4 Common Reference-Checking Mistakes

January 15th, 2016

Job seekers are selling themselves, so you can’t take everything they say at face value. Their resumes and answers to interview questions put the best light on everything, and possibly even stretch the truth slightly. To get a fuller perspective of their experience and capabilities, you need to talk with others who’ve worked with them. That means checking references. But how do you get the most out of doing that? To make reference checks meaningful, you need to avoid these four mistakes:

  1. Not requiring professional references. Even when hiring someone straight from school, it’s important that the references are people who’ve worked with the candidate in a professional capacity. While other references can provide insight into the candidate’s character, you need more than that; you need references who can validate the candidate’s technical capabilities. Only former supervisors can give you that assessment. Former co-workers can offer information, but their perspective differs from someone the candidate reported to.
  1. Asking only closed questions. If you ask only yes/no questions, you’re likely to get only yes/no answers. Leading questions will also limit the kinds of answers you get. References will offer much more useful information if you ask open-ended questions that let them provide details that support their opinions. Don’t just write down their answers and move on to your next planned question; ask follow-up questions based on their responses to explore the response further.
  1. Waiting until late in the hiring process. Reference checks are often conducted as a formality before sending out a job offer. In reality, they should be checked before you decide you want to make an offer. Identify your top two or three candidates and interview references for all of them. If you conduct effective reference checks, you can use the references’ opinions to promptly follow-up interviews with the candidates or as important information in choosing between them.
  1. Not hiring someone based on bad feedback from a reference. It’s true a bad reference can be a source of concern. If the reference name was provided by the candidate, they clearly expected the reference would provide positive information. However, you need to consider the feedback in light of all the other information you have as well as the requirements of the position you’re hiring for. The negative remarks of the reference might relate to a technology or interpersonal skill that isn’t important in your open position.

Bonus: The biggest reference-checking mistake? Not doing one.

Increase the odds of getting positive feedback when you check references by interviewing candidates prescreened by a staffing agency. InReach IT Solutions has more than 20 years’ experience finding top-notch candidates. Contact us to learn how we can help you fill your open positions.