References can provide essential insight into a candidate and they’re a crucial part of the hiring process. But it’s vital to carry them out with care, respecting both the candidate and their referees.
What should you do when checking references?
To help you get the most from your candidates’ references, here are some in-depth tips on how to check references.
Do be open and honest with the candidate
Some candidates might wonder: “Do employers check references in the UK?”
Well, the answer is a resounding yes. And executive referencing plays a particularly crucial role in hiring top-level leaders. Since execs occupy such an influential role in businesses, organisations leave no stone unturned when it comes to making sure they appoint the right person.
But candidate referencing isn’t a part of every recruitment process. So it’s best to confirm with the candidate that you will be contacting their referees. Then they can raise any concerns or update referees’ contact details, if need be.
Do arrange reference check calls in advance
You wouldn’t arrange to interview a candidate at the last minute, would you? So don’t carry out important reference check calls without time for proper preparation – for you and the referee.
It’s always best to contact the referee in advance (usually over email), arranging a mutually suitable time to speak. That way, they have time to prepare and gather some information on the candidate, if need be.
But even before that, make sure to get consent from the candidate to contact their referees.
Do ask thoughtful, open questions
The direction of the reference check will be led entirely by you, so make certain to structure questions in a useful way. If you have questions that could be answered with a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, reword them to become open questions.
Open questions will give you a much better idea of the candidate’s capabilities and ways of working. The referee will have the scope to give you more information, probably touching upon areas you might not have considered.
And go beyond obvious questions to tailor them specifically to the role you’re hiring for. For example, you might ask how the candidate would react to a certain scenario.
Do ensure your reference checking is legal
Laws around references – and employment in general – are strict.
You absolutely cannot ask for information that could lead to discrimination of any kind. This means no questions around age, religion, marital status, ethnicity, disabilities or similar topics.
Your line of questioning should only ever concern the candidate’s ability to carry out duties related to the role. If a question would be inappropriate to ask during an interview, you shouldn’t ask it in the course of a reference check.
You can, however, search for legal issues (such as CCJs) and bankruptcy notices as part of a reference check. And it’s also permissible to conduct an online and social media analysis of the candidate.
Do have a consistent policy in place
Not only will this make the process of reference-checking simpler, but a consistent way of carrying them out also helps you get the right candidate. You need to be able to compare different candidates directly, whenever possible.
Naturally, different questions will arise in relation to different candidates, because of their unique experiences and skills. However, it’s helpful to keep some of the questions the same or similar, to allow for easy comparisons.
What’s more, having a consistent policy will safeguard you against any potential legal complications. If you need to, you can demonstrate that you always treat candidate references in the same way. You might even want to have a lawyer confirm the legality of your policy and processes.
What should you avoid when checking references?
Checking references isn’t as simple as contacting someone and asking them a few questions about a candidate. There are a few pitfalls you should be careful to avoid if you want to make the process worthwhile – and contribute to your hiring decision.
Don’t speak with friends and family
Occasionally, people might list friends and family as personal references. But it’s highly unlikely you’ll get any worthwhile information from such referees. Firstly, will they be honest about the candidate? And secondly, what will they know about how they work and their professional skills?
You need to uncover details about the candidate’s expertise, professional traits and previous performance, so contact people they’ve worked with. Ideally, you should speak to at least one person who’s managed the candidate. They can attest to their ability to deliver on objectives and, hopefully, their development over time.
Don’t rely on LinkedIn references
A LinkedIn reference might contain one or two useful snippets, and could mention a specific scenario that’s relevant to your role. Sometimes, these references also give you an overall impression of the candidate’s professional reputation.
But there’s no substitute for asking your own questions, with the ability to dig deeper and get more detail if you need to. You’ll get a much more comprehensive picture of the candidate from a reference call. And when you’re hiring for a top-level executive position, a comprehensive picture is exactly what you need.
Don’t make decisions based on one reference
No matter how professional the referee might be, references are inherently subjective. One opinion from a candidate’s former colleague just isn’t enough. Remember, it’s possible that the referee and the candidate will also be friends outside of work.
So, it’s vital that you speak to at least two referees. That way, you’ll be able to spot any inconsistencies and gain different perspectives.
It’s worth noting that psychometric profiling can reveal aspects of a candidate you might not have considered – as can personality, conflict resolution and critical thinking analysis. And, of course, such testing is completely objective.
Don’t rely on your memory
Although you want any reference check to run like a conversation, taking notes is a must. You’ll get a general impression of the candidate from the call, but for detail, you need notes. Then you can look back on them later, which is particularly useful if you’re comparing multiple candidates.
Get the experts in
Although you’ll know what you want to see from candidates for a top job, experienced executive search consultants like agp can go further when vetting candidates. Through forensic referencing, from every angle, we can give you all the details you need on a candidate. We’ll be able to uncover facets of their management style, skill set and personality that might otherwise have remained hidden.
Equipped with all the facts, there’s much less risk for you as you hire someone to shape the future of your company.
Candidate referencing is an important stage of the recruitment process, especially when it comes to executive search recruitment. Now you’ll know exactly how to do a reference check for a job, getting the most from the reference and avoiding any missteps along the way.