Completing Effective Reference Checks

Four important steps to completing an effective reference check

Just how important is it to complete job references? For the majority of employers, it’s a crucial final step in the hiring process that confirms – or calls into question – your impressions of the potential employee. In some cases, it can even be the deciding factor between two evenly ranked candidates.

Stevenson & White, an Ottawa recruitment firm that specializes in finance, accounting and payroll positions, shared some of their top tips for conducting effective references.

Who to speak to?

It is best to ask candidates for three references – at least two of which should be previous managers who can speak to not only the candidate’s technical skills, but also other qualities such as their initiative, interpersonal and communication skills. This enables you to gain a more well-rounded picture of the candidate, which is key to ensuring the right fit.

Don’t ask leading questions

Try to ask the reference open-ended questions instead of leading questions that may influence their response. For example, instead of asking “Are you the candidate’s manager?” ask, “What is your working relationship with the candidate?”

“You will get different answers based on how you ask the question,” says Jen Danby McDonald, Manager of Corporate Services at Stevenson & White. For example, “Did the candidate work well with other members of the team?” may lead to a different response than “Can you describe how the candidates worked with other members of the team?”

Another effective strategy is to open it up to the reference at the end by asking, “Is there anything else that we haven’t asked that you think is important for us to know about this candidate?” This often prompts them to add key additional information that provides valuable insight into the candidate.

Only contact the references provided by the candidate

This is extremely important in protecting the candidate’s confidentiality. Often, candidates may be looking to make a transition while they are still employed. To avoid jeopardizing their current position it is crucial that you maintain confidentiality by only contacting the list of references that has been put forward by the candidate. “Confidentiality is of the utmost importance to Stevenson & White. We receive written permission from our candidates before contacting their references,” says Paul Stevenson, partner and recruiter.

Listen to what they are not saying

It takes a lot of experience to conduct a thorough and effective reference check. You need to be able to read between the lines and pick up on what the reference is not saying. “A long pause before an answer is given can be very telling.” says Paul. An experienced professional knows when to clarify answers or probe deeper and which questions to ask.

The bottom line

“A good reference is a vital final piece to securing a role,” says Matt Stevenson, partner and recruiter at Stevenson & White. References validate what you know about the candidate from their resume and interviews and provide a more comprehensive view of their past work history and experience. The reference is extremely important as it is the final check for your candidate. Having an experienced partner such as Stevenson & White on your side can help to ensure you have all the information you need to make the best decision.

The original article appeared in the November 9th, 2018 edition of the Ottawa Business Journal.
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