be a good idea to ask about the work habits a person brings to the table, the report said. For instance, candidates who like to be left to their own devices much of the time might not thrive in a more collaborative, open environment - and vice versa. As such, figuring out if a company's daily office environment will be conducive to that person staying happy and doing their best work is vital.

What else to consider
When seeking a little advice from references about a person's abilities, it's also a good idea to make sure everything the candidate put on their resumes is true, with respect to things like job title and responsibilities, and how much they dealt with the specific things they would be doing for the potential new employer, according to WorkBright. In addition, it might be wise to find out a little more about the circumstances of why, how and when the person left the old company.

While it's not always easy to glean everything about a candidate from a call with a reference, asking the right questions can really help uncover telling information that will help to better inform a hiring decision.

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