Tips & Guides

Understanding and mastering the headhunting industry

Why use employment references?

References as part of the hiring process should be fairly standard but a good percentage of employers including human resources professionals do not use them. Some people say that because most candidates will only give you those people who will give them glowing reviews that the references process is flawed. This may be partially true but there are ways to get good quality information from references.

The first part of the references piece is to validate dates and titles. The next part of reference taking is validating knowledge and skills. The third part is about soft skills which is becoming more and more an important piece of hiring. These include such things as emotional intelligence, critical thinking and interpersonal skills. As a hiring manager or human resource professional, you need to ask open-ended questions such as “can you tell about a time that John had an irate customer and how did he deal with it?” This kind of question can be used to gauge a candidate’s tolerance for stress or customer service skills.

Your reference checking questions should be more open-ended than closed end. You want to engage the person in a short conversation to uncover or validate things that you thought of the candidate. You should have a carefully prepared reference checking questionnaire and it should be job specific. If, during the interview process, you still have a doubt, add a couple of questions to the questionnaire around the issue.

References should almost always be past employers, customers (if needed), past colleagues or direct reports (if applicable). Some companies will also do personal references but it will be almost impossible to get a true objective picture of your candidate from personal references, so don’t bother.

The goal of a reference is to validate what you think of your candidate and perhaps discover places where you will need to support them more. It should not be thought of as trying to “get the dirt” on the candidate.

Taking reference should be thought of as due diligence and should be done for all hires, from entry level to senior.

by Dawn Williams, President of Sirius Personnel

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