5. Reference checking and making your decision

The obvious advantage of talking to someone who has worked with a your No 1 pick is that he or she can provide third-party information. Unfortunately, it’s not easy today to get references to open up. Job applicants have sued former employers for giving references they viewed as defamatory. Likewise, some companies have sued a new employee’s former firm for not disclosing enough information when things don’t work out with the new person. To protect themselves, many businesses have adopted a strict “name, rank and serial number” policy. These difficulties have caused many firms to forego reference checking entirely – an unwise decision for several reasons. Checking candidates’ references is a critical tool for verifying their qualifications and claims about themselves.


Here are a few ideas for making your reference checks more productive:


Begin at the interview.

Let potential candidates know that if they become finalists, you plan to conduct a thorough reference check. While this should prompt the applicant to give honest answers during the interview, jot down any responses you question or simply want to confirm with the applicant’s contacts.

Do it yourself.

No matter how full your diary, resist the urge to delegate reference checking. Since you know best which skills and abilities you seek in a new hire, you’re more likely to persist until you obtain the required information.

Ask the right people.

Whenever possible, speak with the person’s former manager or coworkers, rather than with human resources personnel at the previous employer.

Avoid dangerous questions.

Be aware: Discrimination laws apply equally to reference checking as to interviewing. You can’t ask about the candidate’s marital status, age, religion, gender, disabilities, ethnicity or other personal matters.


Questions you should ask:


Begin with the basics.

Confirm employment history, job titles, responsibilities and salary. If references are willing to talk further, ask them to describe the person’s strengths and weaknesses, interpersonal skills, and ability to work on a team.

Ask the reference for other people you might talk to about the candidate.

Who’s not on the reference list who could weigh in?

Finally, ask if the manager would rehire the applicant.


Making your Decision


Some business owners and managers rely on their “gut” feelings and general impressions when making their final choice. You’ll have the best results, however, if you approach the task systematically.

Go back to your requirements.

The hiring criteria you established from the beginning should guide you toward a decision. Rank prospects using these standards, taking into account the relative importance of a particular skill or attribute.

Intangibles count, too.

Qualities such as motivation, creativity, resourcefulness and ability to handle stress are very hard to gauge or quantify but are important components in your evaluation of candidates.

Beware of the ‘halo effect.’

Avoid favouring one applicant over another for the wrong reasons. Sometimes called the “halo effect,” this tendency is when business owners and managers are so impressed by one particular aspect of a candidate; the person’s credentials, interests and so on, that it colours their overall perception of the individual. It increases the risk that deficiencies in other key areas will go unnoticed.


Part 5. The final phase ‘Closing the deal’